April 26, 2012
REBUILDING THE BACKLINE
Red Bulls could start an inexperienced back four vs. New England
By Michael Lewis
|Brandon Barklage could start at right fullback for the Red Bulls.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
HARRISON, N.J. -- If a toe injury keeps right fullback Jan Gunnar Solli on the bench, the Red Bulls could very well possibly deploy a backline with all of 798 minutes of Major League Soccer defensive experience against the New England Revolution on Saturday.
That includes two rookies, a midfielder and one of the players who has accrued most of those 798 minutes.
After only seven games, t has been a killer start and one hell of a test of the Red Bulls' defensive depth.
It certainly will be a challenge for coach Hans Backe, as he tries to replace three injured regulars -- central defenders Stephen Keel (stress fracture in his back) and Wilman Conde (groin strain), left fullback Roy Miller (left knee effusion) and perhaps Solli. Rafa Marquez, who has played at midfield this year, but can perform on defense, will serve the second of a three-game suspension.
So, it probably will be an inexperienced back four, after a shaky performance in which the Red Bulls conceded three first-half goals in a 4-1 loss at D.C. United on Sunday.
Asked if he was going to change tactics to protect the backline, Backe replied, "Perhaps."
When pressed on what he might do, he replied, "I will not tell you. With the number of goals we have conceded, we need to have a look and do some kind of four to protect the back four."
Solli received a shot in his toe on Wednesday and the Red Bulls will test the Norweigian veteran on Friday. Assuming Solli does not respond, this is what Backe probably will start:
* Rookie left fullback Connor Lade, 22, who struggled in his first Major League Soccer start in the 4-1 loss to D.C. United on Sunday. He has played 121 minutes.
* Rookie central defender Tyler Ruthven, 23, who came on for an ailing Keel at halftime in his MLS debut on Sunday. He has 45 minutes of pro experience.
* Veteran central defender Markus Holgersson, 27, whose reviews on his performances have been mixed at best. Some members of the media have criticized the Swedish defender, while Backe has backed him. Holgersson has the bulk of the experience with 630 minutes, having played every minute this season.
* And midfielder Brandon Barklage, 25, who has been working at right fullback for the last two weeks. He has two minutes of playing time this season as an 88th-minute substitute for Dane Richards in the home-opening win over the Colorado Rapids on March 25.
Two of the youngsters said they were ready for the challenge.
Asked if he felt added pressure with a young backline, Ruthven responded, "No, no. You go in thinking that way, it's already over. You've got to play not afraid to make mistakes. As far as I'm concerned, this is the same game I've played as a kid, only the stadium is bigger."
Barklage, listed as a midfielder, had some experience with D.C. United at right back last year.
"I think it went pretty well for me," he said. "So I am looking forward to it.
"I feel confident. I like to think of myself as a versatile player. So wherever the coaches put me, I'm happy with it. I'm there for the team. I'm looking to get a result this weekend."