An element to success for any team is finding players who can communicate effectively, and build some type of chemistry when working together. Like many Major League Soccer sides, the constant turnover of a squad can make that a very difficult task to accomplish. But for the 2011 season, New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe secured an immediate boost. Luke Rodgers.
Gone with the wind: Luke Rodgers’ brief moment in the sun with New York Red Bulls
The Birmingham native brought an intense and proactive approach to the striker position. It came at a time when they needed that type of energy. An abysmal 2009 campaign saw steps in the right direction the following year. Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez were added in the summer of 2010, and the Red Bulls finished first in the Eastern Conference.
An early playoff exit made the club look towards reinforcements. One priority was finding a striker to pair with Henry up front. Not necessarily an easy objective, but Rodgers certainly appeared capable during an impressive run in 2011.
Rodgers began his career at English side Shrewsbury Town, after showcasing great potential within their youth system. A “super sub” role saw him blossom into a consistent starter for the club. His tenacity in the final third produced an impressive goal-scoring rate. When Shrewsbury suffered relegation from the Football League, it paved the way to a variety of destinations for Rogers.
The forward moved on to Crewe Alexandra. The coaching decisions made matters difficult for Rodgers to gain minutes. Soon, stops at Port Vale and Yeovil Town followed. Each destination came with a similar theme. Hard work and potential were present, but injuries and the manager’s tactics were not always on Rodgers’ side. Then in 2009, a short moment in time would ultimately have a major effect on Rodgers’ future.
That summer, Rodgers signed with Notts County, and played for their new manager, Hans Backe. The Swedish coach was impressed by Rodgers, but he would not last with the Magpies for very long. Only a few months after his appointment in the job, Backe exited because of payment issues at County. He left for New York soon after, taking over from interim head coach Richie Williams in January of 2010.
Rodgers enjoyed a solid season with County. He scored 13 goals and helped them achieve promotion to the third division. However, he had his sights set on a new destination, and would link up with Backe once more. This time, the setting would be Red Bull Arena.
The end of the 2010 season saw key figures depart from New York. Mike Petke (who assumed an assistant coaching role under Backe) and Juan Pablo Ángel stepped away from the club. Thierry Henry became the guiding force for the team. Searching for another weapon, Backe looked towards someone he knew could create a spark.
Rodgers joined the team ahead of the 2011 campaign. He brought an element of grit that endeared him to the home fans almost immediately. Rodgers was unafraid to charge into a tackle, and never backed down from MLS opposition. He was a fantastic compliment to the skillful touch of Henry.
Another addition would be made, this time for Toronto FC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. One of the league’s most talented players at his position, New York truly boasted an excellent squad. But all these moving parts did not fit quite right, and only weeks later De Rosario was traded to D.C. United for Dax McCarty. With the midfield sorted, McCarty covered space at the back, freeing the Red Bulls attack.
Rodgers netted ten goals in 25 appearances across all competitions. The club qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season. They would fall to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals, but the striker’s efforts in that series certainly stood out for supporters. Rodgers scored a goal in the second leg to level the aggregate score, before the Galaxy eventually won 3-1 to eliminate the Red Bulls from the postseason.
There was optimism about the new year ahead, only for circumstances to end his run with New York earlier than anyone would have liked. Visa problems prevented him from being able to extend his contract. Rodgers was once again forced to find a new club. A short stint in Norway with Lillestrøm came next, with an eventual return to England with Portsmouth and Shrewsbury Town soon to follow.
Backe and New York would have to regroup for 2012 without Rodgers, and they definitely found some adequate reinforcements for the attack. Kenny Cooper would be the club’s leading scorer that year, and former Everton forward Tim Cahill would arrive that summer as well.
A multitude of clubs would add Rodgers during the past few years, with none lasting for much more than a year. The list includes Hammarby IF, Forest Green Rovers, Sutton Coldfield Town, Solihull Moors and Hednesford Town. The 38-year-old is still on the books now with Highgate United FC, in the lower tiers of the English game.
A fiery competitor and a person that will always speak his mind, Rodgers never had an issue with going his own way and trusting his instincts. It is that very quality that brought him to the United States with the Red Bulls in the first place. Rumors had popped up in 2015 about a possible second spell in Major League Soccer, but those talks never did fully materialize for either side.
The New York Red Bulls have seen many gifted forwards line up for the franchise, each bringing unique qualities and characteristics to aid the team in succeeding. Luke Rodgers made quite an impact in 2011, even if he seemed to disappear just as quickly as he joined that year.