Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the New York Red Bulls, with stars such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill on the team, are in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference.
What is surprising though, is that the team’s standout player in the last few weeks has been right midfielder Eric Alexander.
In the Red Bulls last two home games, Alexander has been a menace going forward, creating space for his teammates with his darting runs forward and tactical awareness. In addition, the 25-year-old assisted on the game-winning goal against the Houston Dynamo and scored the game-winner against the Montreal Impact last Saturday.
Despite not starting the first game of the season, Alexander has started every single match since, 19 in all, earning praise from his head coach Mike Petke and teammates each week for his efforts along the wings.
“I’ve been saying it all year,” Petke said following the win against the Impact. “I know for some reason Eric’s been getting some stick, whether it be from the media or the fans about not playing well, but to us he does very well and we’re very happy with his play.”
Against the Impact, who are now level with the Red Bulls on points with 31, Alexander took advantage of space on the right side of the field. In the 8th minute, the Michigan native cut past three players on a 40-yard run to score his second goal of the season.
“It was hot out, transition was tough for both teams, and there was a lot of space on the wings,” Alexander remarked. “I was getting good balls from my teammates and they were making good off the ball runs to give me good one-on-one situations.”
Just a few minutes later, Alexander took on Jeb Brovsky of the Impact again, turning the defender in and out before hitting a shot that caught the crossbar.
Though he’s been a regular all season, in the last two home matches, fans have seen a more aggressive and attacking minded Alexander, one who won’t settle for passes back or to the sides.
“If you want to go forward and turn, you can always do it,” Henry said after the Red Bulls victory over the Houston Dynamo on June 30. “Eric definitely has the ability and capacity to do it. We told him during the week, ‘you’re a creative midfielder, you have to create,’ and he did it, and we all have faith in him to do it.
“When he turns, there’s no way you can stop Eric Alexander.”
As Alexander excels, it’s important to remember that not only is he adjusting to a new team in a new city that’s across the country from his last team, the Portland Timbers, but he’s also adjusting to different position demands. While he said that he did play the position in Portland and at times for FC Dallas, he admitted that 20 games into the season, he is really feeling comfortable with his teammates.
“Overall I think I’m pretty comfortable now, knowing where guys expect me to be, and the movements I need to make,” Alexander said.