After early struggles, Red Bulls’ Eckersley finally earns his spot

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

New York Red Bulls boss Mike Petke was quick to point out the team’s needs after last season’s playoff ouster vs. the Houston Dynamo.  Chief amongst them? The need for a versatile fullback.

Enter Richard Eckersley. The handsomely paid 25-year-old Englishman found himself in New York via trade, with Toronto paying a hefty part of his salary to facilitate the move.

Weeks into his Red Bull tenure, a floundering Eckersley found himself relegated to bench duties, with Kosuke Kimura and then Chris Duvall taking the lion’s share of minutes on the right side. That role would last nearly an entire season. After competing in every regular season match this March, Eckersley failed to crack a regular season roster until October.

Today, he is a vital part of the Red Bull defense. However, that road to glory has been paved in struggle.

“Richard Eckersley … has really surprised us in a certain way because he had his struggles early on in the year, but he came to a new team and he just stayed with and stayed positive,” head coach Mike Petke recalled. “I’ve had a handful of conversations and arguments I guess you could say early on in the year with him, but true to his form and true to his personality, he kept a great attitude and he worked every day, and when we put him in, however long ago, a month maybe, he has really stepped up and he’s really shown what he’s capable of.”

It took a precipitous nosedive in form from standout rookie right back Duvall to open those doors for the Englishman. Once in, that fiery personality Petke describes was on full display. Eckersley has been visibly aggressive and vocal since returning to full time play.

“As to our conversations, that’s between Richard and I,” Petke said of their discussions. “The one thing I will say is obviously, which is a good thing, he wasn’t very happy that he wasn’t playing a lot, and I like that. I’d rather have that than a player just smile and say ‘OK, I’m out of the lineup’ and just go about his business. No, he wanted to play and I’m glad for that because I think that was a driving force behind where he is right now.

That relentless attitude has resulted in six consecutive starts after nearly six months of inactivity. On the team level, it has completed a backline that was in tumult throughout most of the season.

New York have gone 4-2 since Eckersley’s return to the starting lineup. Barring September’s loss to LA, the Red Bulls have gone 4-1 on the month of October, scoring 12 and allowing just three goals while earning a pair of shutouts, telling the tale of this rejuvenated backline.

Eckersley has been a key cog in that resurgence, and Petke hopes his side can carry that form into the latter rounds of the playoffs.

“That back four right there, and listen this could change anytime, I hope it doesn’t, I hope these guys stick with it and continue to do what they’ve done, but [if] they let their guard down at all there’s other guys that want to step in, but for now this back four has done very well together,” Petke said. “They’ve gotten on the same page and they play off of each other very well.”