BY MATTHEW LEVINE
When there is a need for a player to come in at midfield, Eric Alexander is sure to be called.
He’s now been on the right, through the middle and for the first time this season, on the left in the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union — the club’s first win of the season.
As it turns out, it doesn’t matter to Alexander where he is positioned — he just wants in.
“I just want to play, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said after the match.
“They’re all positions I’ve played before, it’s a little weird bouncing around because your role changes game to game, but that’s just something I have to get used to if I want to contribute to this team.”
The move to play Alexander on the left was a tactical one by head coach Mike Petke. The objective was to counter the Union’s strong play through the middle.
“They like the middle. We figured we would like him to come inside more than not. His ability on the ball, to bring the ball from the right foot to his left side to get his way around, it turned out, actually, to work on the other side a lot more with Lloyd [Sam] coming in,” said Petke.
“Lloyd came in quite a lot tonight into the middle, and was creative, and Eric did as well. But, that was tactical to have a right footer on the left tonight because we wanted to overload the midfield a bit.”
Alexander admitted that he played there 10 or 11 times during his stint with the Portland Timbers.
After earning his first call-up and first cap against South Korea with the U.S. Men’s National Team, confidence has been no problem. However, playing time has. He continues to compete for significant minutes within a crowded midfield.
“When I came back, kind of just knowing that I could play at that level all the time and try to translate it doing it here,” Alexander said. “Obviously, it’s tough because we have so many good players here and I am not getting the same minutes that I was last year and it was just finding that consistency.”
Even without starting every game, he continues to receive plaudits from his teammates.
“What I don’t understand is that last year Eric was one of the most valuable players. He was my player of the season. He’s a player who gets on with it, stays under the radar and just does his job. He never asks for plaudits. There is a reason why he went away with the American national team and he got on the pitch because the manager senses quality,” said fellow midfielder Tim Cahill.
“I’ve always told everyone to watch out for Eric and everyone still wants Eric to be the first sub or it’s an easy option for Eric to come off. If you know football, then you know Eric is a class player and he is a team player. Eric’s someone who I feel has a massive impact on this team. He’s a footballer, a proper footballer and I am a fan.”
Alexander certainly had a major impact in the win over the Union. He was involved in the build-up to Henry’s goal, playing a one-two with Roy Miller before centering to Henry in the 57th minute.
Just ten minutes later, Alexander was creating again. He picked out Lloyd Sam, who headed home the vital winning goal.
Alexander may not have a set role, but he is sure to continue to find minutes somewhere in the midfield.
“Everybody liked him around the league, but there was just something and he proved last year he got confidence and for me coming back from the national team this year, in preseason, you saw another step of confidence with him,” said Petke.
“I love Eric with the ball. He is an intelligent player, He needs a couple of more things to make that next jump. Perhaps, it’s a bit of confidence as well. He has proven that he could be almost like a Tim Cahill last year, where you can play him at two or three different positions.”