Richard Eckersley’s first MLS start in over six months for the New York Red Bulls in Saturday’s decisive 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo has earned the right-back praise from club captain Thierry Henry.
Seeing the starting lineup for the first time since March 30 in place of inconsistent rookie Chris Duvall, Eckersley proceeded to put in one of the club’s best defensive performances of 2014 to help record only their fifth cleansheet of the season and grab three crucial points in the playoff race.
His contribution was not lost on Henry, who netted the lone goal of the game in the 47th-minute thanks to some smart play from the Englishman, with the Arsenal legend moving to hail his role in the victory upon the final whistle.
‘Ecks was tremendous today’ he told MLSsoccer.com after seeing his teammate keep US World Cup veterans Brad Davis and DaMarcus Beasley quiet for 90 minutes. ‘I don’t even know how many minutes he played all season.
‘It’s not an easy ask to just train and sometimes know that you won’t be involved, but I have to give him credit, he’s been training hard every single time in training, and you could see that because he was actually fitter than everybody else. Joking apart, he was great, he had a good game.’
A former Manchester United youth product, who made two Premier League appearances during the club’s 2008-09 campaign, Eckersley first moved to MLS to join Toronto FC on loan from Burnley in April 2011.
A regular over the course of the season, his switch to the Canadian side was eventually made permanent in January 2012, with the 25-year-old going on to prove one of the few bright spots on a struggling outfit under head coaches Aaron Winter and Paul Mariner, respectively.
Two hamstring tears would restrict him to just 16 league appearances in 2013, however, before TFC’s dramatic offseason overhaul resulted in a January trade to the defensive-needy Red Bulls.
Slowed in the first four games of the season by fatigue, before an ankle injury would contribute to his prolonged absence, Eckersley is simply relieved to be back in the first-team picture after a frustrating spell on the sidelines.
‘It’s so frustrating, because I’ve played in the MLS over a hundred times, but it’s soccer,’ he said. ‘You’ve just got to deal with it. You’ve just got to take the rough with the smooth, and it makes you a better person and a better player because you’ve had to come back from a setback.
‘I probably wasn’t ready to play at the beginning of the season, but I feel more comfortable now. It’s more like a family now. I’m enjoying the last bit of the season. Hopefully.’