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June 28, 2011
Improved Rooney connects for game-winner for Red Bulls in Open Cup

John Rooney struck for the game-winner in the 2-1 Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup win over FCNY in the 65th minute.
John Rooney struck for the game-winner in the 2-1 Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup win over FCNY in the 65th minute.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

HARRISON, N.J. -- When the Red Bulls picked John Rooney in the MLS SuperDraft in January, coach Hans Backe realized that it might take a year before the team could see the fruits of their selection.

"I think it's next year when you can see how much [he has] improved," Backe said.

On Tuesday night, Red Bulls and Backe got a small preview.

The younger brother of Wayne Rooney came through for the MLS side in its Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup third-round game, connecting for the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over FC New York at Red Bull Arena .

The victory boosted the Red Bulls into the July 12 quarterfinals as they will play at the Chicago Fire, 1-0 winners over the Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday.

There is a good chance that Rooney will be in the lineup because Backe plans to use the same team -- mostly reserves in a lineup that included U.S. internationals Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo, back from their three-week stint in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

"It will be the same team," he said. "I just hope that we have 11 starters on July 12 because July is a killer for us. I think we have up to nine games now in July."

On Tuesday night, Rooney was a killer for FCNY, the USL PRO Division team that had some ideas of becoming Open Cup giant killers. The visitors certainly gave the Red Bulls a scare with midfielder Owen Morrison's 30-yard strike in the 56th minute before Corey Hertzog equalized two minutes later.

Then Rooney scored a rather rountine goal off a Tim Ream pass in which he sent a low, rolling 24-yard shot that went to the near left post past goalkeeper Steve Diaz in the 65th minute for the game-winner in front of a crowd of 2,074.

Not the greatest of goals, but it all counts just the same.

"Ream played a good ball," Rooney said. "I was able to turn and get a shot off and luckily it went into the back of the net."

Asked if he was going to call up Wayne, who stars for Manchester United and for the English National Team, John replied, "He'll probably know anyway."

Given the nature of his position -- a holding midfielder -- Rooney doesn't get that many opportunities to score goals, let alone game-winners.

He admitted he has never scored a game-winner "at the professional level, but when I was younger, I scored quite a few goals. On the professional level, I haven't scored that many goals."

For Rooney, who hasn't gotten many opportunities to play this season -- he has played in but four matches -- Tuesday was a chance to showcase his abilities to the coaching staff.

"It was good to get 90 minutes under your belt," he said.

Backe and his staff liked what they saw at the MLS combine in Fort Lauderdale in January.

"His understanding of the game is very good," he said. "He's a good passer of the ball. He has a good strike.

"If you looked at the central midfielders at the combine, he definitely was one of the four that stood out," he said. "It's still a lot of work to do."

Such as his pace.

"It's definitely about his pace," Backe said. "He just has to be a little hit quicker, sharper in possession."

No one has to remind the 20-year-old Rooney about that.

"Since I arrived here, that is one of the main things I like to work on," he said. "I am comfortable with the ball. I like to work on my pace."

Ream has liked what he has seen, saying his teammate has adapted his game to the Red Bulls' style.

"He's definitely playing much more simple now that he was in the beginning of the year," he said. "I think he thought he could get away with maybe more touches, but Johnny's at his best when he's play one or two touch, making little movements here and there. We came in at halftime and I told him and Austin [da Luz] that there was a point those were cycling and switching and getting the ball every other touch. When he does that, he's definitely at his best."

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