Erik Soler Built A Roster That’s Produced the Best Regular Season in RBNY History, So Naturally Red Bull Fired Him Today

With three weeks left in a season during which he acquired former U.S. internationals Kenny Cooper and Heath Pearce, rugged Colombian defender Wilman Conde, skilled French attacker Sebastien Le Toux, and former Everton star Tim Cahill, Erik Soler has been dismissed as Red Bull New York’s General Manager and Sporting Director, the team announced today.

Sigh.

Soler, who will remain with the club as an “internal advisor,” has been replaced by Jerome de Bontin, former President of AS Monaco. Ex-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has been Red Bull’s Head of Global Soccer since July, and, according to the club’s release, “will oversee all sporting aspects of the team.”

There’s obviously more to come from this one (Soler’s Twitter account was suspended today). There’s no way the team makes this move at this time, with the playoffs fast approaching, unless some internal issue came to a head. Stay tuned.

In any event, this episode lengthens RBNY’s already substantial lead on the pack in the race for most dysfunctional franchise in MLS history.

Red Bulls GM Soler Issues Statement on Refereeing in Portland Game (But Henry’s Red Was Deserved)

The New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers played to a wild, back-and-forth 3-3 draw last night at JELD-WEN Field.

Here are the highlights, with the not-even-trying-to-hide-their-bias local announcers (one of whom is former Jamaica international Robbie Earle, who scored that nation’s first ever goal in the World Cup finals. The more you know….):

Absent from the clip are a penalty miss (off the post) by Jack Jewsbury that would have put the Timbers up 4–2, a bicycle-kick goal-line clearance by Teemu Tainio, and a red card issued to Thierry Henry in stoppage time for smacking the head of Portland midfielder Adam Moffat.

Yes, it was an eventful, strange game. And here’s perhaps the oddest occurrence: New York was whistled for 25 fouls to Portland’s five.

There’s home-field advantage, Red Bulls GM Erik Soler has apparently decided, and then there’s … WTF?

Today, Soler issued the following statement regarding the match:

“We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night and I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable. First, the red card given to Thierry Henry was inexplicable. There was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever and this decision was made by a linesman who was more than half a field away. Second, in any soccer game, there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.

“We are aware that U.S. Soccer and MLS are working hard to improve the officiating in this country and we support those efforts wholeheartedly. However, if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur. We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

As for the imbalance in foul calls—and just five being called on the home side—Soler has a valid point. That’s more than an anomaly.

As for Henry’s red card, it’s true that the linesman who helped the ref make the call was not right on top of the play, but the statement “there was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever” is demonstrably false.

Click here to take a look at the clip.

Henry does the time-tested “Yeah, yeah, we’re good, man” multiple pats on the head delivered with enough force to suggest exactly the opposite.

It’s a first cousin of the “Here, let me help you up” move seen so often on soccer fields that actually communicates “Get up, a—hole, I barely touched you.”

If it were Henry’s only borderline action of the game (or his brief MLS career), we’d say it deserved a yellow at most.

But Henry—who had an incredible game, by the way—was on the edge for much of the match, getting in little cheap shots here and there and twice planting his knee in the backs of Portland defenders while going for headers.

In that context, the red makes more sense—and regardless of the situation, Henry did strike an opposing player.

We’d be surprised if the league agreed with Soler (and 86% of the respondents to the MLS poll on the topic) and appealed the Frenchman’s automatic one-game suspension, making him available for Thursday’s game at Seattle.

Besides, with his sore knees, does Henry really want to play two FieldTurf games in a row?

Red Bulls Sack Assistant Williams, Goalkeepers Coach McAleenan

Just weeks before their March 19 MLS season opener, the New York Red Bulls dismissed longstanding assistants Richie Williams and Des McAleenan—then released possibly the tersest press release in sports history to announce the decisions.

Here it is, in full:

Red Bull New York announced today that it has relieved assistant coach Richie Williams and goalkeeping coach Des McAleenan of their duties effective immediately.

“As an organization, we decided to go a different direction with our coaching staff,” said Red Bull New York General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “We want to thank Richie and Des for their contributions to our franchise and wish them good luck in their future endeavors.”

Obviously, there is much more to this story than that ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ bulletin, but we’ll have to await further details. According to the Washington Post’s Steven Goff, who broke the story, “One source said the reason was repeated violation of club rules. Another cited punctuality.”

Williams had been with the organization since 2006 and was seen as a vital liaison to coach Hans Backe and his staff as they acclimated to the idiosyncrasies of doing business in MLS during their first season last year.

McAleenan had been New York’s keepers coach since 2002 (when they were the MetroStars) and is widely respected around the league.

More to follow on this one, for sure.

Red Bulls Preseason Update

Lindpere (10) in action here for Estonia against Belgium, should start training with the Red Bulls next week.

The New York Post’s Brian Lewis and the Newark StarLedger’s Frank Giase visited a Red Bulls training session at Montclair State University on Monday and came away, um, bullish—on both the new regime of GM Erik Soler and coach Hans Backe, and on the state of the team in general.

Fresh from a preseason trip to Spain, where they went unbeaten in exhibitions against CSKA Moscow (1-1), Polish side Lech Poznan (1-0), and Norwegian team Stromsgodset IF (2-1), the Red Bulls welcomed Costa Rican defender Roy Miller to his first RBNY practice, and confirmed the signing of Estonian international Joel Lindpere.

The team announced that it would add an attacking midfielder before the season opener on March 27, and that it would wait until after South Africa 2010 to pull the trigger on its second Designated Player slot, refueling speculation that it would go after a big international, such as France’s Thierry Henry, once the World Cup is finished.

Click here for Giase’s report. He came away clearly impressed with Soler and the way the team is doing business, and the signing of Lindpere, who has 74 caps and six goals for Estonia, does seem promising: At 28, he’s in his prime, and with his modest pedigree, he should fit well with MLS and be hungry to prove himself. Backe describes him to Lewis as a “hard worker” with a great left foot who’ s very good on restarts.

But Red Bulls/MetroStars fans have been down the hope-springs-eternal road many times before. With memories of previous hopeful midfield signings such as Sasa Curcic, Claudio Reyna, and Albert Celades still fresh in their minds, they can be forgiven if they take a wait-and-see attitude.

The Red Bulls head to Bradenton, Fla., on Monday for the next phase of their preseason.

Red Bulls Land Defender Chris Albright

Albright has 21 appearances and one goal for the U.S.

The new Red Bull regime continues to get to work, and continues to build from the back: less than a week after announcing the signing of Costa Rican defender Roy Miller, the team confirmed that it has traded a second- and a third-round pick in today’s SuperDraft to New England in exchange for veteran defender Chris Albright.

Albright is 31 (today’s his birthday, in fact) and he’s coming off a season lost to a knee injury (he had meniscus surgery last spring), but he’s a three-time MLS All-Star and has played on three MLS-Cup-winning teams—D.C. United in 1999, and the L.A. Galaxy in 2002 and ’05. He’s also played 21 times for the U.S., scoring one goal.

Albright will likely suit up at right back for RBNY.

Share your take in the comments. Is Albright a risk, considering his age and recent knee trouble? Or does he bring a solidifying veteran presence to the Red Bull backline?

Backe to the Future: The State of the Red Bulls

Backe's experience with mid-level clubs and non-superstar players may serve him well in New York.

While we had a little fun with yesterday’s announcement of Swede Hans Backe as the new coach of the Red Bulls, we don’t, by any means, intend to declare the man a failure before he’s even run an RBNY training session. We’ll wait until the team gives up three consecutive 89th-minute goals for its first three-game losing streak this spring. Ha. No, really, we’re willing to give the guy, and the new Red Bull regime, a chance.

In fact, we enlisted a few fellow long-suffering MetroBull fans to talk us down off the ledge last night and look at the  bright side, at least a little bit. So today, in the clear light of a Friday morning, with 78 days to go before the crucial opening-day game in its sparkling new stadium, let’s look at where this team stands, tackle some (not all; we’d eventually have to quit for dinner) of the questions it faces, and see what Backe has cut out for himself.

We’ll start with the roster from last year’s most impressive performance, the 5-0 pasting of playoff hopefuls Toronto in the 2009 season finale. Here’s that squad, along with subs and bench:

GK: Bouna Coundoul

Backline: Carlos Johnson, Andrew Boyens, Mike Petke (Walter Garcia 9), Danleigh Borman

Midfield: Jeremy Hall, Dane Richards, Albert Celades (Matthew Mbuta 92+), Seth Stammler,

Strikers: Macoumba Kandji, Juan Pablo Angel (Sinisa Ubiparipovic 90).

Substitutes Not Used: GK Danny Cepero, M Ernst Oebster, M Luke Sassano, M Nick Zimmerman

Let’s start at the back and move forward.

Goalkeeper: As far as we’re concerned, “Bouna Time!” should continue uninterrupted at the new stadium. Coundoul, who’s been capped twice by Senegal, is a clear upgrade over Cepero in goal.

Defenders: Reconstruction has already begun here, as today the team confirmed the signing–reported earlier in the week–of 25-year-old Costa Rican Roy Miller, a 6-2, 170-pound defender with 12 caps for his national team.

Miller has 12 caps for Costa Rica.

The backline most definitely needs shoring up (RBNY tied with Dallas for most goals allowed in 2009), and Miller’s pedigree makes him look like a worthy addition, one who’ll likely fit well with fellow Costa Rican Johnson, who has always been solid for the RBs when healthy. But there are still holes here, most notably in the middle, where Kiwi Boyens is definitely not the answer and Mike Petke, though rightly beloved among RB faithful, is not getting any younger. Soler and Backe still need to anchor their defense with a quality centerback.

Midfield: Albert Celades, aka The Playmaker Who Wasn’t, Really, has retired. Hall showed potential as a winger and Stammler has been good-to-competent as a holding midfielder. We’d like to see Richards and his wooden touch go, but the lightning-fast winger signed a long-term contract last February, so….we might be stuck with him. As for the midfield subs from last year’s finale, we’ve always liked Ubiparipovic’s ability to get out of tight spaces and maintain possession in midfield, and Oebster and Mbuta have shown promise. Zimmerman was taken by Philadelphia in the expansion draft, and Sassano has never wowed us.

But there isn’t one guy in the entire group who is a playmaker that can unlock opposing defenses. That’s the player Soler and Backe need to find, and sign.

Strikers: Angel is one of the greatest imports in league history, period. Red Bull is lucky to have him, still. Kandji could be a star in this league; he’s deceptively rangy and fast, and he produces–he had four goals and five assists in 20 starts last season–but he missed seven games due to injury. Mbuta can play up top, but given Kandji’s injuries last year, and Angel’s age (34) the team definitely needs reinforcements here.

So there you have a rough sketch of the initial roster issues facing Soler, Backe, Williams and Co., and don’t forget, they have a Designated Player spot open following Claudio Reyna’s retirement in 2008. Will they use it early, to bring in a marquee player in hopes of getting the season (and the new stadium) off to a good start, or will they wait till after the World Cup, when an international superstar or two may be ready to quit Europe and give MLS a try (see Henry, Thierry)?

Stay tuned. And post your take on the state of RBNY in the comments. What do you think of the Backe hire? Can this staff put together a respectable team in time for the new season? Will they adjust to the peculiarities of doing business in MLS? Or will the Curse of the Meadowlands continue?

Q: What’s A Hans Backe? A: Your New Red Bulls Coach

 

Backe was an assistant to Eriksson in Mexico—and still got the Red Bull job.

The New York Red Bulls have finally found a new coach, and longtime fans of the organization can be forgiven for any eye-rolling or “here we go again” utterances.

The new man is Hans Backe, 57, a Swede who has worked with Sven-Goran Eriksson and won four titles in the Danish league with FC Copenhagen and Aalborg. His most recent stint was with Notts County of England’s League Two (the fourth level of English soccer), and he also served as an assistant under Sven-Goran Eriksson at both Manchester City and with the Mexican national team.

Considering the disaster that was the stint with El Tri (thousands of Mexican fans held a “victory rally” when Eriksson and Co. were sacked), and Backe’s limited to non-existent knowledge of MLS, combined with GM Erik Soler’s comparable inexperience with the league, well, this just may be one that makes Red Bull fans go hmmmm. Or worse.

On the bright side, Backe did win those championships in Denmark, he does have a lot of experience in the game at fairly high levels, and the team did smartly retain Richie Williams as an assistant coach. Williams will be the highest-ranking Red Bull employee with any real knowledge of MLS or the American player. 

That beautiful brand new stadium opens in just two and a half months. Can Mr. Backe and his staff assemble a team worthy of it in time?

Hmmmm.