Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe Says He Won’t Be Back Next Year

Two weeks after the Red Bulls dismissed GM Erik Soler during the thick of the team’s push for the playoffs, head coach Hans Backe has told a Swedish sports outlet that he will not return to the club next season.

“My contract runs out and I have not heard anything, so I will be moving home (Sweden) in December,” Backe said to SportExpressen yesterday.

So there you have it—sweep up the floor and turn out the lights, the season’s over.

What’s that? Oh, there are two games left? A playoff spot still remains to be clinched (or not)?

What is wrong with this organization’s sense of timing?

Before Soler was let go, they were battling for first place and had lost just once in their previous eight matches. Since his dismissal, they’ve lost a pivotal matchup at home against Chicago, slipped to fourth place, and heard their coach say he’s finished at the club.

Backe’s comments look like the last link in a chain of events that RBNY set in motion (intentionally or not, and, really, either way is pretty much equally damning) when the club shuffled Soler out the door. Soon after that, Soler’s replacement, Jerome de Bontin, gave a ringing non-endorsement of Backe, telling the press, “We’re unequivocally behind Hans until the end of the season.”

That line should have come with a pause after ‘Hans’ and a rimshot (ba-dum-dum) after ‘season.’ Seriously, what an insult; it’s no surprise that Backe is returning the favor in public, through the media.

Of course, the ones bearing the brunt of this mismanagement are the players and more importantly, the fans, who’ve suffered through 16 previous years of this kind of nonsense only to have it rear its head right at the moment it looked like the club had turned a corner.

Was there any reason all of this couldn’t have waited till, you know, after the season?

Hans Backe Tells Marquez: “Take It Easy, Champ”

In a scene we picture going a little like this…

…New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe suspended designated player Rafa Marquez for Saturday’s crucial game against Portland.

The move comes in the wake of the player’s locker-room-poisoning comments after Wednesday’s embarrassing 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake.

We like it, and not only from a team-morale perspective. Clearly, there had to be some response to the unprofessional and uncalled-for comments, and Marquez, as we’ve said before, has not played close to his best this season, so it’s debatable whether he’ll be missed on Saturday, especially given his current mindset.

Further, the Red Bulls’ victory over Dallas last week—their first win since July 6—came without the Mexican designated player in the lineup and featured a staunch defensive effort by the backline that Marquez infamously claimed was not up to his level.

So the plot thickens for what was already a slam-bang slate of weekend MLS action: In addition to the As the World Turns doings in New York, there’s a battle for first in the East tonight between Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia, a Texas derby match on Saturday, and a Cascadia Cup game that will also be the last match at Empire Field before the Whitecaps move to the revamped BC Place.

Other key games include a showdown between conference leaders Columbus and Los Angeles, and a matchup between red-hot Real Salt Lake and playoff hopefuls DC United.

Come Sunday evening, the playoff picture should be in much sharper focus—along with the futures of more than one Red Bull New York employee.

Red Bulls Wrap Up Preseason with Chippy, Less-than-Impressive Draw Against Atlas

We are still awaiting the day when Marquez applies himself in a Red Bull game.

Preseason games can be notoriously misleading, and an isolated preseason game is a limited sample size, for sure, but, man, based on last night’s performance in Glendale, Arizona, the 2011 Red Bulls look a lot like the 2010 Red Bulls—only not as good.

They were missing two projected starters in Juan Agudelo (groin) and Jan Gunnar Solli (undisclosed “minor” injury), but they looked far more than two pieces away from being a contending team. There was no rhythm whatsoever to their play, they struggled to connect passes, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 tie against Atlas, which is currently 4-4-1 after nine games in the Mexican Primera Division.

In short, they looked like what they were last season—a work in progress, a team yet to cohere.

A positive echo of last season was the one player who made something happen—Joel Lindpere, who drew an 88th-minute penalty that enabled New York to tie it up. Sure, he embellished it a little, but he got himself in a good attacking position, made a move, felt contact and went down. Boom: penalty; tie game.

But there was very little else to praise. Thierry Henry vacillated between frustration with his teammates for their inability to read his intentions (we’re looking at you, Dane Richards) and wild-eyed outrage at some rash tackles from the opposition (late in the game, he retaliated for one in a fashion that would have earned him a straight red in 99.9% of the leagues around the world. He got a yellow.).

He had isolated moments of gliding-on-air effectiveness, but overall, Henry did not look like a player ready to dominate MLS competition. Which, you know, was sort of the idea when RBNY brought him over last season.

Rafael Marquez was even worse. He was beaten badly on a ball over the top in the first half, and if not for some excellent cover from American Carlos Mendes, New York would have surrendered a goal on the play. Later, Marquez sent an awkward backpass to Bouna Coundoul that forced the keeper into an even more awkward emergency clearance.

The Mexican international also seemed to mentally float in and out of the game—a trait we saw in his RBNY appearances last season.

Partnering Henry up top was the 6-4 Ghanian Salou Ibrahim—a player that coach Backe spent the preseason going out of his way to say is not in his plans. Now here’s a start, Salou—go get ’em. He was predictably feckless and missed a clear chance in the first half, sending a lob over the bar with the keeper beaten.

New signing Teemu Tainio did not look like the answer in the middle of the park, and slightly ahead of him in midfield, Mehdi Ballouchy made us think Backe and Co. fell in love with the Morrocan prematurely last summer, and made a rash decision when they acquired him from Colorado (which went on to win the league without him, btw).

Ballouchy brings sporadic flashes of skill to the table—and nothing else.

Speaking of one-dimensionality, Dane Richards didn’t even have his primary (solitary?) asset—speed—going last night. Atlas defenders seemed prepared for that element and did an effective job neutralizing the Jamaican winger—when he wasn’t neutralizing himself with unforced errors and passes to no one.

On the positive side, Tim Ream was his usual composed and consistent self at centerback (despite scoring an own goal when a driven cross wrong-footed him), and Mendes, as we suggested earlier, looked pretty good—especially so since he had played 90 minutes against Dallas the day before.

Beyond that, though, if Red Bulls fans want to maintain their optimism for the 2011 season, they’ll have to set this one aside and fuhgettaboudid, as they say in New York.

Red Bull Roundup

It’s been a busy week for Red Bull New York. Let’s run it down:

• Last Friday, the club confirmed it had signed long-sought-after striker Luke Rodgers, formerly of League One side Notts County, where New York boss Hans Backe had a brief coaching stint. The speedy, diminutive (and feisty) forward scored 13 goals in 46 games for third-level Notts County. Hmmm. How will that translate to MLS? We have our doubts. Then again, Notts County just tied Man City in FA Cup play. Rodgers is nursing a right knee injury but hopes to join preseason training soon.

• On Tuesday, Major League Soccer—with Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan in attendance—announced that Red Bull Arena will be the site of the 2011 All-Star Game. The MLS All Stars’ opponent for that game, scheduled for July 27, has yet to be announced, but we’ve heard rumors that it will be—drumroll, please—Barcelona. We’ll find out within the next 30 days.

• Yesterday the club confirmed the long-anticipated signing of 20-year-old Brazilian midfielder Marcos Paullo, who had a trial with New York in 2010, and made an appearance in RBNY’s 2-1 win over Manchester City last July.

Say hello him here, where he gives a shout-out to the significant Brazilian community in Newark, the next town over from Harrison, home to Red Bull Arena:

• Former Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who was rumored to be the next man at Chivas USA, yesterday accepted the head coaching position of the Honduran national team, the newly minted champions of Central America.

• Coach Backe says that New York is still shopping for players, and hopes to add a right back and a central midfielder or a central defender before the March 19 opener against Seattle.

• Finally, that pesky Nicolas Anelka rumor resurfaced today, with French magazine L’Equipe quoting Anelka’s brother Claude as saying that the Chelsea striker could join former international teammate Henry at RBA. Treat it with a grain of salt for two reasons: 1. Anelka’s contract at Stamford Bridge doesn’t expire for a year and a half, and 2. The source of this rumor last time was—you guessed it—Claude Anelka. On the other hand, Fernando Torres did just sign with the Blues, possibly rendering Anelka superfluous. We’re not holding our breath either way.

Red Bulls’ Top Pick Corey Hertzog Will Never Score Another Goal Like This

It came at the start of his sophomore year at Penn State (he signed a Generation adidas contract with MLS after his junior season) in a game against Gonzaga in the Wolstein Classic, a tournament hosted by Ohio State.

Eighty-ninth minute, scored tied 0-0:

Hertzog led the NCAA in scoring this past year with 20 goals and six assists. He produced 33 goals and 14 assists in 61 games over three seasons for the Nittany Lions.

New York selected him with the 13th pick of last week’s MLS SuperDraft, with Red Bulls coach Hans Backe saying the team liked Hertzog’s ability to play out wide on the right as well as up top, and of course, his nose for goal.

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.

New Red Bulls Coach Meets the Press

(L to R) Richie Williams, Erik Soler, Backe, and GK coach Des McAleenan at Red Bull Arena.

Backpost was slated to hop the path train yesterday in downtown NYC and ride out to Red Bull Arena (the Palace on the Passaic? The Jersey Jewel?) to attend the news conference introducing new coach Hans Backe, but day-job obligations intervened, and it didn’t happen. 

It would have been valuable to get an in-person impression of the man, but beyond that, Backe’s encounter with the Fourth Estate wasn’t all that revealing—though it did clarify Jeff Agoos’s new role with the club, and there were some interesting nuggets.

Here are some choice quotes, with commentary:

On his stint as an assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson with the Mexican national team:

“In Mexico, we were hired by the FMF [Mexican Federation] to win away games. We won at home, but not away, which is why we were sacked.”

Hmmm. We’d say they weren’t hired to win away games as much as they were hired to not tie Canada in between losses to Jamaica and Honduras, as they did in late 2008, but maybe that’s splitting hairs. Check the record here. (Eriksson’s staff was dismissed after the 3-1 loss to Honduras on April 1.) Shouldn’t Eriksson and Backe have understood Mexico’s status as a CONCACAF top dog, one whose fans, and federation, would not accept losses to Jamaica, home or away?

On similarities between MLS and Scandinavian leagues:

“Physically, the football looks like Scandinavia. They are very comparable and I think it’s no coincidence that so many U.S. players can play over there. There is a similar skill level and similar economic constraints.”

We were with him until the last phrase. The economic constraints are not so similar. How many top-flight players in Scandinavia make $20,100 a year? There were plenty making that in MLS in 2009. How many stars in Scandinavia make $34,728, as Stuart Holden did with his most recent MLS contract? Backe will find himself much more handcuffed when it comes to acquiring players in MLS (outside of the second D.P. slot the Red Bulls still have) than he ever was in Scandinavia.

On what kind of style he prefers for his teams

He mentioned “pace” and “technical skill”—okay, sure—and then went on to say, “Sometimes you look at the Spanish league, which is a possession league. But too much possession can be boring. You need the right balance. But after so many years I know how to build a team.”

Backe admitted that he hasn’t seen much of his new players in action, and this statement proves it: The Red Bulls (and MetroStars) have never come close to boring fans with sustained stretches of possession. Quite the contrary.

The club also announced the Jeff Agoos will stay, with a new focus on scouting and player discovery. Backe will not be significantly involved in today’s SuperDraft, in which the Red Bulls have the No. 2 pick.

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?