Tuesday, June 1, 2010

MLS Slaps Backe on the Wrist

The MLS league office announced this afternoon that it has fined coach Hans Backe $2,500 for comments made to the Boston Globe following Saturday's 3-2 loss in New England.  The remarks in question can be found in this article by Revs beat reporter Frank Dell'Apa.  Asked about the controversial red card issued to Roy Miller, Backe responded:
I would say it’s an absolute disgrace. It’s ridiculous, it’s a joke.  When the referee decides games like this, probably the MLS should do an investigation, because it’s not even close to hitting [Boggs]. You can see the level of the referee, the level went like this [up and down]. It’s a joke. If this had been in Italy there would be an investigation if the referee was bought.
In any other league an accusation of that sort would bring a hefty fine and perhaps even a touchline ban. This being MLS and the refs being what they are (mostly crap), Backe got away with a minor slap on the wrist.  At least you can say he got his money's worth.

Beyond the inevitable frustrations with referees, the bigger issue for Red Bulls fans is whether Backe and his squad can find a way to recover from their recent string of frustrating performances and lousy luck.  While everything has been humming along nicely for the reserves in the US Open Cup, the first team continues to struggle in the competition that matters the most - the league itself.  After getting off to a torrid start that had fans dreaming about a top playoff seed in the East, RBNY would barely make the playoffs if they started today.  When the defense has been strong, the attack has failed to fire or the finishing has been subpar.  When the goals have arrived, goalkeeping and shoddy defending have let them down.

Through ten games, New York has failed to put together one great performance over 90 minutes. Right in the middle of the pack is probably where they deserve to be right now, but it's clearly not where they want or expect to be.  Austria has set the bar higher.  So where do we go from here?

Over the next two games probably nowhere.  With injuries and red cards affecting his squad selection, we may see Backe tinker with things a bit, offering more minutes to rookies like Garcia and Chinn who have impressed when given a chance.  But after the World Cup all bets are off.  Speaking with the Post's Brian Lewis today, Backe reiterated his desire to sign a true creative central midfielder as a third designated player, after the World Cup.  As loyal readers will know, this is something we've been screaming out for for the last year and a half.  Even so, it's good to know that the manager and powers that be see the elephant in the room.

More interesting is the discussion about what kind of formation we could see once this new man arrives later this summer.  According to Lewis, Backe envisions a midfield diamond, with the central midfielder to be named behind Angel (and presumably Thierry Henry), Lindpere either on the left or at the back of the diamond in a more defensive role and someone (please God make it Irving Garcia and not Dane Richards) terrorizing defenders on the right.  Backe also mentions that a new central defender may be required.  Anyone who saw Petke and Ream get burned on Saturday will know why.

It's a bold plan, but all of this will require some clever roster and salary cap maneuvering.  Personally, I'd like to see the club try to work a trade for either a central defender or an allocation to acquire one.  The question is - what do they have for trade bait?  I can think of two players off the top of my head who may have some value - Dane Richards and Seth Stammler.

Richards might not have much of a soccer brain, but he has incredible speed and has shown at times what he is capable of.  I imagine there is more than one MLS club out there that could be willing to work a deal for the Jamaican, hoping that they can use his pace to stretch defenses.  While Stammler's work ethic and versatility can never be questioned, Tony Tchani has been making a strong claim for the defensive midfield position after a slow start, and Carl Robinson should return in a few weeks.  Teams lacking in leadership and bite in the middle of the park may be interested in Stammler. 

Remember, with the new CBA in place it's not as easy as it once was to simply cut a player.  Soler and Backe will therefore need to be more creative in how they go about acquiring the help they need outside of DP signings, including wheeling and dealing via a trade or two.  Until that help arrives, we'll just have to hope that the current squad can recover enough to squeeze some points out of the home matches against Houston and Chivas USA.
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