Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Backe: Managing Expectations or Fostering Mediocrity?

Where Has Angry Hans Gone?
Hans Backe was back in charge of Red Bulls practice at Montclair State University today, having sufficiently recovered from the surgical procedure that kept him from making the trip to California. He met with reporters at training, and in addition to providing an update on injured squad members (Rodgers and Solli both available for Saturday, Henry recovered from his illness), the Gaffer took some time to speak about RBNY's recent results and his expectations for Saturday. Kristian Dyer's coverage on mlssoccer.com included this gem of a quote from Backe:
“It would be nice to get a win, of course, but I don’t think we need to pressure the guys,” Backe said. “I want to be No. 1 in December.”
Excuse me, but WHAT???!!!

The Red Bulls, who have arguably the most talented squad in MLS and were chosen by many observers to win the Eastern Conference going away, have won a massive one game since the beginning of May. Over the course of the previous 11 games, they have thrown away points left, right and center - both at home and away - and are now trailing their hated rivals down the road, Philadelphia Union (who have a game in hand), by two points in the standings. The one league win the Red Bulls did pick up during that stretch - against one of MLS' worst teams, the Revolution - was only preserved thanks to a full-stretch save by Greg Sutton and some lousy New England finishing. It's hardly the kind of record that should give the manager or players the luxury of resting on their laurels. And yet, there's Backe, lowering expectations in the guise of not putting pressure on his players.

When Toronto FC visit Harrison tomorrow, they will do so as one of only five MLS clubs who have yet to win on the road this season (0-4-4). The only team they seem capable of beating at the moment is the lowly, expansion Vancouver Whitecaps, who they defeated twice in the space of a week. If Backe's not expecting his team to pick up full points against TFC, then why in the world should the Red Bulls be considered likely candidates to win anything this season?

This isn't the first time that Backe has declared himself happy with draws. Before the Red Bulls left for Portland, he said that he would be content with picking up a point in each game, considering the players who would be missing on Gold Cup duty and the short window between games. Hie second-in-command, Jan Halvor Halvorsen, seemed to be perfectly pleased with a draw against San Jose, despite the fact that the Red Bulls had, once again, thrown away a hard-earned lead.

Backe and Halvorsen's rhetoric is all the more jarring when you contrast it with recent statements from Erik Solér, who went so far as to virtually guarantee that the club would finish atop the East when all is said and done. Solér's expectations are about as high as they could be for a club that can't get out of its own way at the moment. Why then is Backe not asking and expecting more of his team? Frustrated fans would like to know.
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