Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cross-Atlantic Correspondence - Back(e) at Last

Hans Backe - Mr. Mediocre
I've been absent from The Viper's Nest for far too long, weighed under by this, that and the other. But I'm back, and I'm determined to bring you a regular, more consistent British perspective of the Red Bulls.

So, have I missed much?

Yes, but most of it bad. Bad results, bad performances, bad news. There really hasn't been a lot to cheer about as a New York fan lately. And to think it started so well in the early weeks, with commanding performances and dominating results.

Limp draws week in, week out are, in a way, worse than a run of defeats. Ties have been accepted by some as 'not losing', which is not an acceptable approach for a club with one of the best rosters in the league. Sportsmen should be gunning for victory each and every time they compete. If you're scared to lose, don't even bother competing. No one ever earned great success in sport by looking over their shoulder and being pessimistic.

There are those that say eight draws in ten games is fine, because it includes only one defeat. It also includes only one win, a terrible run of form. The Supporters' Shield, which Hans Backe aimed for in 2011, is almost certainly out of the window already. New York Red Bulls, and their fellow faltering Eastern Conference neighbours, can only watch as once again the Western sides prove their ability to perform consistently and challenge for top spot.

So what's wrong? Is it the goalkeeping crisis, in which two mediocre and gaffe-prone glove-wearers swap shifts from one fixture to the next, competing to see which can gift opponents the most goals? Is it the Gold Cup, which robbed us of key starters? Or the injury troubles that plagued the makeshift line-up?

Nope, it's Hans Backe.

I know the Norwegian is adored amongst Red Bulls fans, and I agree he turned us around swiftly after a disastrous '09 season. But I've said it before and I'll say it again; he is not the right man for this job.

He is reliable, strong-minded and a good coach. He'll never lead you to the bottom of the table or an embarrassing thrashing. Neither, however, will he lead you to success. Much like far too many of his squad, he is Mr. Mediocre.

What sort of coach watches his team make the same mistakes over and over again, yet does nothing about it? What sort of coach picks out of form players while leaving young hopefuls and hungry replacements on the bench? What sort of coach watches his chosen line-up falter for 80 minutes before making an all-too-late substitution?

Losses are unavoidable and bad form plagues any sports team, but a coach guiding championship favourites to only one win during a run of fixtures lasting a whole third of the season simply isn't good enough to run that team. The Red Bulls need a coach who can cope with injuries, suspensions and the ridiculous clashes with FIFA activity. A coach who can make decisive line-up and tactical decisions. A coach who can actually fulfill the potential of a team including the likes of Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Tim Ream, Teemu Tainio and Juan Agudelo.

Let's see how the rest of the season plays out before adamantly calling for Backe's head, but if we fail to at least look like we could win the MLS Cup at the end of the season, the club should look at other options to helm the ship next season.

Elsewhere, I was shocked to discover during a rare five minute internet session while in sunny Majorca that Dwayne De Rosario had been traded away. The saviour of the Red Bulls midfield, the final piece of the jigsaw, is no longer needed by a team struggling to make any creative impact. What? Why? How? Sure, he didn't bang in goals by the bucket load, and he didn't sparkle amongst big names like he did in lesser-known line-ups, but he was doing just fine wasn't he?

I'm not going to knock Dax McCarty, who I believe is a fine player and will serve us well. But a straight swap? I cannot see that as good business for us, even if it does free up cap space. We've exchanged a dynamic player who can change a game for one who sits deep. Yay, two holding midfielders again. Because that was a joy to watch last year.

I know anything can happen in Major League Soccer, but this move confused me. Red Bulls went from desperately wanting DeRo to pushing him out of the door in just two months. Bearing this trade probably took some time to plan, execute and reveal, it seems as if DeRo was pretty much deemed surplus to requirements as soon as he arrived in New York.

My final point is about this situation between the sticks. At their best, I like both Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton. Unfortunately, it's their worst that more often makes the news. Between them they have made error after error, costing us valuable points along the way. The solution is simple - get rid of both keepers and use the freed salary to sign one good, reliable goalkeeper. It has already been confirmed the Red Bulls are on the hunt for a new goalkeeper, so hopefully whoever is signed can actually keep a simple effort out of the net.

It's a shame that neither Marcus Hahnemann nor Brian Jensen will be the new #1. Two excellent shot stoppers who have proved their quality here in England over the years. This is the level we need to be aiming for, even if it means making the acquisition a DP. Look at just about every MLS team, however good or bad, has a very good goalkeeper - Nick Rimando, Donovan Ricketts, William Hesmer, Kasey Keller, Stefan Frei, Faryd Mondragon, to name a few. If we can sign a good GK, we can hope for a reversal of fortunes before the season is out.

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