Saturday, November 5, 2011

Editorial: Backe/Soler Team Deserves Another Shot

Get Used to It: They're Staying
It was bound to happen. It might even have happened if the Red Bulls had found a way to progress beyond the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday and make it all the way to MLS Cup. What am I talking about? The boatload of scathing editorials asking for Hans Backe and Erik Solér's heads on a plate as a result of the Red Bulls' failures this season. New York's season ended earlier than their fans had hoped, and writers have wasted no time in calling for (yet another) regime change in Harrison.

I won't attempt to defend every move that Backe or Solér made this season (that would be foolish, not to mention impossible) or to issue blanket amnesty for their many mistakes. But I would like to argue that firing Backe and Solér is not the right thing for the Red Bull organization to be doing at this time - and that both men should be given another opportunity to prove themselves in 2012. Here are the main points in my argument:

  1. Front office turmoil has killed this club. The MetroStars/Red Bulls have been notorious for burning through coaches, GMs and front office personnel, and where has it gotten them? Nowhere. Bringing in yet another coach and general manager would require total upheaval, including the entire talent acquisition apparatus, the coaching staff and the team's style of play. Is that really necessary, just one year removed from finishing atop the Eastern Conference? No. The Red Bulls, for all their failings, finished just five points behind Sporting Kansas City and were just a Rich Balchan equalizer away from booking an automatic playoff spot. Is that an ideal set of circumstances when RBNY were projected as a clear preseason favorite in the East? No. But is it an out and out disaster? Hardly, especially given the club's history of failure.
  2. Solér and Backe have done a solid job of rebuilding. Remember when Kevin Goldthwaite and Juan Pietravallo graced New York's starting lineup? I do. Everyone will focus on Rafa Marquez's DP contract and the Dwayne DeRosario trades, but they should weighed against a number of positive moves, including the additions of unheralded players such Joel Lindpere and Luke Rodgers. Frank Rost, who many so-called experts were quick to brand as a "bust," (*ahem*) turned out to be one of the biggest positives down the stretch, providing much needed experience at the back. Even Stephen Keel, who looked so hopeless easily in the season in Portland, proved to be a solid acquisition. It's fair, of course, to note that in focusing on the starting XI, Backe and Solér have decimated the team's bench strength. But if they can unload some dead weight (i.e. Robinson, Nielsen, Paullo) over the offseason, there should be more than enough budget to add depth. 
  3. The team's window for success is closing. As (new daddy) Dave Martinez correctly noted at Empire of Soccer, the Solér/Backe team is a package deal, and one that the "Austrian overlords" have purchased on a multi-year contract. Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez are also part of that package deal, like it or not. The Red Bulls have two years - maybe three at a stretch - before they will need to gut the squad again and start over. You know that expression about changing horses in midstream? It applies here. I might feel otherwise if the club were up to its neck in water, but clearly they're not. The players proved in the games against Los Angeles (regular season and playoffs) that they are not miles away from the league's best. The problems are fixable.
  4. The other options stink. Steve Nicol, recently departed from New England Revolution, has been touted by some as a possible replacement for Backe, but his record over the past two seasons with the Revs is hardly superior: 14-32-18. He also never got to the promised land despite four visits to MLS Cup. Moreover, it's hard to imagine Nicol's personality meshing with the Red Bull ethos. Other names with MLS experience - Hamlett, Soehn, etc. - have little to nothing going for them. As for bringing in another foreign manager, it would require getting up the league's steep learning curve once again. The fact is that the other coaching options out there are less than ideal. If a Sigi Schmid or Jason Kreis were unattached and available it might be worth discussing. They're not.
Feel free to fire back(e) in the comments below if you disagree or have brilliant ideas about regime change at RBNY.

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