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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

September 21, 2011
The Red Bulls are toast -- and Backe and Soler should be as well

Erik Soler (above) and Hans Backe are on the hot seat and on the firing line as the Red Bulls continue their fall.
Erik Soler (above) and Hans Backe are on the hot seat and on the firing line as the Red Bulls continue their fall.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

They were supposed to be the toast of MLS this season.

Instead, today, the Red Bulls are just toast.

Their milquetoast performances the last 2 1/2 months has made them the most disappointing and underachieving team in the league's 16-year history.

Yes, there were dozens of teams who have had much worse records than the Red Bulls.

But few teams in the past 16 years have had this much expectation, not with the likes of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.

Barring a miracle finish in their remaining five matches, the Red Bulls are finished this season. They are 7-7-15 with 36 points after night's latest disaster -- a 3-1 trouncing by Real Salt Lake at home, yet another low point in yet in an elevator of a season that doesn't have an up button.

There better be changes made with this underachieving joke of a team and I don't mean just players. I'm talking about the top.

Quite simply, they -- sporting director and general manager Erik Soler and coach Hans Backe -- don't understand the American game and worse, they don't want to. They decided to stock the roster with more nationalities than the United Nations has and looked where it has gotten the team. Backe has little or no patience in developing players. If you don't believe me, take a look on how many he has used this season. It's almost as though Tim Ream was an accident last year.

If Backe returns as coach, I will be the most surprised person in the universe. While I like him personally, Backe has not made the grade this season.

He said he did not factor in the CONCACAF Gold Cup when he planned out the season, which turned into a grave, grave mistake.

And I have been told by a source close to the team that Backe does not watch many MLS and his game preparation and scouting is well, sketchy. I have to reiterate that this is from a source. But if that is indeed true, then Backe should be fired on the spot for gross negligence.

But that might not happen.

If you remember from the dismal 2009 season under former Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio, Red Bull waited for him to resign rather than fire him.

Who knows? They could wind up playing the same game with Backe.

While the coach traditionally is the first to go after such disappointing seasons, the general manager is usually safe.

Well, not this time.

Given what Red Bull has spent on this team -- more than $10 million for Henry and Marquez -- expectations were in the penthouse and realization has been pretty close to the outhouse, although if everything is relative they are in the basement, for all intents and purposes.

Like it or not, Soler's season, if not Red Bulls tenure, will be defined by two trades involving Dwayne DeRosario -- his coming (April Fool's Day, quite appropriately) and his going (June 27). It has turned into one of the worst trades in Red Bulls/MetroStars history (and one of the best deals in D.C. United history.

Essentially, Soler and Backe put most of their eggs in one basket and wound up will little or no depth. The team has paid for it dearly over the past several months.

Well-paid coaches and GMs in New York cannot afford to make such bad decisions and blunders and not pay the price.

Salzburg, Austria, are you listening?

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, are you listening?

Do you like to see your millions wasted on bad decision after bad decision?

It will be interesting to see if the organization's hierarchy will act after such a mess of a season.
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