October 3, 2012
Replacing Soler late in season is head-scratcher
By Michael Lewis
Erik Soler's firing as Red Bulls general manager and sporting director certainly was a head-scratcher this late in the season.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Leave it to the Red Bulls to shake things up when no one was expecting it.
The organization's decision to replace Erik Soler as general manager and sporting director, the architect of a team that has MLS Cup aspirations, with Jerome de Bontin certainly was earth-shattering news, especially with three games remaining in the regular season.
"With them, anything they do is not new," said an Major League Soccer insider.
Or according to the book.
It brings up two good questions:
* Why was Soler canned?
* And how precarious is Hans Backe's position as coach?
As it turns out, Soler enjoyed his best season. He mastered the salary cap and boosted the team with several additions, including designated player Tim Cahill and Lloyd Sam
But it was the timing of the firing, more than anything else.
According to an MLS source, Soler has been in Europe recently, dealing with a family illness.
It is not known whether that had anything to do with Soler's demotion to internal advisor.
Unless he did something egregious this past season, the 11th-hour move is surprising, to say the least.
Soler joined the Red Bulls with the reputation of overspending and running a club or two into the ground. According to sources close to the club, he had stretched the budget during his first two years, but got things in line this season.
And what a season it has been. The Red Bulls have enjoyed their best record at 15-8-8, tied for second in the Eastern Conference with Chicago, which plays Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
Backe's position has been to considered tenuous at best. This is the final year of his three-year contract that he signed just after Soler took over as GM.
As we all know, GM's like to hire their own people. You could not blame de Bontin if he wanted to bring in his own man, even with Backe's success.
You have to wonder if an MLS Cup crown will save Backe.
Gerard Houllier, who was appointed head of Global Soccer for Red Bull in July, will oversee all sporting aspects of the MLS club.
He will have the final say on a coach, especially if reports in the New York Times have any merit.
According to a Tuesday report in the Times, Houllier has plans to speak with potential candidates to replace Backe once his contract expires. The candidates, the Times reported, include a well-known international coach who has worked in the Premier League in England, source said.
And if there is a new coach, that means there will be a shake-up on the team for 2013. In sports, that's the way usually things go, like it or not.
But that's the last thing the players need as they try to secure a playoff berth.
As for de Bontin, he certainly has the background to run the ship, including being a former executive at French Ligue 1 club Monaco who also is on the U.S. Soccer Foundation board. Whether he can get things ship-shape as to one of the flagship of the MLS franchises, it remains to be seen.
There is a lot to be done, especially getting fans to Red Bull Arena.
There should be sellouts or near capacity crowds at the stadium, game-in and game-out. That might be more difficult than to build a winning team.