November 10, 2012
Here we go again, folks: expect many changes in yet another busy off-season
By Michael Lewis
With Hans Backe gone as coach, Teemu Tainio could be on the Red Bulls' endangered player list for 2013, among others.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Memo to Red Bulls fans:
Buckle up your seat belts because it should be a another bumpy ride in the off-season.
With two-thirds of the Red Bulls' hierarchy in place, there could be a lot of changes on the field in Harrison, N.J. this winter.
Just in case you missed it, the Red Bulls on Friday announced that the contract of coach Hans Backe would not be extended past this season. No surprise there
Given the team's abysmal playoff performances during Backe's tenure -- three consecutive conference semifinal exits with a lineup that includes Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez -- -- the writing certainly was on the wall.
Backe probably needed at least to reach MLS Cup, if not win it, to save his job. With a new general manager in place in Jerome de Bontin, and former Scotland coach and UEFA technical diector Andy Roxburgh, installed as the new sporting director on Friday, expect changes, lots of changes.
That's been the Red Bulls' mantra since their very first season as the MetroStars and that sort of tradition is difficult to break.
Besides, big changes always happen when any team brings in a new coach. With the Red Bulls, that is magnified with the sporting director. Add a European influence and the demand to win now in New York and you can understand why there will be changes made.
Whoever that new coach may be might say he won't make sweeping changes. Sure, not right off the bat, but I have covered soccer and sports enough to know it will happen sooner or later. Coaches want to bring in "their own players," ones that they are more comfortable with.
Case in point: No player from the pre-Backe days is a Red Bull uniform these days. The last pre-Backe player was midfielder Dane Richards, who was sent packing to the Vancouver Whitecaps for Sebastien Le Toux in July.
So, if the Red Bulls bring in a coach without any northern European ties, the likes of defender Markus Holgersson (Sweden), defender-midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli (Norway) and midfielder Teemu Tainio (Finland), could be in trouble.
A quick look at what could transpire between now and March (and even beyond):
With Ryan Meara (recovering from hip surgery), Luis Robles (who performed so well in the playoffs) and Bill Gaudette (sidelined by an injury down the stretch), the Red Bulls are solid in this position. Perhaps too solid. Usually teams like to have a No. 1 and younger keeper. So, you have to wonder if they would want to sell Meara, who had a wonderful rookie season before he was injured, to a European team, or even trade Robles, whose stock went up the past month.
This is one place where the Red Bulls can improve themselves. Holgersson, despite his improvement during the season, could be a goner. Heath Pearce was a great addition at center back and should stay, but he will need a partner. While Rafa Marquez says he wants to return, his is way too injury prone to make a real case to keep his $4.6 million salary. Whether it is injuries, red cards, suspensions or his attitude (his halftime tirade against Backe in D.C. last Saturday), he is not worth the money and trouble.
The flanks will need more depth than anything else. When healthy, Brandon Barklage was a find and a half at right back. Rookie Connor Lade proved to be versatile on both flanks and in the midfield as well. You don''t give up on players like that. But the new management will have to figure out if he is a starter or a reserve.
The talk is that Diago was brought in an attempt to entice his younger brother, Brazilian star Kaka, to come to the Red Bulls. So, the new powers that be, if they want Kaka, might stick with the older sibling. Or, if they want to sweep away the past as much as possible, he could be a goner, sooner than later.
Wilman Conde, whose injuries and personal issues limited his playing time and effectiveness, could be on his way out. Ditto for Costa Rican left back Roy Miller, whose play deteriorated as the season progressed and wound up on the bench.
The midfield needs an attacking central midfielder, but I've been saying that for the past three years. Like Marquez, Tainio was plagued by injuries, and even had considered retiring at one time this season. Who knows? The D.C. loss could have been his professional swan song. An interesting stat: The Red Bulls won only one game Tainio started his season, going 1-5-4 when he was in the Starting XI.
Give his stellar performance, Dax McCarty should be safe as the holding midfielder (and he can play on the right side as well). Left-sided Joel Lindpere has another year remaining on his contract, and he should be back, even though he was not as productive as his first two seasons. He is a grinder and a fan favorite.
Tim Cahill was a trooper after he joined the team as a designated player and he isn't going anywhere. the team needs more leaders like Cahill.
Le Toux was a big bust and he will try the European waters. Assume he is gone.
Solli could wind up in the Backe-up-the-truck movement.
Lloyd Sam, whose season was finished after his knee injury, was brought in by the old regime. But he looked good when he played and this team desperately needs pace anywhere in the lineup, especially at midfield.
Henry, who turns 36 next August, will be back, although we don't know what his reaction will be a rebuilding process. By the way, that age is considered ancient for strikers, even if he has more talent in one toe than many players have in their bodies.
You have to wonder about Kenny Cooper. Whether he returns has nothing to do with his penalty kick miss, but his ability to play with the former French international. According to sources around the league, Henry has not been exactly enamored with Cooper as a player, sentiments that are stronger than his recent public criticism. The criticism from Henry and Backe were about Cooper being more physical, taking advantage of his height as a target player and passing more to teammates. Here is one important thing you cannot argue with: 18 goals, That was a team best, second most in team history, second only to Juan Pablo Angel's 19 in 2007.
As for Thierry Henry, he had a very disappointing playoff series. He did not make much of an impact, unless you count his wayward free kicks hitting fans in the stands behind the goals. For someone of his stature, reputation and his paycheck (a league-high $5.6 million), it was a bad, bad, bad decision. Would David Beckham allow anyone else take a free kick for the LA Galaxy in that situation?
And allowing Miller, who has been an accident waiting to happen any time he has walked onto the field, to take a vital free kick as time was running out? Horrible decision. I can't accept his answer why. No excuses. He is the man that gets paid the big bucks to make things happen. Henry failed in more ways than one that night.
Since Backe is gone, you shouldn't go making any huge bets about Luke Rodgers returning. He was a Backe favorite. Since we don't know who the next coach will be and his preferences, Rodgers' future as a Red Bull still has to be considered in doubt.
As for some of the reserve players such as defenders Stephen Keel, and forwards Jhonny Arteaga and Corey Hertzog, they could survive the purge, partly because their salaries do not impact the salary cap as one o the others who were mentioned above.