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Where the Red Bulls went wrong
by Ridge Mahoney, August 24th, 2009 5:15PM



As blame cascades down and those in Red Bull land scurry for cover, glaring among the many things the franchise couldn't do was rebuild from within MLS.

Not every moribund MLS team has revived its fortunes by cherry-picking from league rivals to fill at least a few of its needs, but unearthing gems from other rosters is one reason Columbus ended three straight postseason absences by winning MLS Cup 2008, Los Angeles has risen from the ashes of a similarly bleak stretch, Seattle burst out of the gates in its expansion season, and Houston just keeps winning regardless of misfortune or circumstance.

Certainly former head coach Juan Carlos Osorio flubbed many of his foreign imports, yet when it hired him New York cited his past experience in MLS as a valuable asset. Former U.S. international and MLS All-Star Jeff Agoos certainly had the stature and background to work the phones and cut deals with so many former contemporaries employed around the league.

Osorio often went out on his own to find players, searching Central America and South America among the teams and contacts he'd established during his coaching travels. Like any MLS general manager or technical director, Agoos combed through Gold Cup rosters, fielded phone calls from agents, and watched tapes and DVDs.

If Osorio and Agoos worked closely together their visions of the game and a system of play clashed sharply. If, as sources have said, they collaborated only occasionally, that might explain the mishmash of influences and styles and philosophies by which the players tried to perform, a situation surely exacerbated by Osorio's constant tinkering of personnel and formations.

Just a glance at the rosters of those other teams reveals how badly New York botched this critical aspect of success in a financially constricted, single-entity league:

The 2008 champion Crew included numerous regulars grabbed from other teams: Alejandro Moreno, Eddie Gaven, Ezra Hendrickson, Jon Busch, Brian Carroll, Danny O'Rourke and Stefani Miglioranzi. This year, one of its staunchest contributors has been defender Eric Brunner, who'd been drafted and released in preseason by - surprise! - the Red Bulls, which in its recent history had also employed Gaven and O'Rourke. Ooops.

Bruce Arena drafted wisely to grab rookie defenders Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza, yet those two youngsters have matured quickly thanks in part to experienced pros acquired since Arena took over: Todd Dunivant, Dema Kovalenko, Mike Magee, Jovan Kirovski, Eddie Lewis, Tony Sanneh and some guy named Miglioranzi.

Seattle may or may not match Chicago's 1998 record of reaching the playoffs in its first season, and has relied heavily on major signings Kasey Keller, Fredy Montero, John Kennedy Hurtado and Freddie Ljungberg, and USL graduates Sebastian LeToux and Oswaldo Alonso.

Yet Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson also receive high marks for their use of the expansion draft and other mechanisms. Tyrone Marshall, Brad Evans, James Riley and Nate Jaqua are starters; Pat Ianni, Stephen King, Nathan Sturgis, Pete Vagenas and Tyson Wahl have all played at least nine games.

In the past two seasons, Houston coach Dominic Kinnear - who hasn't needed to greatly shake things up -- acquired Bobby Boswell, Kei Kamara, Dominic Oduro, Cam Weaver and Ryan Cochrane from other MLS teams. Cochrane, a member of the 2006 and 2007 MLS championship teams, returned to Houston last week as the Dynamo embarks on a heavy burden of league and Concacaf Champions League games over the next seven weeks.

Comparing those lists of players to the few the Red Bulls have recycled, who aside from John Wolyniec and maybe Kevin Goldthwaite have contributed nearly as much and as well?

Tack on a few more names from those other teams and they'd look pretty good lined up with Juan Pablo Angel, Dane Richards, Jeremy Hall and Denny Cepero, not to mention reliable linchpins like Luke Sassano, Seth Stammler, Mac Kandji, and yes even Jorge Rojas, who showed at times he could pull the strings had they been attached to anything on a consistent basis. But melding those disparate elements takes an acumen and clarity of thought sadly missing from Red Bulls' personnel decisions.

Critical fingers have been pointed at team management, and villains such as former managing director Marc de Grandpre, who feuded with Arena so much the coach resigned in frustration after dragging the team into playoffs twice. Current managing director Erik Stover must decide if Agoos has been a large part of the problem or can be a factor in the solution.

For all the pronouncements coming from Agoos of working closely with Osorio, some sources say Osorio rarely sought, or took, his counsel. With another round of expansion due, not to mention ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, a volatile offseason looms. And acquisitions like Khano Smith ain't going to get it done.

Whomever Stover hires to clean up this train wreck he'll need somebody well-steeped in MLS and its myriad, byzantine methods. Should that be Agoos, or assistant coach Richie Williams, or both of them in a revamped, streamlined department devoted to the first team?

The dreary succession of foreign players signed and jettisoned, or at least benched, is tough for Red Bull fans to stomach. Yet by looking far and wide for players New York, despite reaching MLS Cup 2008 last year, ignored possible solutions closer to home, and left the cupboard depressingly bare for 2009.


  1. Colleen & will Murphy
    commented on: August 24, 2009 at 7:42 p.m.
    Ritchie Williams keeps stating his case, on the field, in a language that needs no translation. What does the ownership not get? Most 'decent' businessmen can smell a winner a mile away!!
  1. William White
    commented on: August 25, 2009 at 4:14 a.m.
    Forget about debating the fate of Ritchie Williams and Jeff Agoos - let's start by looking at Erik Stover. The man's an idiot. All season long he dons a hard hat and safety glasses for a weekly video segment about the progress of Red Bull stadium, looking like a five year-old who spends the rest of his day playing with Tonka Toys. And, talk about fiddling while Rome burned, where was Stover all season??!! How on God's green earth could he have allowed the season to disintegrate for SO long without making a move? Didn't Stover notice that Agoos and Osorio weren't working together? Didn't Stover, ummm, happen to check the standings during the season? And what the heck is the deal with Osorio "resigning" on a Thursday AFTER practice?!?! I don't think much of Osorio, but had he really resigned he would have done so on a Sunday or Monday, and given Williams at least a full week to work with the squad leading up to a game. And, if Stover had even a single hair on his chest he would have timed a firing the same way. Clearly Stover and Osorio had a spat last week. I watched Stover being interviewed on MSG after the game Sunday afternoon, and I thought Stover was pathetic. He has the quintessential deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. He's a pudgy little mama's boy who knows butt-kiss about soccer and inspires no confidence. STOVER is the one who has to go.

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