Maybe it's that proximity to Europe that comes with being on the East Coast, or the fact Red Bull Global Soccer is the soccer arm of a worldwide company that renders the choice of Erik Soler as General Manager/Sporting Director as logical if not necessarily smart.
Soler, 49, is Norwegian, a graduate of Oslo University who played first-division soccer in Norway, Denmark and Germany before morphing into an agent and business executive. He founded International Sports Management Group (ISM) in 1995, and as its CEO sold it to Proactive Sports in 2000. Two years later, he parlayed that investment and other interests into co-ownership of Norwegian club IK Start, which he left in 2008 after it signed former FC Dallas defender Clarence Goodson.
Contrast this move with that of another multinational company, AEG. When it decided to repair and clean up the on-field mess the Galaxy had become, it went domestic, and hired a very successful American coach, Bruce Arena. The opening of Home Depot Center in 2003 and signing of David Beckham in 2007 bracketed an underdog run to the league title in 2005, after which came on-field ineptitude that overshadowed all the Beckhams' marketing blockbusters.
Arena righted the reeling ship, and a year after missing the playoffs a third straight time, the Galaxy finished atop the Western Conference and reached MLS Cup 2009, in which it lost on penalty kicks to Real Salt Lake. After running through Steve Sampson, Frank Yallop and Ruud Gullit in its worldwide branding of Team Galaxy, AEG had finally fixed a vital component.
A year earlier, New York had redeemed a sub-.500 regular season nearly as well as did RSL by getting to the final, which it lost to Columbus, 3-1. Its collapse this past season, shocking as it was, merely magnified the illusion of success a good playoff run can bring. The 2008 Red Bulls won 10 of 30 games before buzzing past Houston and RSL in the playoffs; they reached five wins by pounding Toronto FC, 5-0, in their final 2009 game Oct. 25, and even with that huge win came to rest on a goal difference of minus-20.
Not during its bleakest seasons did the Galaxy muster just five wins. Only 2005 expansion doormats RSL (five) and Chivas USA (four) bottomed that low in a full season of play. (Colorado won just four games and Tampa Bay five during the shortened 2001 season.)
So no matter who Soler hires as a head coach, there's really nowhere to go but up. That's how far New York lowered the bar in 2009; winning half as many games as it did in a mediocre season redeemed by a snappy playoff run.
As an international agent and club executive, Soler possesses knows the market for players. What he doesn't know is the landscape of American soccer from the competitive and business perspective, and with a nice new stadium to fill, he'll find out pretty quickly that a spiffy home won't make up for desultory failures on the field.
In officially announcing the hire, Red Bull Global soccer boss Dietmar Beiersdorfer said, "Erik Soler is highly respected in the international soccer world. We are excited to appoint him as General Manager and Sporting Director. We are convinced that he has the leadership qualities and the experience in developing a soccer culture that is crucial to bringing our club to the level everybody here in New York and New Jersey expects -- to make the New York Red Bulls a winning MLS franchise."
Who will give Soler counsel as to a coaching hire? Is the selection of interim head coach Richie Williams already done and soon to be announced, or are the Red Bulls doomed to follow the Galaxy's disastrous path as steered by Gullit, whose magnitude as a player blinded AEG as to his coaching shortcomings?
As AEG discovered, the team isn't an afterthought, a button to be pushed in a turnkey operation. If the global operation in charge of NYRB hasn't learned that lesson, Soler might be the overseer of a good business and a bad team.