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Soler takes on a 'great challenge'
by Ridge Mahoney, December 8th, 2009 6:45AM



[MLS] Five weeks before the 2010 SuperDraft, the Red Bulls don't yet have a head coach, but they do have a commander-in-chief. The club presented its new general manager and sporting director, Erik Soler, yesterday, and he jumped right into the subject of MLS knowledge being a short-term goal, not a longtime characteristic.

"Of course I'm not going to claim I'm an MLS expert," said Soler, 49, a Norwegian who comes to MLS as a former player, player agent, and business executive. "I've become a generalist in football. I'm an expert in European soccer, but I think I have a sensible ability to learn things quite quickly. The most important thing, of course, is to understand more in the coming weeks and months and also build a good team around me that has all the knowledge."

At his press conference, he cited the example of Robbie Russell, whom he steered to Europe out of Duke University in 2000 to play for clubs in Iceland, Norway and Denmark. He brokered that deal with the help of former University of Virginia midfielder Lyle Yorks, who in 1999 joined the staff of International Sports Management Group (ISM), of which Soler was CEO.

"He was my mentor, he brought me into the business and taught me a lot," says Yorks, who moved with Soler to Proactive Sports, which bought out ISM. Soler left Proactive in 2002 and bought a controlling interest in Norwegian club IK Start, which he ran as CEO until last year. Yorks has moved up the ranks to Managing Director of Proactive, which has offices in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"I think he's going to do well. He's very intelligent, a very hard worker, and he knows the business, and not just from the standpoint of being a former player or an agent. He knows how to run a club and I think with his knowledge and the Red Bulls' new stadium opening next year he can be very successful."

Proactive USA and Proactive UK are managed by Formation Group PLC, a London-based company whose subsidiaries include Formation Sports and Media Marketing, a U.S. company that in July 2008, signed a deal with Red Bull New York to manage commercial partnership sales for the new facility.

Soler deflected questions about his candidates for head coach, and would say only interim head coach Richie Williams, who compiled a 3-3-2 record after taking over for Juan Carlos Osorio, is in the mix to fill a role. "I met him 10 years ago at a national team game in Tampa or somewhere in Florida," Soler said of Williams, a native of New Jersey who played two seasons for the MetroStars yet spent six of eight MLS seasons with D.C. United.

"I spent some time with him and I saw what he did here last year. I think that was good. He's been here four years [as assistant coach], that's also an asset. Hopefully we'll include him in one of the positions, but what position is not finalized."

Though Soler said he'd like to add a second Designated Player - probably another attacker to complement striker Juan Pablo Angel -- he also pointed out the similarities of fielding a team in MLS with that of running a modest operation like that of IK Start and the importance of finding the right coach.

"It will be someone with the experience," he said. "That means we're not going to hire someone without coaching experience. That person could be in the MLS or outside or both. I think when you look at the circumstances that you're working under, you need someone that is really on the pitch a lot because, you can't buy the players you want to all of the time, you can't say, 'Well, our left fullback isn't top class so I'll call my owner and I'll buy two new ones and I'll get myself another striker.' You need someone that's really used to work on developing players. That's a very important point."

As point man for both the competitive and business operations of a bottom-feeder franchise mired in the country's largest market, Soler will have a greater range of responsibilities than most MLS upper executives. At least he won't be burdened like a few of his colleagues about finding a place to play; Red Bull Arena, scheduled to open in April, will seat 25,189.

"We are going into this fantastic stadium and we need to get people into it," he said. "I think it's a great challenge to fill that stadium for every game. You are all soccer people and you know what soccer is all about. It's about filling a stadium, it's about playing the type of soccer people like and you want to attract people with players that they want to watch.

"And then, there are millions of things you have to do with the team and within the organization to be able to produce what people like to watch."


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