By Ridge Mahoney
Despite leading the Red Bulls to the playoffs during each of his three seasons in charge, head coach Hans Backe has been dismissed. Backe got the boot less than 24 hours after New York lost the rescheduled home leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal to D.C. United, 1-0, to go out of the Eastern Conference semifinals, 2-1, on aggregate. It also fell at the conference semifinal stage in the 2010 and 2011 playoffs, and under Backe won just two of seven playoff matches.
Barring a triumph in MLS Cup, Backe’s departure had been a foregone conclusion since the dismissal of Erik Soler in early October and the appointment of Jerome de Bontin as general manager.
Along with Backe’s dismissal, the club announced the hiring of former Scotland national team coach Andy Roxburgh as sporting director, which indicates the rumors of fellow countryman Gary McAlister being hired as Backe’s replacement may be accurate. McAlister was an assistant under Gerard Houllier, the Red Bull head of global soccer operations, at Liverpool and Aston Villa.
In his first season, Backe guided New York to the Eastern Conference title with a 15-9-6 record (51 points) but the Red Bulls were upset by San Jose in the conference semifinals. The Red Bulls fell to fifth place with a 10-8-16 record in 2011 and after beating FC Dallas in the wild-card game, lost in the conference semis to eventual champion Los Angeles.
New York finished third in the Eastern Conference in 2012 with a 16-9-9 record and hosted the second leg at Red Bull Arena instead of the first because of a power outage and minor damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. A 1-1 tie at RFK Stadium in first game set up the Red Bulls with a decided edge in the series, but it once again faltered at home.
Under Backe, the Red Bulls failed to win any of their three home playoff matches.
Backe, 60, was hired in January, 2010, after winning two league titles in Denmark and also coaching in Austria and Greece. He worked with fellow Swede, former England national team manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, at Manchester City and Notts County as well as a very brief stint with Mexico’s national team.
Assistant coach Mike Petke will conduct Red Bulls' team operations during the absence of a head coach.