Red Bulls remake rejects Americans, Latinos

By Paul Gardner

The remaking of the New York Red Bulls gathers speed. That is to say it gets faster, but it is difficult to work out whether this headlong rush for change has any direction to it.

Any intelligent direction, I mean. There are various possibilities, none of which exactly recommends itself as an example of brilliant planning.

There is, for a start the possibility that the Bulls management has decided that Americans don’t know anything about soccer, that all the soccer wisdom in the world resides in Europe, and in Northern Europe at that. So, at the beginning of the season (Feb. 28) we saw the sudden (significantly, that word crops up repeatedly) firing of assistant coach Richie Williams, along with goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan (an American resident at least since 1988). The reasons? The Bulls had “decided to go a different direction with our coaching staff” said general manager Erik Soler. A standard PR banality that could mean anything, an empty, almost insulting evasion in place of an explanation. Around the same time another longtime American employee, Jeff Agoos -- the team’s Sporting Director -- also left the club.

Something similar has happened within the past week, with the news that two more longtime Red Bull employees, Ernesto Motta and Robert Sierra, have been -- suddenly -- “let go.” Motta and Sierra were the Latino, Spanish-speaking arm of the club, the link with the local Hispanic communities.

This move, we are told, is part of a “reorganization within the club.” Evidently, a reorganization that downgrades the importance of Hispanic fans. That does not come as a surprise. If Hispanic fans meant anything at all to the club, that would be reflected in on the field.

It is not. Ever since the arrival of the Swede Hans Backe the club has been moving steadily away from Hispanic players, from any sign of Hispanic influence. At the press conference introducing Backe, I asked whether his arrival meant -- along with the presence of Soler, who is Norwegian -- that we would now have a Scandinavian, even Norwegian style team? As I recall, my question was framed in a way that left no doubt that I considered such a possibility to be a disaster. Soler answered, denying such a happening, indeed, scoffing at the idea.

Well, now. We have Soler and Backe. We have Backe’s assistant Jans Halvor Halvorsen, a Norwegian, who replaced Goran Aral, a Swede. On the field, we have the Estonian Joel Lindpere, the Finn Teemu Tainio, and the Norwegian Jan Gunnar Solli. Recently joined by the German goalkeeper Frank Rost.

There have also been the Brit signings -- Welshman Carl Robinson, a midfield mediocrity with the bad luck to be constantly injured, and two Englishmen, John Rooney, whose status as Wayne’s brother seems more of a recommendation than any obviously outstanding soccer talent. And then there’s Luke Rodgers, a lower-division English player, also injury prone, whose ugly crash-bang style does not suggest that he was signed as an exponent of the beautiful game. He was signed, as it happens, as a replacement for an unwanted Hispanic, Juan Pablo Angel, who made it pretty clear that he was not comfortable on Backe’s increasingly Euro-style team.

Rodgers, of course, whenever he can be adequately patched up, will be considered good enough to keep Juan Agudelo (who suffers the double disadvantage of being both American and Hispanic, plus the impertinence of not being Norwegian) on the bench.

Fullback Roy Miller, a Costa Rican, got around that problem by having played for three years in Norway before being signed by Backe, who evidently considered that was enough to rid Miller of any Latino excesses.

Which leaves us with Rafa Marquez, as the sole Hispanic representative. A pretty good presence, but one reduced this season to a defensive role. I say “reduced” because I see this as similar to the quandary that faced the old Cosmos when they signed Franz Beckenbauer. But he was considered, quite rightly, too talented to play in the back, so Beckenbauer took on, with great success, a midfield role. A midfield Marquez would surely make better use of his undoubted -- but Latino -- talents.

Creative midfield play is not an area that sparkles in Norwegian soccer. Indeed, I doubt it even exists there. The Swedes may be a bit better, but not much. As for the Red Bulls’ midfield, there have been constant problems, even before Backe’s arrival. No dominating presence has appeared -- the MetroStars tried the highly touted Europeans Roberto Donadoni, Lothar Matthaeus and Youri Djorkaeff, and they had the highly touted Americans Tab Ramos and Clint Mathis, yet none of them functioned with any great brilliance.

Bob Bradley brought in the talented young Bolivian Joselito Vaca, but lost interest in him when his own son, Michael, recovered from injury to fill his position. Exit Vaca.

Probably the most successful midfielder was the Honduran Amado Guevara, but Bruce Arena soon put a stop to that, by trading him away to bring in Claudio Reyna -- another move that did not work out well.

Backe, all too clearly not a devotee of beautiful soccer, has a plebeian approach to midfield. Functional, I suppose, is the word. Players like Lindpere and Robinson and Tainio seem to suit him very well. He was content, for anything more elaborate, to rely on college players like Mehdi Ballouchy and Tony Tchani. A short while ago, Backe, maybe, did feel the need for something more creative because -- suddenly -- he ditched Tchani and signed Dwayne De Rosario, a player of considerable skill, a potential playmaker, certainly a game-winner.

Evidently an aberration. The DeRo move lasted only three months, during which a strangely subdued DeRo played a muted second fiddle to Thierry Henry. Then -- suddenly -- DeRo was gone. A highly interesting development. In his place came Dax McCarty from D.C. United -- which surprised me. Earlier this year I had a chat with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen during which I questioned his high praise for McCarty, who, for me, is a rather typical, nothing-special, college-style midfielder. Olsen was indignant, piling praise on McCarty as his best signing -- the disagreement ended, as they always do, with “Well, we shall see.”

Well, we’ve now seen. After half a season, Olsen has traded away his prize signing. And McCarty has been welcomed by Backe with quite insanely inflated praise. After McCarty’s debut for the Bulls (it was a 5-0 blowout against an almost non-existent Toronto team), a smiling Backe beamed at me “What a player!”

But in the Red Bulls’ next game, De Rosario returned with D.C. United and scored the winning goal. We saw the difference between DeRo the player , and McCarty the hustler.

The DeRo-McCarty affair had another aspect. No, absolutely not, Backe assured me, there had been no locker-room tension between DeRo and Henry. None at all. Shipping DeRo out had been simply a matter of saving money on his salary. McCarty was paid a lot less, freeing up some salary money for ... well, what?

For something that MLS should never permit. The signing of a goalkeeper ... as a designated player . Back in 2007, when the DP rule was passed, Commissioner Don Garber, agreeing with me that DP slots should be used to sign exciting, match-winning players, added that he did not expect MLS clubs to use DP slots “to sign goalkeepers.”

The Red Bulls have now done exactly that with the signing of Frank Rost, a 38-year-old goalkeeper, and they got rid of DeRo to sign him -- and considering that the Red Bulls knew all about their goalkeeping frailties before they signed DeRo, why did they even bother? An ill-thought-out maneuver that says plenty about the sort of team that Backe wants.

Basically, I’d say, he’s building a standard English second-division team (which may be the equivalent of a Norwegian first division team, I’m not sure about that). A team loaded with average Northern Europeans and, of course, most important of all, a solid goalkeeper. When you can’t rely on your team to score goals, you need a top goalkeeper. And when you don’t put much faith in midfield play, you need a goalkeeper who can whack long goal kicks, something Rost is reportedly good at. It makes for really intelligent, entertaining soccer, too.

While West-Ham-Kam begins to take shape on the field, there are plenty of signs of the Europeanization (which means the simultaneous de-Americanization and de-Latinization) of the Red Bulls administration.

Erik Soler likes to sit on the Red Bull bench during games, a curious position for a GM, I always think. But, unlike many of the GMs in MLS, Erik Soler does have soccer experience. It is a pity that he seems to think that entitles him to play the bully with MLS -- recently telling them how MLS games should be refereed, and that his superstar Thierry Henry should not be given red cards. To the credit of MLS, this arrogance fell upon stony ground, resulting in a $10,000 fine for Soler.

That may or not put a stop to Soler’s superiority approach, but it has not had any effect on Thierry Henry. Even though his on-field performances have, so far, not exactly been in the super-star range (shall we say, slightly above the Beckham level), Henry has added his grumblings to the already existing anti-Americanism to be felt around the Bulls.

Where Soler told MLS that its referees are not good enough (not good enough for West-Ham-Kam players, that is), Henry has chimed in with a criticism of MLS playing fields. He doesn’t like artificial turf, and is making noises like he might refuse to play on such fields (meaning that he wouldn’t play at New England, Portland, Vancouver and Seattle). Well, OK -- no one is delighted with plastic fields -- but hundreds of MLS players (including Beckham) do play on them without threatening to strike. Though the sycophantic way in which grass fields are -- suddenly -- getting put down to accommodate touring European teams is a reminder that the Europeans usually do get their way, and that is probably why Henry feels entitled to sound off.

He has even more disturbing things to say about another MLS activity. Actually, this is not simply an MLS matter -- this is something deeply American. Henry doesn’t like the fact that he is expected to speak to the media so frequently. Something that was not required in his European days, so why should he have to bother with journalists now? His recent replies to journalists’ questions have been noticeably terse and testy. Well, Thierry, if you don’t like it here ...

While the Europeanization of the Red Bulls proceeds -- along with the unpleasant arrogance that accompanies it -- on the field we find that the Bulls (aka West-Ham-Kam), even including star DP veteran goalkeeper Rost and Dax “What a player!” McCarty, have collected one point from their last two games, have scored no goals, and have looked like -- well, like a stodgy middle-of-the-standings team from -- well, you know where.

And this just in: the Red Bulls have traded away Austin da Luz, one of their few remaining Latinos.

28 comments about "Red Bulls remake rejects Americans, Latinos ".
  1. Paolo Jacobs, July 19, 2011 at 7:20 a.m.

    this had me laughing... I guess the Red Bulls are owned by Euro Owners, so it sort of makes since... but most of the other teams have a latino tilt to them... Sounds like we can't wait till the NY Cosmos come into existance to create a NY derby...

  2. Joe Shoulders, July 19, 2011 at 7:22 a.m.

    When I was a kid this very wealthy family bought a lot in my neighborhood and built this amazing house with a yard and pool. They were the rudest bunch of anti-social jerks you can ever imagine. Thankfully, the Dad got in really big trouble (white collar crime of some kind) and they had to sell to my future best friend. When his family moved into the neighborhood everything changed. We had some great parties and everyone had a great time. It seemed like everyone was welcome there and I made many great friends.

    With the RedBulls, hopefully they will find out some awful news about their nasty drink and the company will go belly up and the RedBulls will head back to Austria and be forced to sell their amazing house to the, so-far seemingly more accepting, Cosmos and they can build a team that everyone can be proud of and enjoy watching.

  3. Marc Silverstein, July 19, 2011 at 8:33 a.m.

    Hey Joe, what makes you think that Cosmos management are any smarter? From what I've seen it's questionable.

  4. Paul Lorinczi, July 19, 2011 at 8:35 a.m.

    They are creating a Euro -centric team, yet the New York/New Jersey Euro-Snobs are still not going to gams.

  5. Matthew Conroy, July 19, 2011 at 9:42 a.m.

    Paul, you've gone around the bend - again. Please tell us you're not serious with this Agudelo/Miller nonsense. Agudelo has not started because he's immature and selfish. Full marks for proposing the notion that someone's "Hispanicness" can disappear if they spend a few years in Norway.

    This stuff is gold, Paul. Never change!

  6. Ramon Creager, July 19, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.

    Totally agree about Dax McCarty. We all heard the hype, but I didn't see anything special on the field. Hey, we DCU fans remember Christian Gomes, Jaime Moreno, and Marco Antonio Etcheverry. We want a difference maker in midfield. DeRo is that kind of player. Definitely a step up for United. What would be poetic justice is if Austin da Luz turns out to be a steal.

  7. Matthew A., July 19, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.

    Austin da Luz is of Portuguese descent -- rendering him non-Hispanic and not further evidence of this half-baked hypothesis.

  8. G Benjamin Hernandez, July 19, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.

    Never thought of it this way. But I have noted that NY does more with less than just about any other team. And I do wonder why they do not have a midfield. Ball seems to attempt to go from the backs to the forwards - midfield be damned. I think it's rather funny, as I am not a fan of seeing teams buy titles.


  9. G Benjamin Hernandez, July 19, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.

    Matthew, Portuguese are included in the term Hispanic as it is used here. That's why Brazilians are also included. It derives from Roman Times Hispania which included the whole Iberian peninsula that is now Spain and Portugal.

  10. Robert Kiernan, July 19, 2011 at 10:31 a.m.

    Well first, Dax McCarty made his debut against San Jose not Toronto and played a fair game ... next he is clearly a better than average American player, his game as the US Captain last winter against Chile was quite good and should have gotten him included on the Gold Cup roster over several of the stiffs selected by Bob Bradley, but that's a different argument. Clearly DeRo did not get to run things at the Red Bulls and will likely have a much better time with DC United, they clearly need him far more than the Red Bulls and that likely will help both teams this season... but your acting as if this is simply a matter of Latinos vs Europeans is missing the point... this is the MLS and there is a salary cap that limits what ANY team can do, they play under a single entity system that prevents ANY of the sides from truly developing their own players and in the case of say John Rooney, it is the LEAGUE that signed him so that should be your target for signing another Brit, but be clear now, it is players who arrive here unheralded and willing to play on the cheap... be they Latin Americans or Europeans that any side will try and sign and from what I've seen some of the Red Bulls signings, notably Joel Lindpere have been quite successful... but in the end with just three Designated Players per team, it is hard or impossible to truly build a side from the slag heap of European cast offs and 22 year old Collegiate rookies and get much better than what you tend to see in this league... there is no way that a team can do what the COSMOS did decades ago and simply go out and buy Red Stars 28 year old Captain Vlado Bogicevic in his prime to run things... so you are always going to see this hoves and horns situation and that is the long and the short of it. As far as using the third Designated Player sport on a keeper, well that makes a whole lot of sense based on how poorly the other keepers were doing this season... back to the COSMOS, Hubert Birkenmeier was clearly one of their best signings and had a great deal to do with their success... and the sad fact is that Rafa Marquez isn't playing not because he's Latin but because he's hurt... something that older players are more prone to become... that is the hallmark of this league... the VERY young and the VERY old... and far less money than even most second division clubs have in Europe. (ICE)

  11. Matthew A., July 19, 2011 at 10:39 a.m.

    Perhaps, but it's a lot like referring to a American Caucasian of South African descent as an African-American. While accurate, it has a very different connotation.

    The author references da Luz's exit as further evidence of what he essentially perceives as systemic racism. But he doesn't reference Dane Richards (Jamaican with no Scandinavian experience), Mehdi Ballouchy (Moroccan with no Scandinavian experience), or even Thierry Henry's Antilles heritage (though Titi was born in France, his parents are from Guadeloupe and Martinique).

  12. Carl Walther, July 19, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.

    I wonder who the Red Bulls think their fan base is? I can only assume that their thought process is, "no matter who we put on the field, the fans will continue to come." Well I have no interest in watching them anymore, in person, or on T.V.

  13. Gerald Laing, July 19, 2011 at 11:33 a.m.

    Matt: Don't forget Aguedelo who is of Columbian heritage and Roy Miller who is Costa Rican. But someone should bring up that Paul seems to have a h-on to bash RBNY. He wasn't thrilled with the hiring of the coaches or the aquisition of Lindpere and personally I think that has worked out. As far as Henry's complaint about turf, I'm sure we all have to agree with that complaint and we should commend Henry for brining it up.

  14. lorenzo murillo, July 19, 2011 at 11:49 a.m.

    Without the Latino or Hispanic influence, this country's soccer will go NOWHERE...

  15. David Sirias, July 19, 2011 at noon

    I am one of the few who rarely disagree with PG's overall themes, but this one is wrong.

    Red Bull is just trying to win. I don't think they see nationality or skin color. Of those Americans who were jettisoned from managment, what unique skill did they bring? Evaluating USA college soccer talent? That skill is now obsolete and for good reasons. Player development is where it's at. Having been with the organization a long time? Pro Soccer is not civil service. And the team has lost at least 10 points this year because of atrocious goal tending. If they needed to burn a DP to acquire a keeper so be it. DeRo has considerable skill. I saw every game he played for RB and he simply did not make the impact they wanted. Perhaps DeRo needs to be the focus. The team is built around TH for better or worse and it needed two mids to win balls given that HR basically plays CAM and Striker. If DeRo could not work with that system , then better to end the experiment early. Paul is making too much out of nothing here.

  16. beautiful game, July 19, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

    Paul speaks the truth...some of the so-called talent on the current roster is quite mediocre...on offense, how many times does Henry express amazement at the poor decision-making or poor seems that MLS athleticism and muscle are important criteria for teams to be competitive; this type of philosophy is not a winning one.

  17. Robert Kiernan, July 19, 2011 at 1:28 p.m.

    Well but none of this explains the firing of non coaching staff? Not to say that there are conspiracies surrounding this but I would like some explanation of that part of this story. However, the idea that Red Bulls have "squandered" their last designated player on a goalkeeper, when it is clear that it has been more than a minor problem is nit picking,the move makes a great deal of sense.But the sad truth is that the rules that these sides play under limit just what a side can actually do to improve it's self and while I won't argue that signing John Rooney was more for his lineage than for any intrinsic skills he may have, again I point out that was a decision made BY THE LEAGUE. The fact that Angel is now gone is because he is too good a player to be down graded from a DP and is also like most DP's in the league getting a bit long in the tooth... but bringing in journeymen professionals be they European or South American is a matter of what you can afford under the salary cap. But the fact remains that so long as the league continues to operate as a single entity and so long as only they can have the last word on who is signed to play in the league, the vast majority of the players who make their livings playing here are far from the "Big Names" that most fans will come out to see just because they are there to be seen,it is a sticky situation to mess around with the ethnic community too much and losing those people with little explanation is indeed something to be concerned about. But the great ghost in the room is clearly the expectations of a New York area crowd to be entertained by whomever Red Bulls decide to employ as their side and while I can't say that this team will ever come around to making Me forget years of closely watching the COSMOS, this is clearly a better side on display this year than it was two years back and part of that is having players like Lindpere on the roster, simple fact Estonia is not going to be a dominant side in Europe and I'm sure that Lindpere knows that it is his play for his club not his Nation that will get him noticed and possibly better paid, but look across the league and you will see that mediocrity is the norm, not the exception and without a change in where teams get their players and likely just how much they are allowed to pay to keep them, the Angel situation will be repeated, a top player costs money to bring in and to keep around, and sadly so do mediocre players... this is the problem with having to depend on others to develop even your ordinary players... but so long as MLS thinks it can do this on the cheap, using over aged rookies and CONCACAF level players to fill their rosters, and having few truly guaranteed contracts, well the level of player and the level of play will remain what it is... average, mediocre, often rather boring to watch and no magic wand is going to change this fact. (ICE)

  18. cony konstin, July 19, 2011 at 2:32 p.m.

    If there is a future MLS owner that has the desire to create a USONIAN team. A team of only players that are US citizens. That is the team I would be honored to coach and win championships with.

  19. Kevin Kelly, July 19, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.

    I haven't subscribed to SA for years and years and what's funny is that PG's whining hasn't changed one bit. The same I-hate-Europe themes and failure to offer any viable solution. What's worse is how he stereotypes players. If you are from Europe you must be a clumsy bull and if you are Latin you must your football is like ballet, of course. Seriously, why read a guy (and this is the last time I do) that simply writes the same article over and over.

  20. Chester Grant, July 19, 2011 at 5:57 p.m.

    Crazy article.....the coach isn't anti anything, just FOR winning. Whats wrong with that? Look at ANY coach and they go with what/who they are familiar with. For example Mourinho brings in Portugese players - so that makes him anti-anything? Huh! As for this anti-Hispanic crap the author apparently doesnt even know the definition of Hispanic.

  21. Marcelo Cortez, July 19, 2011 at 7:40 p.m.

    Race card? Pathetic. And I'm Latino. Vamos New York vamos Metro

  22. Bar Tttt, July 19, 2011 at 8:22 p.m.

    Wow this is the stupidest sht I ever read. you my friend, are a moran.

  23. charles davenport, July 19, 2011 at 11:07 p.m.

    RBNY is not doing poorly under Backe's reign. For the record, Der Kaiser did not play sweeper for the Cosmos due to the presence of the (also)incomparable Carlos Alberto, who declined the move to midfield. Juan Pablo was the best! Viva Wolyniec!

  24. David Sacio, July 20, 2011 at 1:21 a.m.

    Much like there's an East Coast bias in baseball, there is an English bias in Soccer. Just ask them, the English; they, for some unknown reason, think that the are the Font of Soccer knowledge without any sort of proof to back it up except words of course which the English are very good at.
    How, imho, our Nation, the USA, needs to develop latino midfielders who are superb with the ball at their feet and posession.
    Develop some European influence in back, and some Asian influence in the forward positions and you have the makings of a great team. we have all the wealth in the world in talent and we are wasting it with this STUPID European bias. The Americas have more World Cups than Europe and have played great Soccer doing it.
    Get an American coach who understands the talent pool that we have, or go on imitating the English and let that take you where.......? mediocrity!!!

  25. Glenn Auve, July 20, 2011 at 1:07 p.m.

    da Luz is basically an American, not Hispanic. He's a product of the American soccer scene/college soccer. So, you can see why they would want to get rid of him. I think I am happy to have him at DCU.

    The whole McCarty thing is amazing to me. A servicable player, but no star. The fact that NYRB lets him take the set pieces so poorly just like he did for us is the biggest bafflement of all. He must be great in practice or something because he hit maybe one or two decent freekicks and corner kicks when he was here in DC. I am amazed that Ben was so enamored of him. Getting DeRo for him may be the biggest steal in MLS history.

  26. M. Nunez, July 20, 2011 at 1:34 p.m.

    Signing players is alway a hit or miss proposition. Soler/Backe have signed several players they knew well and they've been more than good for us. Ask any Red Bulls fan what he/she thinks about Joel Lindpere and I would be surprised if the answer isn't "Red Bulls MVP". Add to him Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli and Luke Rodgers as signings that have mad a difference for us. As far a the "misses", well one needs not look further than Roy Miller (a hispanic player). That he's still on the team is the baffling part about Miller. Regarding DeRo: he really didn't show Red Bulls fans what he showed at his other clubs. He wasn't the focus of the attack and usually didn't look like the superstar we thought we'd signed. Let's see if DC ponies up the money next season to keep him, as Toronto is paying a big portion of his contract this year. In the long run, McCarty might turn out to be the steal of this deal. Also, one thing that Mr. Gardner misses here is that when Juan Carlos Osorio (a Colombian) was the coach, he refused to sign an actual #10 playmaker, stating that he didn't think we needed that type of player. Not only that, he must have signed the worst hispanic players ever in the history of MLS (Pacheco, Cicero, Rojas and I forget who else). Hit or miss. I like the base we have right now, but there are still a couple of missing pieces to the puzzle, not to mention no depth at all.

  27. Jimmy Edwards, July 20, 2011 at 7:43 p.m.

    If I were Soler/Backe, I'd sue you for slander for making up these ridiculous accusations of race by twisting and misleading facts.
    The previous manager was Hispanic and had a lot of Hispanic players (Rojas, Peitravallo, Pacheco, Johnson), did you write an article on how he was he racist towards Europeans? They finished last place with these players. Soler signs higher quality players from a continent he's familiar with and he's racist? I think he's trying to put the best team together he can, going from last to first in his debut season shows this.
    You mention they fired American coaches Williams and McAleenan (even though Des is born and raised Irish) yet fail to mention they hired 2 Americans to their coaching staff (Petke and Hoffard), not to mention their Hispanic technical director and team administrator.
    Also, to make your point, you've turned a Costa Rican international into a Scandinavian, which is completely preposterous.
    You criticize letting a 35 year old Hispanic go and keeping an 18 year old one on the bench, yet their European replacement has more goals than either one of them.
    Awful 'journalism', I can't believe any outlet would publish garbage like this.

  28. Phillip McDaniel, July 22, 2011 at 8:29 a.m.

    Crying wolf, aka racism in this instance, when there is no wolf only denigrates actual instances and victims. So what if NYRB want to be 'more European'? If they were firing everyone to hire Hispanics you can bet Mr Gardner would be turning back flips and effusing praise upon NYRB management. America and yes Canada are melting pots. If different clubs want to adopt different styles... so what! The results will speak for themselves in how the teams rank on the league table, period. Perhaps Paul hasn't been noticing but more and more play is running through the midfield of MLS teams. Sadly in response more and more teams are employing mostly defensive CMs often in tandem and it's smothering the creativity of the game.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications