By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 3, 2012) US Soccer Players – There are at least a couple dozen pro sports clichés that warn against what the New York Red Bulls announced on Tuesday. With three games remaining in the season, New York made the move of a club out of the playoffs and already looking to next season. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, they're a club that will more than likely make the playoffs and are still in contention for the Eastern Conference title and mathematically even in the Supporters' Shield.
With that in mind, trying to figure out 'why now' for telling the world they've changed general managers and assigned a new director of soccer operations is tough to parse. Simply put, this isn't the time. Though their road record remains suspect, RBNY is hardly a team in crisis. They have perhaps the best striker corps in the League. Their defense has been sketchy with the third worst goals allowed mark in the East, but leading the Conference in goals scored means they have the second-best goal differential. There's not even the conference disparity that normally flatters the West at the expense of the East. The Red Bulls have the third-best record in the League.
Into this, they add a bit of self-created drama. Switched to a consulting role is the general manager from earlier this week, Erik Soler. Taking his title is new hire Jerome de Bontin but only for business operations. On the soccer side, New York's coaching staff is now under the purview of the well-known coach and former French National Team technical director Gerard Houllier, who now puts the stress on 'global' in his Red Bulls title.
Houllier is one of the most impressive soccer thinkers I've ever encountered. His read on the game is complete, he understands players, and given the appropriate resources he's among the world's elite coaches. He's not the coach in New York, but his work with France suggests he knows the difference in the roles. By any measure, this is a strong move for New York. Still, it's October 3rd.
Though this announcement might seem positive with no disruption in how the club runs, this is still Major League Soccer's New York affiliate. Things rarely go smoothly here, and this is the second major front office shakeup in two months. New York parted ways with their president of business operations on August 2nd, something that normally wouldn't impact a team's on-field performance. Yet, according to multiple media reports, scheduling a midweek day game in the middle of July was what shook up the Red Bulls' front office. Remember, New York won that game, even if it came with a torrent of complaints from the players on the field.
No team wants to see a season end early due to front office disruptions, but the Red Bulls have successfully made that part of the story. Should the team fail on the field, the front office maneuvering might be the difference. For a team with the kind of talent New York has, that would be quite the unintentional accomplishment.
It's accomplishment that's been a big part of the on-field story. New York hammered a team already out of the playoffs and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and the League. Though LA did the same thing to Toronto the week before, that's not a given in MLS. The role of the spoiler is long established, and New York has one more remaining on their schedule.
First, they need to figure out a Chicago team that could be ahead of them in the standings when they meet on Saturday. Then there's the international break before a game against Sporting Kansas City. Should results fall the Red Bulls way, there could be all to play for in the Eastern Conference when they close the regular season against Philadelphia at PPL Park on October 27th. Again, the regular season spoiler looms with a team out of the playoffs but capable of beating contenders.
There's simply no upside for the moves New York has made. If the team finishes the regular season strong, nobody is going to credit dropping a president of business operations, hiring a new general manager, and reassigning roles. Should they finish third or worse end up in a play-in round game en route to an early playoff exit? It's a dangerous game they're playing in Harrison.
J Hutcherson has been writing about soccer since 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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