Just when Erik Soler has figured it out … the Red Bulls remind us they cannot handle success

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I once poked regularly at Erik Soler. He brought it on himself – or he did so in my opinion.

He blundered here and there in words and deeds, and the Red Bulls GM was surely complicit in trades and signings that went dreadfully wrong. Trading Dwayne De Rosario, one of the best attackers ever to wear an MLS jersey, for two men who never made a dent with the club, was among the famous fumbles, for instance.

A flagging familiarity with American cultural ways got Soler into hot water, too. For instance, he issued a press release last year to officially criticize referees, and that one cost him 10 grand. Lesson learned, presumably.

But Soler learned, no question about it. You simply cannot look at the Red Bulls current roster and draw any other conclusion. (Rafa Marquez remains an asterisk, but let’s stay on point.)

I’ve written previously and stand by it: the Red Bulls have more talent on paper than any club in MLS history. Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill leading the attack; Kenny Cooper, acquired for a song, is scoring goals; Dax McCarty having an amazing season; Joel Lindpere still carrying water, and doing it well; Heath Pearce, Wilman Conde and the increasingly serviceable Markus Holgersson in the back; Teemu Tainio has lost a step, but he still has value and adds experience; Jan Gunnar Solli offers something when he plays within himself; there’s able depth in guys like Sebastien Le Toux and Roy Miller.

Plus Marquez, whatever you think of him. All under the salary cap, which is impressive, and the GM deserves a long, slow clap for his part in such a talented assembly.

And this year the Red Bulls have found a way to get value out of the draft. How about that!

So Soler rode the learning curve and made his team better for it.

Which is precisely why everyone was stunned by yesterday’s news. Soler is out, replaced by Frenchman Jérôme de Bontin and overseen by Red Bull head of global soccer, Gérard Houllier.

The bizarre timing of all this is what makes it so curious and confounding.

There’s a reasonable chance this sudden upheaval will have zero effect on the players and manager Hans Backe at such a critical juncture, with less than a month remaining in the season and with the Red Bulls having as good a chance this year as ever of claiming that first MLS Cup.

But why risk it? There’s certainly is some chance that it turns disruptive or even toxic. Backe’s place seems suddenly uncertain, and that can have varying effects on players.

As so many have pointed out: just when it seemed the league’s all-time leader in bungling had found its footing, they fall over sideways once again.

 

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.