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.

 

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

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An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.