(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)
The New York Red Bulls are one of Major League Soccer’s most storied franchises. And by storied, I mean there sure are a lot of stories about the squad, most of them negative. It’s been a, um, tumultuous off-season in Harrison, New Jersey, with the parent company jetting in from Austria, cleaning house, and generally shaking things up in the most dramatic way possible. Plenty of faces from last year’s up and down and down again season are out, replaced by new men hoping they can play with Thierry Henry and a new manager hoping to simply control the mercurial Frenchman.
This isn’t necessarily a make or break year for the Red Bulls, but it’s starting to feel like that a little bit. Or perhaps that’s just the smell of desperation wafting out of that beautiful space-age bubble just off NJ Transit. Onward we move, to three questions that will make all the difference in 2013.
- Is Mike Petke the answer as coach?
After attempting to hire people including Gary McAllister, Paulo Sousa, Fonzie, and Aladdin, the new management settled on interim manager Petke, the club’s all-time leader in games played with 169. Although he has exactly zero head coaching experience, he served under Hans Backe as an assistant last season and knows the team. (Plus, he’s one of five new MLS head coaches in the league this year who have never been in charge of an MLS team. Can you say “fresh blood”?) Petke’s success or failure likely depends upon his relationship with Henry, who can be a consummate teammate or a consummate jerk or both in the span of 15 seconds, and who controls the locker room with his presence. It’s a nearly impossible task for any coach, but it will be interesting to see how the early days play out. Petke has the advantage of knowing and working with Henry, which should help, and he’s a better choice than the other options the ownership group tried to hire because he understands the league. But honestly, getting through to late-career Henry might be a bridge too far for any coach not named Wenger.
- Does stability exist in Harrison?
15(!) players on the New York Red Bulls roster at the end of 2012 will not be back at the start of 2013, courtesy of MLSSoccer.com managing editor and all-around good guy Jonah Freedman. (Be nice, he’s a Lakers fan.) That’s an astonishing figure and it needs to stop. Do it once, get it done, then build again. The new-look Red Bulls need a bit of patience — not the easiest thing for a team that needs to win now. But the owners over in Austria need to understand that the best teams in MLS build from within. It’s not a quick-fix, throw-money-at-the-problem type of place. The organization has taken some strong steps with its youth system and hopefully those will start to pay off. And having money, as the Red Bulls clearly do, is never a bad thing. But it’s not the only thing. 2013 is for patience. (Yeah, right.) But let’s start with Petke, the team’s 13th coach during a span in which no other team has had more than nine. Give the man a chance.
- Is this finally the year?
They were one of the league’s best teams at points throughout the last two seasons. They have a strong base with Henry, Dax McCarty, a returning Ryan Meara, Heath Pearce, Connor Lade, etc. They have the money to go out and get another DP and/or some new players. The talent, as always, is there. But can the Red Bulls finally put together a complete season instead of just bits and pieces of one?
MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:
- Chicago Fire
- Chivas USA
- Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Montreal Impact
- New England Revolution
Up Next: Philadelphia Union