Red Bulls manager Hans Backe: critics say one thing, spiffy record says something else

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Seems like New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe is always “in season.”  Seems like the bows, arrows, laterns and pitchforks are always handy where that guy is concerned.

I realize that some of the Swedish manager’s quirky choices make him a slow-moving target for critics wishing to plunk him with their poison pellets.

But the facts say something different. And from the day Backe managed his first match at Red Bull Arena, the team’s structure and organization on the field immediately looked night-and-day different, an improvement what most managers had delivered previously to the highest profile MLS market.

Long story short, Backe has done what so few have before him: established a winning record at a place that, statistically speaking, it’s been darn hard to do.

Past New York managers (with year, record and winning percentage):

Eddie Firmani (1996)                     3-5-0               .375

Carlos Queiroz (1996)                   12-12               .500

Carlos Alberto Parreira (1997)        13-19              .406

Alfonso Mondelo (1998)                 14-17              .452

Bora Milutinović (1998–99)              8-25               .242

Octavio Zambrano (2000–02)           41-37-8          .523

Bob Bradley (2003–05)                   32-31-26         .506

Mo Johnston (2005–06)                  4-3-8              .533

Bruce Arena (2006–07)                  16-16-10         .500

Juan Carlos Osorio (2008–09)         10-11-9          .483

Hans Backe (2010-precent)          32-20-23         .580

In this case the raw data speaks volumes. Backe’s record of 32-20-23 is easily tops among all head coaches.  No one else comes close to his .580 winning percentage. (I didn’t include Richie Williams on the list because he was always “interim” head coach, although his record was ultimately a good one.)

Backe’s records have been fairly consistent, too. He was 15-9-6 in 2010 and 10-8-16 last year. This year’s mark (7-3-1) is probably the man’s best work yet, considering the destabilizing effect of injuries tantalizing drama around Red Bull Arena.

Now contrast that shiny record to sentiment that has largely rained on his reign: considering last year’s second-round playoff exit and this year’s sluggish start (one that wasn’t all that bad if you really study the results), perhaps no manager was under as much pressure in late March.

Yes, Backe has the second highest payroll in MLS. But that doesn’t always mean much. Just look at what the top payroll in MLS gets you in 2012: Seventh place in the West, so far.

But if we’re honest, New York always had a leg up in personnel, going back to the early years. That means all those other managers had a head start in terms of talent. And yet, look at those records.

For whatever reason, New York has always been a tough place to earn results.

This is a new day around the franchise; that fancy building certainly helps. Still, Backe must be doing something right. So, remember that next time the laterns and pitchforks come out, as they invariably do.

Because some of those other names on the Red Bulls-exes list, they’re still out there and available.