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.