Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: New York Red Bulls

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(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:

Up Next: Philadelphia Union

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

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De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.