MLS Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

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Whenever a team reaches new heights, the next year is defined by whether it falls back to earth. For the New York Red Bulls, 2013 featured unprecedented heights, with the club claiming its first major honor: the Supporters’ Shield. Now, with Mike Petke entering his second season on the sidelines, the question is whether the team can offset a series of indicators that hint they’ll decline.

The big one is age. Thierry Henry, who took a small step back last year, is staring at the grind of a Major League Soccer season as a 36-year-old. Tim Cahill, so crucial to the team’s surge to first in the East, is now 34. Jamison Olave, indispensable at the back, turns 33 in April. If any of these veterans slip, New York may not have enough to hold of Sporting Kansas City. If they fall flat, the Red Bulls may have to completely rethink how they approach the 2014 season.

Right now, three days away from the team’s season opener in Vancouver, a team that eschewed changes in the offseason looks primed to compete for another Shield. Spanish important Armando has joined former Toronto FC fullback Richard Eckersley as reinforcements at the back. A midfield built on the ethic of Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, and Jonny Steele is capable of out-working most teams – effort that will create chances for Cahill and Henry.

It’s a formula that worked in 2013. Short of another contender surging past the field, it’s one that should allow New York to compete in 2014. Though another year on some worn wheels means there’s an increased chance of a blowout, the Red Bulls could also roll to another successful season.

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Players in: Armando (signed, Cordoba (Spain)), Bobby Convey (trade, Toronto), Richard Eckersley (trade, Toronto)

Players out: Brandon Barklage (option declined, San Jose), Fabian Espindola (re-entry draft, D.C. United), Markus Holgersson (contract terminated), Rafhinha (released), Amando Moreno (signed in Mexico), David Carney (signed in Australia)

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Jamison Olave will carry New York’s defense this season.

Key Player: Eckersley. Miller. Armando. On paper, New York’s defensive doesn’t seem too impressive, but if you add Jamison Olave’s name to the mix, all of a sudden the back line looks workable. With a center back capable of playing like one of the league’s best over long stretches of time, Olave is capable of raising the level of over an otherwise unspectacular group.

Henry and Cahill grab the headlines, and they are undeniably important pieces, but if Jamison Olave doesn’t give another borderline Best XI performance, it’s difficult to see this defense holding up. He is as “key” as either of his more famous teammates.

Manager: Mike Petke’s 2013 success earned him Coach of the Year votes, carving a place for him among a growing class of young, recently ex-MLS players who are making an impact on the sidelines. Relying almost exclusively a conventional 4-4-2 formation, Petke opted for simplicity over sophistication. In the process, he did what good coaches do best: Give his most influential players a platform to succeed.

Even amid a drop of in production from Henry (2012: 15 goals, 12 assists; 2013: 10 and 9), Petke produced historic results. If he can keep his team focused and humble, Petke should be able to maintain his 2013 results, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean another Supporters’ Shield.

Outlook: Given how Sporting Kansas City finished the season (raising MLS Cup), it’s difficult to call New York favorites in the East, and with Toronto FC assembling a sold (and star-studded) lineup up north, the conference looks more competitive than last season. Whereas last season saw New York and Kansas City fight it out (after a fade from Montréal), this year the Reds and Houston could also factor into the equation.

But in a managerial world where coaches prefer to focus on their own teams, Petke has is own internal obstacles. The threat of further regression from Henry is real, and with Cahill set to miss a large chunk of the season at the World Cup, the team could find itself short on scoring options. If Olave starts experiencing some of the same injury concerns that defined his last years in Salt Lake, New York suddenly looks like a candidate to collapse.

That would require a lot of ifs to fall in line; then again, when things go south, the negatives often start complementing each other (see San Jose, 2013). New York is capable of competing near the top of the East once more, but in 2014, Petke’s likely to see a new set of problems.

Marketing Pulisic: Catching up with BVB director Carsten Cramer

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Borussia Dortmund is taking its talents to our shores this summer, and ProSoccerTalk had a chance to speak to the club on its efforts in America and back home in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Pulisic rips up Liverpool ]

Naturally, American fans are very interested in anything Christian Pulisic, and PST is very interested in how a club like BVB goes about marketing one of the first internationally recognizable U.S. teen stars (or at least the first of serious consequence since Landon Donovan).

Near hat tricks market themselves — Pulisic had two goals and played a huge part in the third as Loris Karius parried his shot right to Jacob Bruun Larsen — but there’s plenty more to our discussion with BVB marketing director Carsten Cramer.

ProSoccerTalk: BVB is a gigantic club with a huge fan base already here, but the growing interest of the American market is clearly ripe to become someone’s new favorite club. How do you balance the need to cater to both on a trip like this?

Carsten Cramer: “You described it well and with the right words. We know about the interest of Americans in football generally, and we also know that a club like Borussia Dortmund which is a little bit different from the other big clubs and seems to draw the attention of American people as well. If you know these two characteristics of the American market, it’s a kind of logical consequence that a club like Dortmund which has internationalization as very important for growth, makes a decision to come to the U.S. after traveling three years in a row to Asia. Christian Pulisic is one of the Top 11 in our team. Although we had a difficult season, he played a good one. He’s now 19. He’s at the right age to lead and run this team for the U.S. visit.”

PST: How would you compare traveling to the U.S. with Pulisic to heading to Japan with Shinji Kagawa?

CC: “It’s always good if you have a player from the market. They are definitely a door opener. It’s a kind of similar situation. Christian has become one of the superstars in American soccer and he made his first steps in football, so it might be a little bit different to Shinji Kagawa who had made his first steps in Japan.”

PST: We’re sure the club has seen a bump in interest from American audiences. Is there a way to measure the impact he’s had, especially as BVB battles for new fans?

CC: “We are a powerful club but we are definitely not comparable with the Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds, so they are even bigger. But we do have very very attractive door opener, who makes it easier to meet people, especially the young generation. In the young generation, football has a higher relevance. If you have one of their generation wearing a black and yellow shirt, it gives us a deeper and more intense impact than without him. We analyze the digital reach, the followers when we present to the American public.

“It’s the frosting on the cake. The cake is always delicious if it’s a black and yellow one, but if you can taste the black and yellow one including Christian Pulisic, it’s an awesome cake.”

Donnerstag 19.07.2018, 1. Fussball – Bundesliga Saison 18/19 – BVB USA-2018 Reise 2, Chicago,
Borussia Dortmund. Credit: Alexander Isak (BVB),

PST: The black and yellow of Dortmund has a bit in common with the sports teams of Pittsburgh, where you’ll play this week. Does the club have a lot of say in where they play as part of the ICC?

CC: “For us it was important when we agreed in the ICC that we play in the more Eastern parts of the states. We started with LAFC for the opening of Banc of California Stadium. Then we said we don’t want to go to the West Coast again and if it would be possible we’d love to go to Chicago because of a big German community and many many Polish people.

“Chicago was naturally seeded, than Charlotte is attractive because there are many German business there. And then they offered Pittsburgh and we said that’s cool because there’s a side of parallelism between the city history of Pittsburgh and Dortmund. Both have an industrial background like steel and coal, and Pittsburgh has the black and yellow, and is not that far from where Christian’s from in Hershey.”

PST: You have another interesting international addition in Jadon Sancho, formerly from Manchester City. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there hasn’t been a British player on Dortmund for some time and it doesn’t happen a ton in the Bundesliga. What does that say?

CC: “He’s the first one from the island we took, but he’s one of many many young players who’s fully convinced that Dortmund is the right club for his stage of their career.

“The reputation we do have is we build stars, we never buy stars. We build them, we make them, we develop them. The education of young talented players is one of the core pieces of Borussia Dortmund.”

“It was not difficult to convince Jadon. After one year of playing for us, he saw he could trust us. He’s a very talented guy and he can commit that the step to Dortmund was the right one. He’s the first one from the UK, but he was one of many Europeans who see they have an opportunity to play for the club.”

PST: This may be a goofy question, but what’s the focus of your job domestically? It doesn’t seem like a historically-big Borussia Dortmund needs to do a ton to prop itself up in Germany, so what’s critical to the marketing of BVB?

CC: “First of all, our core business is football. Marketing is just an appendix. We have a very simple job. We have to clean the window. We have to put in the window what makes people want to open the door and come into the Dortmund store. We have nice talented attractive players. The only job we have is presenting Borussia Dortmund as authentic, as credible as possible. Then marketing is very easy. Don’t tell them an artificial story. Make the players touchable, accessible. Give the people the feeling that we are really interested, that there is no big distance between the supporters and us, and you may have seen when we arrived at the public terminal at the Chicago airport. That’s our marketing. The more people we can attract, the more hearts we can gain, the more successful our marketing activities have been.”

Guingamp: 11-goal captain Briand off to Montreal

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Guingamp captain Jimmy Briand is making the move from Ligue 1 to Major League Soccer.

The French side announced that the 32-year-old, capped five times by France between 28-32, is coming to the Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Pulisic rolls over Liverpool ]

Briand spent time with Lyon and Hannover after a eight-year stint with Rennes, where he was teammates with former USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra.

The center forward scored 11 goals last season in France, including markers against Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.

Briand could provide a big missing piece of Montreal’s attack. The Impact have playmakers in Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taidir, but haven’t found much from their forwards.

Pulisic sparks BVB’s breakdown of Liverpool

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Second half substitute Christian Pulisic stole the show in Charlotte, where Borussia Dortmund toppled Liverpool 3-1 in International Champions Cup play on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mina to Everton? ]

Virgil Van Dijk had given Liverpool the lead with a first half header, but it was all BVB in the second half.

Pulisic won and converted a penalty, then scored a second before taking the shot that led to Jacob Bruun Larsen’s rebound goal.

The performance put Pulisicmania in a nutshell for the unindoctrinated, and spoiled the trip to the stadium for a bright red crowd.

Moments like this don’t hurt either:

Pulisic wins, converts penalty against Liverpool (fan video)

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USMNT star and Borussia Dortmund teenage winger Christian Pulisic won a penalty kick off James Milner, then insisted on taking the spot kick in front of his home crowd.

[ MORE: Mina to Everton? ]

Pulisic, 19, took the ball off Mario Gotze and finished his chance clinically to equalize against Liverpool, his second won penalty of the American tour.

Pulisic began the game on the bench after starting in Chicago against Manchester City, and Liverpool had gone ahead early when Virgil Van Dijk took advantage of poorly set up BVB zonal marking.

But Pulisic cut past Milner and was tripped by the veteran before clattering into Ragnar Klavan and earning the PK.