The tales are tumbling out of Red Bull Arena now

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At some point last year a few soccer journos were sitting around, talking over a soda pop or two. It’s what we do best; you gotta play to your strengths.

The subject wheel finally landed on the New York Red Bulls and someone (sorry I can’t remember who … proper credit and all) said, “Oh, the stories are there, and they’ll all start coming out soon enough.”

That day has apparently arrived.

During Red Bulls media day Monday in Harrison, former manager Hans Backe and (more than likely) Rafa Marquez became the favorite punching bags as guys like Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill (pictured) and Heath Pearce began pulling back the curtain on why such a fabulously talented team never found its potential, hovering habitually between “average” and “just above average.”

Backe was, let’s say, a “less respected” figure inside the locker room. (In fairness, it is impossible to know who was making some of the high-profile decisions, Backe or someone above him.)

Said defender Heath Pearce, who was advocating new manager Mike Petke, but saying a lot in his comparison:

If guys can jog around training and get away with it, then what’s going to happen in the games where you need guys in the 90th minute to make plays? From the ground level up, accountability is going to be a major factor for us. Them enabling us to hold each other to that level, with (the coaching staff’s) support, is going to be a big thing for us.”

Advocacy for Petke was a big theme. The players love his dedication the job and the organization. Again, you wonder is that’s more about Petke or more about the previous regime?

And then this: Credit to Cahill, who hasn’t been in the United States for a full year, for already figuring out what inexplicably escapes so very many men in MLS corner offices: that American coaches have a better opportunity to grasp the peculiarities and vagaries unique to MLS. I’ve been banging that drum for years.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what happened last season. It seemed very open and messy. There was no stability, whereas now there’s stability. There’s Petke.”

Said Cahill of the search that wandered first in Europe – and where serendipity may have ultimately intervened, saving the Red Bulls from themselves when the chosen coaching accent couldn’t come to terms or couldn’t get a visa or whatever:

I just kept hearing names about European coaches. It’s hard to bring in European coaches that understand the league and the structure … what’s going to be best to build a team.”

There’s even more in the piece from Brian Straus linked above, including some shots at Dwayne De Rosario, who was even more to the point in assessing his brief run at Red Bull Arena.

MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

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Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.

Not so fast? New York Red Bulls deny McAllister offered coaching job

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Remember all those hours ago when it seemed MLS was down to one head coaching vacancy? Well go back to that point, McFly, hit the delete button, and pretend we never thought the New York Red Bulls’ coaching search was over.

The Harrison-based team has told MLSSoccer.com that no offer’s been extended to Gary McAllister, an clarification seemingly made to clear the decks. Previous reports said the former Scottish international would be confirmed later this week, but after one call with the league’s website, the news is in doubt.

While this would normally be a he said, she said between outlets with different sources, in this case, one outlet is the league’s website. It’s practically a press release:

A source familiar with the negotiations told MLSsoccer.com that the club has not extended an offer to McAllister (above, left), the former Scottish international who has been rumored as Backe’s replacement since the Red Bulls bowed out of the Eastern Conference semifinals in November.

The Red Bulls are not expected to make an announcement about the coaching search this week as reported, according to the source. The club had no official comment when contacted by MLSsoccer.com

Say what you want about the league’s main news outlet having such close ties to the business itself, but when they post a story like this, their source   wins. Don’t expect McAllister to be announced this week (unless this is just New York throwing us off the scent).

So long Red Bull youngster Victor Palsson; we hardly knew ya

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Wish I could remember the clever on Twitter who put it this way earlier today: “The Victor Palsson error is over.”

Well played, sir. (My Twitter feed is too large to go back and ferret out the witty dap of Twitter in question. Apologies.)

Palsson landed amid a reasonable amount of hubbub, a “find” of the Hans Backe regime. They wanted him to be a little younger version of what they had in the likes of Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli and Markus Holgersson. They were all mid-level European veterans, guys with a certain degree of previously earned chops who would not kill anyone on salary.

Palsson came in with a European pedigree. But at 21 he had hardly rounded into the finished product. Turns out, he was talented but just couldn’t control himself; a real yellow card waiting to happen, this one.

He was a pretty disappointing figure, and today the Red Bulls have officially terminated this failed finding.

And with that, the ongoing makeover under the new regime goes one. Reviewing quickly:

  • Head coach Hans Backe, gone
  • Troublemaking DP Rafa Marquez, gone
  • Midfielder Teemu Tainio, gone
  • Defender/midfielder Jan Gunna Solli, gone
  • Fan favorite forward (well, fan fav in some places) Sebastien Le Toux, traded
  • Forward Fabian Espindola, acquired
  • Center back Jamison Olave, acquired
  • Former Lyon playmaker Juninho Pernambucano, acquired

Could somebody finally be stepping up to take Rafa Marquez from New York?

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If reports that appear to originate with ESPN Deportes are correct, somebody’s about to deliver a Christmas present to Red Bull Global Soccer chief Gerard Houllier. The former Liverpool, Lyon, and Aston Villa boss has been burdened with Rafa Marquez’s contract as part of his oversight of New York, but if (as reported) Liga MX side León is willing to offer the Mexican international a two-year deal, Houllier will be able to swap his problem for a shiny new Designated Player spot.

Perhaps the best part of the report is Marquez’s willingness to walk away from his Red Bulls contract to make the switch to León. Each side signs a piece of paper and it’s over. Annulled.

It’s the best case scenario for Houllier. For over a year, Marquez has been rumored with moves to everywhere from Mexico, to Brazil, to a return to Europe. But most of those rumors never made total sense. Marquez’s situation in New York wasn’t that bad a year ago. His contract, however, was very good.

Now things have deteriorated to so much that the defender’s last appearance for the club ended with a reported confrontation with former-coach Hans Backe after one playoff half. Whereas last year Marquez may have wanted to stick out another year in New York, now he and the team may be on the same page. Time to part ways.

León may have just completed their first tournament back in the first division, but they’re a respected team with a deep history in Mexican soccer. They can bring in a player of Marquez’s profile.

The bigger question, though is why would they? After finishing third in the Apertura, they don’t seem to need him on the field, and while he will bring a degree of fame with him to León, he’ll could also prove a distraction.

Perhaps a return to Mexico will refocus Marquez. For New York, it doesn’t matter. If somebody’s willing to take a Designated Player off their hands, Red Bulls will likely pay the shipping.

And take their money back into the DP market.