Can Osorio start spreading the news?

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

Juan Carlos Osorio's former colleague, Kevin Keegan, is fighting an uphill battle to live up to the massive expectations that go hand-in-hand with being manager of Newcastle United.

For Osorio, who served under Keegan at Manchester City and left the Chicago Fire's head coaching job for the New York Red Bulls' hot seat at the end of the 2007 Major League Soccer season, the challenges are somewhat different.

As he takes the reins of a club that has been spectacular in its underachievement ever since the early days of MLS, Osorio's task is not to respond to a level of expectation but to create one while breeding a culture where success does not come as a surprise.

In the 12 years of their franchise's MLS existence, the Red Bulls, formerly known as the MetroStars, have never won a championship or even reached a title game. In the playoffs, the club has managed just one semifinal appearance and eight quarterfinal spots, including the last five years in succession.

"We have to rebuild this team and put a very competitive side on the pitch," Osorio said. "Professional soccer is about results. Winning trophies is the ultimate goal here."

NEW YORK RED BULLS

Kansas City Wizards
2007 RECORD:
12-11-7 (43 points), third in Eastern Conference, sixth overall. Lost to New England in Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

KEY MAN: Jozy Altidore. All eyes will be on the U.S. youngster in what may be his final MLS season before making a big move to Europe. His strength and speed will be vital.

NEWCOMER: Luke Sassano. The Cal graduate was not highly recruited and dropped to the 32nd pick in the MLS SuperDraft. However, he has impressed in preseason and, with Dane Richards injured, could see major playing time on the right side of midfield.

OUTLOOK: Hopes will be high in the Big Apple after Juan Carlos Osorio was brought in to replace Bruce Arena. The team will again rely on the attacking play of Juan Pablo Angel and Altidore, but a serious strengthening of the backline is needed to make the Red Bulls contenders.

With so much competition for airtime and the public's attention in New York, the organization has struggled to make a big impact on the nation's biggest media market.

Despite last season's visit of the Los Angeles Galaxy and David Beckham and a crowd of 66,237 on an incredible night capped off by a spectacular 5-4 victory for the home team, average attendances have hovered between 14,000 and 18,000 the past few years.

Yet it was not always like this for soccer in the Big Apple.

Back in the days of the New York Cosmos and the ill-fated North American Soccer League, Pele and his band of international superstar cohorts were briefly one of the hottest tickets in town, drawing big numbers to Giants Stadium.

"The Cosmos were a great team that played to huge, enthusiastic crowds," said Dave Brett Wasser, director of the NASL Alumni Association. "Every game was an 'event' and people talked about it before and after. Can we say that about the MetroStars/Red Bulls?

"MLS needs a successful New York franchise to prosper, a team playing to packed crowds. Of course, that will be easier once the new stadium opens."

Red Bull Park is due to open next year in Harrison, N.J., and should provide a friendlier fan experience than the monstrous and isolated NFL stadium that the club currently calls home. It is hoped that a more intimate setting can generate a greater connection between the team and its supporters.

MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis concedes that there would be benefits from having a more vibrant New York franchise, but he is adamant that the league's future well-being does not depend upon it.

"To say success in New York is vital is a bit of an overstatement," Gazidis said. "However, if you can crack a market as big as New York, it can act as a barometer for the league in general.

"To have a strong presence in big media markets is a factor for all leagues, but when you look at something as hugely successful as the NFL – and they don't have a franchise in Los Angeles – it is not the only thing that matters.

"Clearly there are challenges involved in New York, but the opening of the stadium is a very exciting development and bodes very well."

The Red Bull company hopes that in Osorio, as opposed to the gruff and uninspiring Bruce Arena, they have a man who can energize the club and magnetize support. With a heavy scorer in Juan Pablo Angel and possibly MLS' most exciting talent in Jozy Altidore, a run toward the latter stages of this year's playoffs cannot be discounted.

Osorio does not bother himself too much with the big picture stuff. He is not a marketing expert or a salesman. However, he knows that success is the greatest sales pitch of all.

In that sense, he may hold the key to unlocking the door to a bigger share of a largely untapped soccer market.

"When this job came up, I didn't have to think too hard," he said. "I think this is the best job for me.

"We are in a great market that will respond if the Red Bulls are on top. That is the target, the goal – and hopefully the future."