The New York Red Bulls are either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. I suppose we'll know a bit more on that topic by December 1 at the absolute latest.
With the team enjoying an incredibly successful campaign that has them possibly three games away from finishing the 2012 Major League Soccer regular season atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Red Bulls announced via the team's official website on Tuesday that general manager/sporting director Erik Soler has been moved to an "internal advisor" role, and former AS Monaco President Jérôme de Bontin has been named as the new RBNY general manager.
That's just a start. Gérard Houllier, who has been the "Head of Global Soccer for Red Bull" since this past July, will, according to the official release sent out by the Red Bulls, "oversee all sporting aspects of the team." The franchise offered no explanation for the changes.
While Soler may not have been a favorite among certain diehards in the Red Bulls fan base, 2012 has arguably been his best season roster-wise. New York acquired both rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara and Kenny Cooper on 2012 MLS SuperDraft day, two of the best signings made by any team during this past offseason. Meara was a revelation in goal and the unnamed 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year until a hip injury ended his season in late August, and Cooper currently leads the team in league goals scored with 16.
Wilman Conde joined the team at the end of January, and injuries and a run-in with the law had some believing Soler had made a mistake in signing the veteran defender. Conde has since found a home in the New York starting eleven at left back, however, and he also scored one of the team's most dramatic and memorable goals of the season. The Juan Agudelo for Heath Pearce trade helped solidify New York's back line, acquiring Bill Gaudette in the summer proved to be a stroke of genius, and Luis Robles could be the steady backup goalkeeper the Red Bulls needed in 2011. There's also the signing of Tim Cahill, a late-July move that has meant nothing but good things for the team's squad.
The Red Bulls are much better off in the league standings than they were at this point of the 2011 season. While they have yet to secure a playoff berth, they are, thanks to MLS tiebreakers, currently in second place in the MLS East, level on points with Chicago Fire and five points behind Sporting KC. New York will host Chicago this coming Saturday, and they will face Sporting KC at Red Bull Arena on October 20. The Red Bulls close the regular season out away to Philadelphia Union on October 27.
Such a switch isn't the first of its kind made by New York in 2012. Chris Heck was relieved of his duties as RBNY President of Business Operations roughly two weeks after the team's midsummer midweek afternoon experiment that went rather poorly, a scheduling decision Heck took credit for earlier in the year. Soler reportedly handled the business end of the Red Bulls in Heck's absence.
New York hosted Sporting KC on September 19 in what was a pivotal match for both sides. According to Kristian Dyer of Big Apple Soccer, under 5,000 people attended that Wednesday evening contest. Kansas City won that game 2-0.
In a piece that was published in January 2011, Ben Lyttleton of SI.com wrote about how De Bontin helped save Monaco from bankruptcy. It's a very interesting read, one that has some wondering if the way the Red Bulls handle business is about to get a serious overhaul. New York currently have three designated players on the roster; Cahill, captain Thierry Henry and defender/midfielder Rafa Marquez. Marquez, slated to make $4.6 million this season, has thus far played in just twelve games (792 minutes) in 2012.
It has been a not-so-quiet rumor that head coach Hans Backe could be shown the door this fall if the Red Bulls don't finish the season hoisting the MLS Cup. Tuesday's announcement has placed an even brighter spotlight on such speculation. Since the New York roster as-is will be the one fighting to win it all starting with this weekend's clash against Chicago, a new GM means little to those in Backe's team. The question I, and also many within the RBNY fan base, have is simple: Couldn't this have waited until December?
I guess not.
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