2010 New York Preview: Red Bulls have nowhere to go but up

Hans Backe takes the reins of a New York team in need -- now

Hans Backe is the new main man in New York.

Photo Credit: 
Mike Stobe/Getty

The Tweet and Lowdown:

After a wholly
forgettable 2009 season, the New York Red Bulls have nowhere to go but
up in 2010. How much can a new stadium help?

Setting the
Scene:

Any momentum the Red Bulls may have picked up
during their unlikely late sprint to the 2008 MLS Cup was, by 2009, as
shredded as New York’s backline was that sunny afternoon in Carson. Last
season the seemingly cursed team descended to new depths of mediocrity
by posting a franchise-record 19 losses. They suffered a 16-match
winless streak. Star striker Juan Pablo Angel never found a partner in
the attack and finished with 12 goals, his lowest total since arriving
in 2007. And the defense, well, let’s just say it never found its
footing. In short, it was a year that all parties involved would rather
forget.

The off-season brought about nearly wholesale changes.
Former Norwegian international Erik Solér was brought in as general
manager/sporting director, and he quickly hired veteran Swedish manager
Hans Backe. Not party to last year’s shortcomings, the Scandinavian duo
has nonetheless set about erasing almost any vestige of former coach
Juan Carlos Osorio’s imprint. Osorio’s Latin American core has been
replaced with a mix of Scandinavian league veterans and young, American
college products. Backe has also scrapped the complex, ever-changing
tactics of the Osorio-era in favor of an emphasis on fitness and
fundamentally simpler play.

The Solér-Backe revolution has
indications of eventually proving successful. But with the much-hyped
Red Bull Arena opening this season, New York has 25,000 reasons to show
something right away.

Key Changes:

Players
in:
Joel Lindpere (Tromso IL), Chris Albright (New England), Roy
Miller (Rosenberg), Carl Robinson (Toronto FC), Tony Tchani (Virigina),
Austin de Luz (Wake Forest), Tim Ream (St. Louis University)

Players
out:
Carlos Johnson (Once Caldas), Alfredo Pacheco (FAS), Jorge
Rojas (Deportivo Táchira), Oscar Echeverry (unattached), Juan
Pietravallo (Olhanense), Danny Cepero (unattached), Matthew Mbuta
(Crystal Palace Baltimore), Alberto Celades (Kitchee Hong Kong)

Technical
Staff:
Erik Soler (GM), Hans Backe (head coach), Goran Aral
(assistant coach)

Star Attraction: Juan Pablo Angel

There
is no question who the biggest bull in the New York herd is. Since
arriving from Aston Villa, the former Colombian international has been
the club’s marquee name. And for good reason: Despite lacking a reliable
supporting cast, JPA has claimed an astonishing 45 goals in 72 matches
during his three years in New York. With the planned addition of another
offensive-minded Designated Player in the summer, things look to get
even better for Angel and those who enjoy watching him score.

Unsung
Hero: Seth Stammler

Every team needs a utility man who is
willing to do the dirty work week in, week out, and in New York that
guy is Seth Stammler. Not only has he adapted well to playing the role
of midfield destroyer, but over the last six seasons he has put in time
at every position on the field, save for striker and keeper. And with so
many holes in the roster that need filling this year, Stammler’s
versatility will almost certainly be called into service.

Ready
for Primetime: Jeremy Hall

After a rookie season of
position in the back and on the wrong side of the field—and still making
a name for himself—the natural left midfielder looks ready to pick
things up a notch in 2010. With the left being a virtual dead-zone for
the Red Bulls since the departure of Dave van den Burgh, Hall’s speed
and penchant for well-placed passes could prove a boon to the club’s
desperate for service forwards.

Storylines to Watch:

If
the persistent rumors of a world-class striker -- Thierry Henry or
Raul, perhaps -- arriving this summer come true, the Red Bulls will
possess one of the league’s premier strike forces. But they are still
desperately in need of a defensive makeover. Costa Rican newcomer Roy
Miller and recently acquired holding midfielder Carl Robinson should
help, but age (Mike Petke) and injury concerns (Albright) could
negatively counterbalance that.

As for the situation between the
sticks, the dismissal of former hero Danny Cepero was a mild shock, but
it didn’t clear up the picture. Is it really “Bouna Time”? Or will
Canadian international Greg Sutton assert himself? Expect yet another
season of musical goalies in New York similar to 2009.

Success
ultimately may come down to how the club’s bumper crop of rookies
adjusts to the pro level. Is overall No. 2 draft pick Tony Tchani quite
ready to contribute regularly? Probably not, but he should force himself
into the central midfield picture by midseason. Austin de Luz, Tim Ream
and Conor Chin have put in impressive preseason performances, with the
crafty and steady de Luz looking set to contribute right away.

What
He Said:

“Joel is an experienced midfielder who can play
in many different positions. We have watched him play for a long period
of time and we are confident that he will be able to adjust to the MLS
game.”

—Erik
Soler on recently acquired Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere.

If
everything goes right:

With a new star player on the
horizon, a new coaching philosophy and a new stadium, 2010 could prove
to be an exciting year for the Red Bulls. But let’s not get carried away
with optimism. Although the win-filled preseason hints at an improved
team, contending for any hardware and exorcising all of last season’s
demons is too much to ask. There will be improvement, no doubt, but
don’t expect the Red Bulls to charge back to the MLS Cup final.