The New York Red Bulls are coming off a strong season in which a team that was bottom of the league in 2009 bounced back to finish first in the Eastern Conference with the third-best regular-season record in MLS. RBNY were strong defensively, due in large part to the compact back four implemented by first-year head coach Hans Backe, and the midfield was solidified after some key moves by sporting director Erik Solér.
Though both Backe and Solér were new to the club, assistant coach Richie Williams is a veteran of the team, having both played for this franchise and now on the sidelines since 2006. In fact, Backe represents the fourth head coach under whom Williams has served.
And truth be told, judging from practice when he frequently laces up the cleats, Williams still has what it takes to be a central midfielder in the league. MLSsoccer.com recently sat down with the New Jersey native to discuss 2010 and the direction in which the club is going.
MLSsoccer.com: Can you put the 2010 season into perspective and the progress made this year?
Williams: When Juan Carlos [Osorio] came in, his first year , it was an up-and-down year. First season, we made the playoffs and won some good games in the playoffs. Then the next year, with Juan Carlos, it wasn’t a very good year. Lots things inside and outside the club that weren’t good. Then Juan Carlos resigned and I had the opportunity to be interim head coach. We had some guys come back in and then we were playing better.
Again, I don’t think we were as bad of a team as we showed [that year]. The guys who were still around this year were still trying to get their confidence back and they did. On top of it, we were able to bring in some very good players. This year, overall, was a good year and we were better. I think we showed who were as a team. We finished top third in the league and won the Eastern Conference.
[inline_node:120386]MLSsoccer.com: Backe said that the team gained confidence from its strong start to the season. How did that help things with this year?
Williams: It obviously helps when you have a strong start, but also the new stadium helped us, too, and having some positive results in the new stadium really helped. It was a new start for us, and starting the way we did really helped.
It was also important that we won some close games there early on. We were pulling them out there. That helped us gain confidence as well.
MLSsoccer.com: Did Backe and Solér talk with the team about goals before the season? Were they accomplished?
Williams: We had a goal, simply, of making the playoffs. When you sit down and look at things, historically, 40, 41, 42 points is what you need to make the playoffs. You get there and you get a pretty good shot of making the playoffs. That was the goal all along. We felt that if we made it to that point total, we were getting ourselves a shot at making the playoffs.
MLSsoccer.com: Would it almost have been better to have gone with the team that got you there rather than try to assimilate Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez in mid-season?
Williams: They were good additions; there is always going to be a transition when you bring in new players. New country, new league – just overall, new things to adjust to. You’re always going to have that with new players. Thierry had a couple injuries this year that unfortunately slowed him down. I think they [both] did a good job and helped the team.
[inline_node:300960]MLSsoccer.com: Backe talked about adding maybe three of four starting-quality players to the team. Where are the areas that you might be looking to tweak?
Williams: I think we have a good, solid team and I don’t think we need that much. Additions and changes, losing players – that’s always going to take place at the end of the year. I think Juan Pablo [Ángel] pulled off a bit at the end of the year; [that] might have been due to that situation going on with his contract.
Going ahead, we need to score more goals. With Juan Pablo leaving, we need to get someone to score goals. We’re going to need to add some attacking players for next year.
MLSsoccer.com: What’s the goal then looking ahead for 2011?
Williams: It is there, right there in front of us to win it all. I am not taking anything away from San Jose. We had a really good opportunity in the playoffs with the way we played in the first leg then heading home to get a result. I take my hat off to them, but if we get a result in that second leg, we’re hosting the Eastern Conference Championship in our place. They did all the right things to get the result, but we had our chances, we really did. We had a good opportunity this year, and next year, too, and we’ve got a good team. Juan Pablo is a big loss for us, but we’ll add a couple more players to go for that title.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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