By Michael Lewis
Outside of the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and possibly Bruce Arena, coaching tenures many times don’t have storybook endings.
They usually end with the coach getting fired, his or her deficiencies being aired in the media, players saying it was their fault and the management saying how optimistic it is for the coach’s successor and the team’s future.
With the Red Bulls, we have seen this movie way too many times.
Wash, rinse and repeat.
I certainly have. I have coached every hiring and every firing in the team’s 28-year history. Counting interim bosses, they are at 19 coaches, the most in league history.
Like it or not, I realize coaches live and die by that tried-and-true cliché – that they are hired to be fired.
With the Red Bulls, it has become tiresome, another reminder of the management’s failure to find the right pieces of the puzzle and that they have to start again.
Troy Lesesne will be the new puzzle solver, at least on the pitch, as he will take over the coaching reins from the departed Gerhard Struber and he will be jumping into the fire with two games in front of him – a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against D.C. United on Tuesday night, and then a Hudson River Derby confrontation at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.
There are many things that are wrong with this team.
When he was hired in 2020, I wasn’t certain that Struber was the answer.
While this isn’t necessarily mandatory, speaking the language of the country you are coaching in, especially the United States, should be mandatory, with so much on the line, trying to get the mainstream media to cover your team on a regular basis.
A coach is one of the team’s ultimate spokespeople. That is multiplied when you are battling for attention in the world’s biggest and most important media market.
Unfortunately, trying to decipher many of Struber’s comments became a challenge for this writer. I never want to misquote anyone or try to fix quotes and put words into their mouths by mistake. Transcripts from his press conferences were not edited, making it difficult to figure out some quotes.
While I did not know the man well, Struber seemed to be a decent person and had some interesting ideas as a coach. But being a decent person and having some interesting ideas do not necessarily make for a championship team.
But this year things broke down big time. The Vanzeir affair, in which Struber did not act fast enough to remove the forward from the match, although Red Bull head of sport Jochen Schneider said that was not a factor in the coaches’ dismissal. That entire incident, however, upset the Red Bulls’ supporters’ groups, as they stayed away from one home match in protest.
Definitely not a good look.
And yes, three key attacking players – Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas, and Dante Vanzeir has served four of his six-game suspension for his ill-advised racist comments to a San Jose Earthquakes player last week.
No doubt that not having that trio available has hurt the team.
Injuries are not a coach’s fault, but he needs to find a way to put together a squad to overcome them.
Their unavailability reminded us about the squad’s lack of depth and its reliance on its pressing defense. When it works, it can be a dangerous weapon. When it doesn’t, the attack suffers.
The team is not exciting. In fact, it has been downright boring. The Red Bulls have scored seven goals in their 11 matches en route to a 1-4-6 record. They are 28th out of 29 teams in the former, 27th in the latter.
And you want excitement? Score some goals and win at home more often than not. Give the fans something to cheer about.
Speaking of fans, this is a team that is struggling to fill up arguably the best stadium in the league (yeah, I know I will get an argument from many other clubs’ teams), outside of the Hudson River Derby matches with New York City FC.
Think of it, a soccer team in the metropolitan area and the team can’t fill its stadium or break 20,000 on a regular basis.
That is downright confounding and embarrassing.
You have to give credit to a loyal and patient fan base, which includes the Empire Supporters Club and Viking Army for staying around. But you have to wonder when their patience will wear even further thin.
And how do you secure other potential supporters if the team can’t win and entertain at home?
It is time for the Red Bull organization to look in a mirror and within itself and figure out what is wrong with its ability to run a successful soccer team.
If there are too many question marks and too many hills to climb, perhaps it is time to look for someone else to run the show.
But that’s another column for another time, something I hope to tackle in the not-too-distant future.
Right now, Lesesne needs to worry about treading Open Cup and MLS waters and getting past D.C. United and then NYCFC this weekend.