Corporate America; A closer look at the New York Red Bulls

by Armando Diaz

The New York Red Bulls are as corporate as it gets in the 21st century. The current set-up resembles the early days of club football where players from teams were given “jobs” to work in factories or as salesmen for their employer. Does anyone fancy Rafael Marquez or Thierry Henry driving a tractor trailer making deliveries of Red Bull to your local grocer? I think not. Although there are clubs in modern day who are named and sponsored by a beverage of some sort, just ask the recently relegated Quilmes Atletico Club in Argentina.

The Red Bulls squad contains international superstars Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. They also contain international talent from lesser known football countries like Teemu Tainio (Finland) and Joel Lindpere (Estonia) who collectively have more than 125 caps for their respective countries. The squad also includes young American up and comers Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo have already been capped for the U.S. Men’s National Team at the senior level. Not to mention Wayne Rooney’s younger brother John who is set to blaze his own trails here in America as opposed to living in his brother’s shadow in England. This combination of international superstars who are in the twilight of their careers and young, talented individuals who have their best years ahead of them would set the U.S. soccer scene on fire right?

Unfortunately, this squad has been overshadowed by bigger stories in the MLS this season. They may not even be one of the top three storylines of the season. Los Angeles with David Beckham and Landon Donovan draw more media attention. There’s Real Salt Lake who lost in the CONCACAF Champions League Final and finally the introduction of the Pacific Northwest, which has three MLS teams; Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps, in relatively short distance from each other. New York is even having difficulty selling out their home games in their new 25,189 seat stadium, Red Bull Arena. Their lowest attendance of the season was a fixture against the Houston Dynamo which was recorded at 13,664. So why is there apathy towards a team loaded with talent? Some of it may stem from last year’s exit in the MLS playoffs. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the San Jose Earthquakes. Many felt the team should have gone further.

It’s gone somewhat differently in 2011. Coach Hans Backe may have adopted a slow and steady approach to the season. The team currently lies in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. In the MLS, there exists a playoff system. Having the best record in the league earns a team the MLS Supporters Shield and a financial bonus. Backe has the league’s leading scorer in Henry who at this stage of his career is proving he can still play at a high level. Backe must balance the squad to make sure he does not over exert his seasoned veterans during the regular season as he will need to rely on them in the playoffs. The team has a starting eleven which contains enough talent and flair to run with any team in the MLS and maybe even in CONCACAF. Their depth however is unproven. Rafael Marquez, who was injured during the Gold Cup, has exposed the defense which in turn have had a few horrendous outings. Four goals were let allowed during a match in Seattle against the Sounders and more recently another four goals were allowed in a match against defending MLS Cup champions Colorado Rapids.

Management in the club has made their message clear. Their aim is to win and to win now. There is little interest in drafting and developing talent. The Red Bulls used to have one of the best scouting systems in the league. This important aspect of the game, which few MLS teams have truly mastered, is now deemed less important within the organization. Earlier in the season, the Red Bulls traded for Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario. De Rosario was acquired on April 1st and was then traded on June 28th. Rumors have it De Rosario’s advancing age and perceived declining skills were a reason for the trade. In return the Red Bulls acquired Dax McMarty a young, proven, two-way player in the MLS. This may not be the last roster move the Red Bulls make all season. This “win now” culture may come with a price though. Just ask the fans of Austrian side SV Austria Salzburg.

Author Info

Armando Diaz

An all around sports nut who went crazy for football as a teenager who followed the '94 World Cup. I like to follow lower league football and lesser known leagues as there is an unbridled joy and atmosphere created by clubs, players, and fans.

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2 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    My Question is, despite all of these big name signings and desire for immediate results, what will happen if those results do not come? They are clearly throwing cash around in the hopes of winning a title, but what if no silverware is won? Is there something wrong with the formula?

    It is a question that is asked of a lot of under performing teams, but in a league such as the MLS I am very surprised to not see a real string of dramatic victories with the world class talent that New York is bringing in.

    Also, recently returning from a trip to Seattle, I was surprised to see how vibrant, loyal, and personable the fans on the West Coast are of their football teams. At the Manchester United vs Seattle Sounders game, despite the scoreline, the stadium was filled to the brim in Green and the crowd, despite enjoying a clinical display from United, was firmly behind their team.

    How does the mentality change so much as that Houston gets 13,000 fans a game while Seattle sells out 60,000 every weekend? I suppose that is a lot of questions with some very complex answers, but these are the questions that really stick out at me as to why Football in America is such a complex creature.

    1. Armando Diaz says:

      First and foremost thanks for taking the time to read the article.
      Second, Red Bulls management may very well continue to roll the dice and aim for championship caliber team year in and year out. They will undoubtedly continue to use their maximum allowed designated player allocations (currently at 3 in the MLS). An interesting observation is one made recently by Hans Backe. Backe told the public he has 11 players and no quality bench players. Personally, I think last year’s play off exit still stings the team. He doesn’t see the point in buring out Henry and Marquez at this juncture. (Assuming Marquez was fit to play in every game of course.)
      Because the MLS has a playoff system, entering the playoffs in 3rd or 4th position is not a big deal for this group of experienced footballers.
      What I find most unsettling about this team is the attendance or lack thereof. Don Garber and MLS brass want teams in their biggest media markets. There are already two teams in LA and there will be two teams in the tri-state area in the near future. The NY Cosmos seem to be going to the MLS. (A few major issues must be addressed.) The major markets have been outshone by smaller media markets.
      Finally, you observed what is arguably one of the best MLS venues. When you combine Seattle, Portland and Vancouver it is clear this is the area where fans are the most passionate for the game. You gave Houston as an example however I have one better. FC Dallas made it to the final of the MLS Cup last year yet they consistenly average an attendance in the low 10,000 range.
      I feel the MLS wants to showcase the Pacific Northwest as much as possible. This is why Man Utd. had a match in Boston only to be flown to the opposite side of the country for a match against the Seattle Sounders.
      If one doesn’t think the U.S. can provide a venue for world class football just ask Michael Owen. He was sending pictures of the Seattle locker room via Twitter before the match.

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