All the Right Moves (So Far)

Jerome de Bontin and Andy Roxburgh have talked the talk so to speak. Here's hoping they can walk the walk.

Less than 24 hours after the Red Bulls crashed out of the MLS playoffs against D.C. United, the Viking Era at Red Bull Arena ended.

With Erik Soler already out as GM, replaced by Jerome de Bontin just as the regular season finish line was in sight, the team choosing not to renew Hans Backe's contract was the final nail in the coffin for the team's Scandinavian leadership.

Nearly simultaneously with Backe's departure, Andy Roxburgh was brought on as Sporting Director, ushering in some sort of Frankish-Celtic alliance in the team's front office.

I wrote last week that the change was "...something," a lurch away from the Euro-centric leadership of Soler/Backe toward something more American. After all, de Bontin, who went to college in Massachusetts was on the U.S. Soccer board and served as president of AS Monaco. It might not be the MLS-expert local owners some fans hold out hope for, but it was certainly better than what the Red Bulls had before.

But more recently, it's seeming like a damn fine move on the part of our Austrian soda-slinging overlords.

In a sit down with Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, De Bontin put his neck out on NY2, echoing sentiments shared by many a New York Red Bulls fan: That New York isn't ready for a second team.

He made an appearance at Catas, the VA hangout.

In his first interview on the Red Bulls' official site, Roxburgh didn't say a lot, but what he did say was good. Essentially: I'll learn the league and I want to build a team with local talent, but I'm not afraid to use my contacts.

His first legitimate press appearance he said...well, Andy Roxburgh said a lot of things. I'll let the New York Times' Jack Bell do the dirty work, as he listed them in a nice, bullet point, fashion:

¶ Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson, who was a teammate of Roxburgh's about 100 years ago, encouraged him to jump the Atlantic and take the job because it would be "an interesting and good move for me."

¶ He has interviewed two possible replacements for the departed coach Hans Backe and has a "short list" of other candidates, including some Americans with M.L.S. experience. No names, but he promised the new coach would be in place before the end of the year. He said that if the head coach is not an American, the club would have an American assistant. Mike Petke, the only coach retained from Backe's staff, is now overseeing workouts at the stadium.

"The names keep flying in," he said. "I aim to bring someone in with an international background. It could be an American and I don't necessarily mean Europe."

¶ After deciding to allow the expiring three-year contract of Coach Hans Backe to expire, the Red Bulls will soon have the 14th coach in the club's 17-year history (which began as the MetroStars). "Stability is absolutely vital," Roxburgh said. "I know this franchise hasn't been as stable as it needs to be. We want to create stability, have a greater level of steadiness. We have a real desire to make this franchise one of the best in M.L.S. And to do that, we need to create stability."

¶ Although the club waived 10 players Monday ahead of the M.L.S. re-entry draft, Roxburgh said the Red Bulls have not cut all ties with some of the players. Relatively inexpensive players, like defender Tyler Ruthven, are likely to continue training with the team and could still have a shot at signing new deals.

¶ The club will play in a preseason tournament in Arizona and soon move to a new training center that is under construction in Hanover, N.J., which is closer to Morristown than it is to Manhattan.

¶ Roxburgh repeated the obvious - Rafael Marquez is under contract for one more season at $4.6 million. "Like all players, we're talking to him," Roxburgh said. What that means in terms of Marquez's returning remains, shall we say, fluid.

¶ On the prospect of Tim Cahill and/or Thierry Henry playing in England on short-term loans during the off-season, Roxburgh said: "In general, I wouldn't be too positive. It's a long season here and they need a break. But it depends on the individual and the circumstances."

¶ At present, the Red Bulls have no selections - none - in January's college draft. That could, however, be remedied if the club completes trades for a few of their few appealing players, like Kenny Cooper, who led the Red Bulls with 18 goals, but created few on his own.

All of this might not seem like a lot. But did the nearly universally loathed Chris Heck ever stop at any of the Market Street bars the team's most ardent supporters frequent? (To my knowledge) no. Did the team ever come out and question Dan Garber's seemingly all-encompassing quest to erect a stadium in his home borough? No. If anything, they were cheerleaders for the project. Has the team's recent ex-leadership ever supported the notion that a team with a local core rather than an imported one might be a step in the right direction (especially with the team's highly-touted youth program)? Mostly, they favored high-priced European talent.

It's easy to accuse them of pandering, but at least that would acknowledge de Bontin and Roxburgh know enough about the culture of this team to pander to us. Sure, recognizing that pandering is a step in the right direction is a bit pathetic, but if they keep talking the talk, maybe they'll walk the walk. And then we'll really have something.

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