Erik Soler still watches the Red Bulls every week.
He believes the team is on the verge of finally securing its first ever MLS Cup, and hopes that MLS continues to grow in popularity in Europe as people realize the quality of soccer played in the United States. He also wants the fans that came to every game during his time at the club and supported the team to know they have his gratitude for their loyalty and enthusiasm.
He also wants to set the record straight on some things.
Soler was Sporting Director for the Red Bulls from 2010 to 2012, during which he and head coach Hans Backe took a team that finished dead last in MLS in 2009 and brought them to the top of the Eastern Conference in 2010. Each of the three seasons that Soler was in charge the Red Bulls made the playoffs, but could never get out of the conference semifinals.
In addition, there were stories. Lots. Of. Stories.
"Media have their agendas and that is the same all over the world," Soler said in an interview with Once a Metro. "Inside the club we had a well organized management, but lack of Play-off success will always create noise. After all, it is all about winning titles."
Soler never did get that title, but he has no regrets about how he ran the team. These days, he is back in a more comfortable role, running the management consulting firm he started in 1993. A trained psychologist, Soler says his role is to "advise top-level managers specifically in turn around and change processes," in addition to recruitment and education programs for senior level managers.
After transitioning back to his old career, Soler did not leave behind the sport. He calls soccer, " central to my life for such a long time, and still is," while he maintains a management program for soccer clubs in Norway and sits on an advisory-board for a "top club" outside of his home country.
Soler told OaM that he always intended his time at the Red Bulls to be a "three to four year project," after which he would return to Norway to spend time with his children and grandchildren. He also said the work that was done during those three years, helped build a foundation, which the organization should be proud of.
"My role was to do large changes on the sporting and business side," Soler said. "By building a more solid structure it is a fact that RBNY has qualified for every play off since 2010."
To achieve those chances Soler credited his staff with helping him learn all the rules of MLS, which he called "simply different from other leagues" worldwide.
" I managed to build a strong team around me, including Ricardo Campos that had the understanding of the implications of the salary cap since he came from a function at the MLS offices," Soler said.
One of his immediate changes was to spend to bring in high profile stars from Europe. Within the first year of taking over Soler, with the help of senior Red Bull management, brought over superstars Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez midseason, and added Joel Lindpere and Roy Miller from clubs in Europe as well. Over the next two seasons Soler brought over Jan Gunnar Solli, Teemu Taino, Frank Rost, Luke Rogers, Markus Holgersson, Victor Palsson, Tim Cahill, Lloyd Sam, and Luis Robles from Europe.
"The stars was brought in with the cooperation of my superior at that time Didi Beiersdorfer [sporting director at Red Bull Salzburg] and was run all the way to the owner of Red Bull, so it was a part of a larger scheme," Soler said.
"Thierry is one of a kind, a real superstar and his positive influence at the club and league is well known. Rafa did not really work out for various reasons, unfortunately."
Soler also believes that Hans Backe helped turn around the Red Bulls in a way that he did not receive enough credit for. In 2010 Backe, "[got] the absolute most out of that season," which righted a team that had just suffered its worse season in MLS history. Success in the playoff may have eluded Backe, but due to the nature of MLS' knockout rounds, the "individual mistakes" Backe made cost him dearly, unfortunately.
Now, one of the most infamous incidents that reportedly happened during Soler's tenure concerns a player he believes was his most underrated signing at the club: Tim Ream.
Ream was drafted in the second round of the 2010 MLS Superdraft. Soler said of the pick that, "no other clubs had Ream on their lists at the [draft], but he was on top of mine." Ream made an immediate impact for the Red Bulls, and by the end of the 2011 season he was drawing interest from Premier League teams. During the 2011 season the Red Bulls reportedly blocked a transfer to Arsenal, and Soler tried to hand the centerback a contract extension on the team bus.
Eventually, ahead of the 2012 season Ream transferred to Bolton Wanderers, and he currently plays for Fulham in the Championship.
"Tim has had a remarkable but very well deserved career," Soler said.
"Since he still is playing in England you could only label his move as the right one. I wanted him to stay another year but had no problem understanding he wanted to move to England, all MLS players wants that move.
"Handling him a contract in the team bus? What a nice fairy tale :)"