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Is there any reason to hope the CCL qualifier will be different?

Posted on 29 July 2009 by ASN Staff

There are two ways to take this question:
1. In light of the New York Red Bulls’ pathetic performance these last months, is there any reason to believe the team might be able to mount a challenge against Trinidad and Tobago’s W Connection in its two-legged CONCACAF Champions League qualifier?

2. Should Red Bulls fans really hope for success in the CCL if all it accomplishes is that Juan Carlos Osorio, Jeff Agoos or Erik Stover (or worse yet, all three) get to keep their jobs, possibly into next season or (shudder) even longer?

Krupnik spent a lot of his first game chasing the ball

The answer to the first question is easy: No. There is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, that the Red Bulls will have any more of a chance against the Trinidadian club than they did against any of the MLS sides they played over the last three months. The team’s performance its last two games, in a 3-1 home loss to the LA Galaxy and 4-0 beatdown in Colorado, was more pathetic than ever. If anything, it is moving backwards–as hard as that may be to believe. Its newest acquisitions–Leo Krupnik, Bouna Kondoul and Ernst Obster–do absolutely nothing to address the team’s various shortcomings. Its coach remains unwilling to budge on tactical or lineup strategies and continues to make decisions that boggle the mind.

Optimists may point to last season’s unlikely postseason run as evidence that Osorio and the Red Bulls have the capability to pull some magic out of their proverbial hats. After all, didn’t the team limp into the playoffs on the heels of a 5-2 beatdown at Chicago in the regular season finale? Didn’t it defeat the defending MLS Cup champions in the first round of the playoffs? After Osorio had made wholesale changes to his lineup, no less?

Yes, but believe in a repeat performance at your peril. For one, last year’s playoff run was a fluke. For another, it was largely the work of one man, Dave van den Bergh, who is no longer with the club. Third, the team actually managed to score a few goals late last season, not only at Chicago but in the penultimate regular season game against Columbus (a 3-1 victory) and even in the sloppy 5-4 defeat to Colorado a month earlier. This year? In the past five games the team has scored exactly once in a non-penalty situation.

Here’s what will happen in the first leg: The Red Bulls will play a 4-5-1 with Angel as the lone striker. The rest of the lineup is a bit of a question mark, but the following are likely: Nick Zimmerman will start on the bench again, because, well, he’s the one player who actually proved he can do anything with the ball. Perhaps Obster will start in Zimmerman’s place. Krupnik, who did so well last time, will start in central defense even though Seth Stammler would be better-suited to the job. Maybe Khano Smith will start, just because. Jorge Rojas should definitely start because he’s such a stud.

If the team makes it through the first 40 minutes without yielding a goal, it will do so in the waning moments of the half or in first half stoppage time. Maybe even twice. It will then be completely discouraged going into the locker room, though Osorio probably won’t make any substitutions. W Connection will score at least once more after that, presumably at the very end of the game just when Red Bull fans were thinking that maybe, just maybe they had a chance in the return leg. Maybe New York will get lucky and score one of their own, just to mess with their fans’ minds. The final result will probably be 3-1, 4-1 or 3-0. Either way, the return leg shouldn’t matter much though of course some fans will hold out hope. A few might even attend the game.

Now for the second question.

It would be foolish to think the authorities in Salzburg will take any action against Stover/Agoos/Osorio if and when the team fails to advance. The Austrian owners have done virtually nothing for the team since their first season in charge and we don’t expect that to change now. Especially when Osorio’s contract is guaranteed through the end of the season, as it is said to be.

But it would be just as naive to think the Austrian overlords will fire Osorio (and hopefully Agoos, if not Stover) no matter how the rest of the season turns out. Again: Salzburg has from all appearances taken a completely hands-off approach to this team. If somehow, miracle of all miracles, the Red Bulls manage to turn around the season–say, finish with a string of MLS wins in addition to making the CCL group stage–Osorio and Agoos can use the “body of work” argument to make the case for keeping their jobs through 2010 and beyond. For all we know the Austrians might even listen. Maybe they’ll even agree. These are the people who brought us Adolf Hitler and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The country seems to produce off-the-cuff people who might just favor an avant-garde approach to managing their New York outpost.

Then again, this team is just too lousy (on all levels) to manage even that kind of rebound. It won’t happen. If anything is certain in this season of misery, it’s that.

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