Tag Archive | "Jeff Agoos"

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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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Midseason review: A new low

Posted on 10 July 2009 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Fans of the New York/New Jersey Major League Soccer franchise have certainly had their share of disappointments over the past 14 seasons. A procession of 11 coaches, six general managers and three ownership groups have passed through the vacuous confines of Giants Stadium, many arriving with great fanfare before succumbing to various degrees of failure. The franchise has been described as “cursed” or “snakebit,” but those words do no justice to the team’s shortcomings over the course of its decade-and-a-half history. Instead, the franchise has been nothing short of one giant case study in incompetence, be it by ownership, management, coaches, or a combination thereof.

It's been a rough season for Osorio (left) and Angel

Today, in the summer of 2009, the team has reached a new low–even by its own sad standards. After a surprise appearance in the 2008 MLS Cup game, it is on track for one of the worst seasons in the history of the league. Its record (two wins, 13 losses, four draws) and goal difference (15 for, 30 against) should speak for themselves, but sadly do the trainwreck no justice. The organization lacks direction on virtually every level: Its deadbeat Austrian owners have either lost interest or are biding their time or both, its general manager is utterly clueless and has given up even trying to pretend otherwise, and its attempts at marketing and “community outreach” have been ineffectual or, worse yet, embarrassments.

Then there’s the head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, about whom an entire volume could be written. The Colombian, who was poached from the Chicago Fire ahead of the 2008 season, is not without charisma (the same of which can not be said of his curmudgeonly predecessor) and to his credit seems to genuinely care about the mess he has created. But Osorio’s blunders run so deep and are so bewildering that he can at this point be described as wholly incompetent at best and a downright fraud at worst. This year, it took Osorio about a dozen regular season games to decide on a starting lineup and formation–with a squad that went to MLS Cup the season prior. Nor does there appear to be any method to his madness. Players are routinely lined up out of position, often on the opposite side of the field from their dominant foot. Others, after showing promise in one role, are forced into another, relegated to the end of the bench or kept out of lineups altogether. Some of the team’s most promising young talent is being wasted in this manner.

Osorio’s style, if he has one, is to bunker. He is so enamored with defensive football that he forsakes it for everything else, no matter the score or situation. The team shows little incentive going forward, its few feeble attempts limited to long balls. Only rarely do its few attacking players attempt runs or show for the ball. Mostly the ball is passed around the back before it is turned over to the opposition.

No surprise then that it took five games for the team to even score a goal by itself (a Week Two tally against New England was credited as an own-goal to Jay Heaps). Of the 14 it has scored to date, half have been unassisted, which indicates they were in all likelihood the result of a defensive error or set piece as opposed to the team’s own efforts.

Osorio’s love of defense transcends to his personnel decisions, though here some of the blame must also be placed on the team’s general manager Jeff Agoos. Over the past year the team has stockpiled defensive players, nearly all of them from Latin America, but Osorio still insists on converting midfielders and wingers into defensive roles. Yet the team’s defenders still lack some of the very basic fundamentals and are often caught ball-watching. Worse, the defense cannot hold leads and routinely concedes goals in the waning minutes of halves.

Osorio also appears to have a preference for thuggish players. Costa Rican right back Carlos Johnson earned red cards in his first two games with the team. Argentine defensive mid Juan Pietravallo, since waived, was known by fans as Pietra-foul-o for his propensity for picking up cheap cards, often shortly after entering games as a (defensive, natch) substitute.

Both Johnson and Pietravallo were signed by Agoos and Osorio. But the team’s personnel blunders these past 18 months go much further. The following bullet points are merely a few lowlights. Any Red Bulls fan can add to the list:

  • Its best player last season and the key ingredient (along with plenty of luck) in its postseason run, left winger Dave van den Bergh, was cast off to Dallas for effectively nothing. Osorio and Agoos said the Dutchman orchestrated the trade, but when a local Web site caught up to van den Bergh, he gave a different version of events.
  • To replace van den Bergh, the team traded for Khano Smith, who is (no exaggeration) one of the worst players in MLS history. Smith was one of Osorio’s few regular starters early in the season despite no indication whatsoever that he was up to the task. Finally he was benched. But he remains with the team and his contract is due to become guaranteed July 15.
  • For additional depth on the left flank, the team drafted Jeremy Hall from the University of Maryland. This was not a bad choice by any means; not only was Hall an integral part of an NCAA championship side, but he has all the intangibles to make it as a professional in MLS. Yet for reasons that remain obscure, Hall was not given a chance to win the left midfielder job, where his skills were desperately needed. Instead he was converted to right back, where he has performed admirably given the circumstances. But the Red Bulls were about to sign Carlos Johnson to play right back anyway.
  • Early in the 2008 season, the Red Bulls refused to give draft pick Eric Brunner a senior roster spot, waiving the young Ohioan in favor of Andrew Boyens. Brunner since signed with the MLS Champion Columbus Crew, where he is now starting. Boyens has been a(nother) defensive liability.
  • Midway through the 2008 campaign, Osorio signed three additional defensive players (Pietravallo, Gabriel Cichero, Diego Jimenez) from Latin America. None impressed or even seemed capable of starting on a regular basis. All are out of the league.
  • At the start of the 2009 season, Osorio brought in two more defensive players (in addition to Johnson). Alfredo Pacheco and Albert Celades, to their (and Osorio’s) credit have not been horrible. But the roster was already overflowing with players with their skillset (many acquired by Osorio himself). The team clearly had other priorities. It still does.
  • Jorge Rojas, whom Osorio brought on in 2008 to be his playmaker, has looked completely lost on the pitch and uninterested in contributing anything beyond ballhogging, which is not meant to insinuate Rojas is a great dribbler. Or even a good one.
  • An undrafted rookie goalkeeper, Alec Dufty, was signed as an emergency backup to Danny Cepero. When Cepero had to leave the fourth game of the season with a concussion, Dufty got the call. He played well, but was waived the following week to make space for Jon Conway, who was serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (but had been protected in the expansion draft, despite having a hefty salary no team in its right mind would have picked up, least of all one that had already signed Kasey Keller. Curiously enough, the other player suspended with Conway, Jeff Parke, was not protected despite having far more marketable skills. Parke was promptly picked up by Seattle, but ended up signing with the Vancouver Whitecaps).
  • Conway was waived last month in favor of Bouna Condoul, whose salary demands are significantly smaller (though not as small as Dufty’s). But Condoul has been inconsistent in his MLS career to date. More importantly, the Red Bulls have far greater needs.

On the pitch the team personifies its wayward coaching and management. Its style might best be described as a perverted satire of catenaccio (the old Italian style of defensive soccer that is not even practiced in Italy anymore), but performed with unskilled youth players. Even if it were to work in attaining results, this system is unlikely to attract much of a following, especially in New York where the Red Bulls have to compete with countless other forms of entertainment, sporting and otherwise.

But the system clearly does not work, which begs the question: Why do Osorio and Agoos still have a jobs? It is hard to imagine any ownership group, in any professional sports organization (least of all in the world’s biggest media market) condoning such levels of incompetence. Yet despite widespread fan outrage, Red Bull has maintained a stony silence not only on Agoos and Osorio, but on virtually all matters affecting the team.

Does the Austrian corporation think Osorio and Agoos deserve to keep their jobs because the team made it to MLS Cup last year? The Red Bulls’ playoff run (a bit of a misnomer seeing as it entailed merely two road wins, the second of which was little more than pure luck) was not only a fluke, but one accomplished with players that were brought in by Bruce Arena, the team’s previous coach and GM. Not that Red Bull brass would care about these details even if they were aware of them. More likely, the team’s ownership is content to play out the string before finally, at long last, moving into its own stadium at the start of the 2010 season. Give Osorio and Agoos enough rope to hang themselves, a job they are performing with distinction, but do not sign off on any more of their acquisitions. When the season ends, clean house and bring in new management and coaches.

This assumes Red Bull still cares about the team. The Austrians are said to be frustrated with MLS’ institutional parity that prevents individual teams from doing just about anything without league approval. Understandable, but also the type of thing they should have been aware of, had they done all their homework. There have been rumors, none substantiated, that the energy drink company was looking to sell the team. Don’t be surprised to hear more of them.

To be sure, New York’s problems are the league’s problems. It is hard to see how MLS will ever escape its third-rate status without a successful franchise in its biggest market. Of course, the single ownership policy neutralizes whatever advantages might otherwise be afforded by the region’s size and scale. The “Beckham Rule,” which permits teams to exempt one player’s salary from the salary cap, has not had the desired effect (and not only because of all the issues involving its namesake). The Red Bulls even traded for a second designated player spot, but after wasting it on Claudio Reyna for a season and a half, have let it go unused. No marquee players in their prime are willing to come to MLS and only very few others (Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Kasey Keller come to mind) are worth the cost.

On some level then, the New York franchise is a symbol of MLS itself. Built on a previous generation’s love affair with the sport, but hoping to capitalize on burgeoning interest particularly among the communities of newest Americans, it began with great promise and fanfare. Handcuffed by its own policies, mismanaged through several quick fixes and restarts, it does not really know what to do with itself. It has some shiny new infrastructure waiting to be put to use, but if it’s going to make any progress toward fulfilling its great promise it has to get out of its own way first.

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Time to fire Agoos-OsorioOne supporter's letter to the front office

Posted on 30 June 2009 by ASN Staff

Dear Erik Stover,

When you are in command of people, tough and inevitable decisions must sometimes be made. A time when the benefit of the unit outweighs the benefits of the individual. That time for your “unit,” Mr. Stover, is now.

It is time to put an end the Jeff Agoos-Juan Carlos Osorio team that has run the franchise the last season and a half–for the benefit of your organization, its fans and its future. The hopes and goals of this franchise cannot and will not be fulfilled under its current course. Consider the following bullet points:

1. Consistency
I know this is something the organization craves. Many feel the constant coaching and managerial changes have crippled progress for this franchise. I happen to believe this assumption, however sticking to your guns is in itself an empty virtue. More important is finding and sticking with the gun that delivers success and progress.

The Agoos-Osorio tandem has indeed brought consistency, but consistency of the wrong kind: losing, which we can all agree is not what we are looking for. We can make excuses or deflect accountability, but the fact is that ever since your predecessor’s grand folly of poaching Osorio and appointing Agoos, this team has been in steady decline.

Mr Stover, I firmly agree in the general premise your organization wants to establish, however we need to do that with the right leadership. The merits here have shown fairly convincingly that Agoos-Osorio are not the right leadership.

2. Results
You have stated that you understand this is to be a results business. As such it is only fair to highlight the results since the Agoos-Osorio takeover. The 2008 season can really only be described as sub par. When they took over this team we had just finished third in the Eastern Conference with a capable sqaud that only really needed minor additions, primarily on defense.

In 2008, Osorio’s team finished with 39 points, which places them well in the bottom half historically for this franchise, and fifth place in the East. Osorio’s first season with New York saw him turn in a worse performance than 2007 by two places in the table and four points.

Yes, we all know about the playoff run, but that string of (really just two) results were very out of character for this team, as evidenced by this year’s performace.

In 2009, the table doesn’t lie. This is statistically the worst season in the history of the franchise–yes, at the current pace even worse than the crippling 1999 season.

Osorio’s overall record in league play since taking control: 12-23-13. Yes, Osorio has lost twice as many games as he has won and even drawn more games than he was won. That equates to a 1.02 points-per-game total.

Where does that rank amoung Metro/Red Bull coaches all time? Only behind Bora in 1999.

3. Player Signings
There are few ways for a coach to more effectively influence a team than in crafting its roster. The success both long term and short term of a club is directly tied to the talent the coach identifies and signs. To this end, we can not pretend that Agoos and Osorio are doing the job.

Pietravallo, Rojas, Cichero, Smith, Pacheco, Johnson, etc. These players have all failed in Major League Soccer and with our team. As a result of the scouting and signings, this team has become crippled with sub standard talent.

Either the players are not up to par, or the coach is not utilizing them properly. In any event, the blame here falls directly on the shoulders of the Agoos-Osorio team.

I could go on (and on), but i think it’s best to leave it at this. There are a lot of people in your organization whose jobs are on the line, maybe even your own. This coaching deficiency is making everyone’s job harder and vulnerable. At this point the only wise and prudent course is to make the tough decision and give Agoos and Osorio their walking papers before they do any more permantant damage to this team. (Getting knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League comes to mind)

We need to have Ritchie Williams take over as interim coach while we identify potential replacements. Those replacements should be on board by this fall so they have plenty of time to shape the team for next season.

In the end, there is no justifiable reason for keeping Osorio and Agoos any longer. They have had plenty of chances to make right and have failed with all of them. I know that firing people is hard, that you may like them as individuals and may not want to do it for any number of other reasons–but there are also a lot of other people with careers who are counting on you too, who will lose their jobs as well if the team continues its current course. You have a duty to the organization and to its fans to do what is right and what is best for the franchise.

A supporter

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