Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"I Want to Work for Red Bull"

I’ve mentioned in the past that MLS is the fan- friendiest league in the country. Today "friendly" was taken to the next level, as yours truly got to ask former US head coach and current Red Bull “Sporting Director” a number of questions during his welcome press conference at Mr. Cindy Crawford’s swanky Stone Rose Lounge at NYC’s glitzy Time Warner Center.

Bruce Arena showed up 45 minutes late to his own party, allowing the city’s soccer media (including Michael Lewis, Jack Bell, Brian Lewis, Ives Galarcep, Jane Havsy, Steve Cangelosi, and Paul Gardner) and a few hard-core fans the opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of steamy Columbus Circle and Central Park on the hottest day of the summer. Gorgeous waitresses handed out Kobe beef skewers, spicy tuna rolls, mushroom crostini, etc. etc. while we waited… and waited. Had the Metros/Red Bulls karma thrown Arena under a bus on the way to his press conference? We wondered.

Finally, Arena the Bruce was there along with Red Bull Managing Director Marc deGrandpre, who looked like he wasn’t super comfortable in the relative glare of the media.

Nuggets we learned:

Arena was “fairly certain” he didn’t want to come back to MLS after his US tenure, but Red Bulls advances, which started about 30 days ago (which would be during the US’ World Cup run) were “very intriguing.” The team and the coach came to terms about 2 weeks ago.

Arena didn’t think a team the likes that Red Bull is planning “could be built” within MLS, but the Austrian drink makers have been able to convince him of their "vision."

Red Bull fans shouldn’t expect many on-field changes this season. “There’s only so much we can do this year," said Arena. “We’re not in a position to acquire [players] through the transfer window,” he added, and said that changes would “most likely will be made in the offseason.” Arena noted that the club plans to have a strong team in place for the 2008 Harrison Stadium opening.

Arena did mention a number of current Red Bulls that he was impressed with, including Guevara (“one of the top midfielders in the league”), Dunivant, Wynne, Mendes, O’Rourke (“a ton of potential”), Peguero, Buddle, and Stammler. As for missing midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, Arena noted that “the old regime” had the relationship with the French World Cup champion, so Djorkaeff’s future with the club may be in doubt.

Arena knows better than anyone just how good an MLS side can be, though he noted that “this isn’t the Cosmos. This is the league where Americans play.” He was optimistic about the future, however. “Ten years down the road," he added, "this league looks different.”

Current assistant coach Richie Williams and goalkeeping coach Des McAleenan will be staying on with the Red Bulls, and Arena will be bringing on another assistant coach, a fitness director, a “technical director,” and possibly another coach.

Arena’s first game behind the bench will be the August 12th tilt vs. European champion Barcelona, and he’ll be relaxing & moving his team from Virginia to the NY area before getting with the team on the practice field by August 7th.

deGrandpre noted that Arena will have input on the locker rooms and training facilities at the widely rumored (and delayed) Harrison Stadium project. deGrandpre said that final designs were “a few weeks away," which caused some audible eye-rolls in the crowd, and added that 100% of the seats in the stadium designs would be covered. A heated field, which would allow the club to play through the winter, was also a possibility. The Managing Director told the crowd that the stadium, when built, would be the premier [soccer] training facility in the US. Mmm-hmm.

While it was a positive start for Arena is New York, it’s obvious that the rest of this season is not to be taken too seriously by team management. With the Red Bulls only three points out of a playoff spot, avoiding DC United in round one should be the focus of this club down the stretch. Hopefully Arena’s signing will help sell some tickets & generate some buzz around a franchise that has consistently underperformed.

And away we go. Again.

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