HARRISON, N.J. – It wasn’t the year he expected.
New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe talked in preseason about a team he felt had the goods to win the Supporters’ Shield. Come June, he talked about focusing on the MLS Cup as the team’s ultimate goal while his side had a summer swoon.
By August, it was a focus of just making the playoffs. And by the time the Red Bulls were ultimately eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by the eventual champion LA Galaxy, it felt like a mere formality.
In his final media address of the year, Backe looked back on a 2011 that didn’t go quite to plan despite the lofty expectations for his star-studded group.
Q: What are your thoughts on the team’s locker room mentality during such an up-and-down season?
Backe: It has to be changed. We’ve had a lot of problems this year with the red cards, with other things that happened this year. This has been the absolute messiest year I’ve been involved in in 32 years. It has to be a clean-up [for] next year. It has to be changed.
Q: The Galaxy found the right balance of stars and role players. Is there anything to learn from their example?
Backe: What I’ve heard, they had huge problems the first two years with those players. They’ve used some time to build this team, becoming a team. You can see now [how] they can win this year. Otherwise, they haven’t won the last four years. Probably they’ve sorted things out, they have become a team. They are a team now with hard-working guys who get along together in a good way. You need some time.
Q: Is central midfield the place for Rafa Márquez?
Backe: We could play out of the back four very well the first seven games, playing him as a center back. But in this league, with the kind of physical strikers they have, a straight direct game, I feel he probably fits in better in central midfield. That’s why we said, “OK, let’s get [Stephen] Keel in, we know what we will get. We will get a guy who wins headers, that can tackle, that digs in.” The balance went better for us.
Q: Why was Keel moved into the starting lineup on the back line for the stretch run?
Backe: We need to balance like that. If you play [Tim] Ream, who is more of a soft center back, more of ... an attacking center back with his passing game, you need one guy, a cleaner, alongside Ream.
Q: Is the SuperDraft the way to add more American players to the team?
Backe: I should say, the only thing, these two years, to pick an American guy is to pick top five. And we have only one pick in the second round this draft. I don’t think it will be from the combine or the draft. If it will be, it will be with a trade.
Q: Are there any big-name signings in the works?
Backe: Not really. It’s probably a lot of rumors, we haven’t decided which direction we’re going. We have names. We need to be quite sharp now, we can’t wait. We have to start this now in [the offseason]: Get names in and negotiate. We have names in midfield, striker. We shouldn’t rush it or force it, but we know quite well where we’re going.