Whether it's fair or not, it's safe to bet that Hans Backe will not be coaching the Red Bulls next season.
"We have to wait and see with that," Backe said referring to his future.
Backe, who is tied for the best coaching record in the club's history, immediately became a lame duck the second the Red Bulls hierarchy decided to bring in Jerome de Bontin as its new general manager in October. Replacing Erik Soler with De Bontin a month before the playoffs began sent a clear message that the ownership wasn't happy with the current direction of the team.
Now, the question is: who's next?
The best option would be Jason Kreis, who is under contract for one more season at Real Salt Lake.
Yes, reports continue to indicate that the Red Bulls will look to hire yet another foreign manager, but that would be a misguided decision for a team still looking for its first title in 17 years. It took Backe almost two full seasons before he finally began to understand MLS and its roster components. Red Bulls fans will not patiently wait for another coach to learn on the fly, as proven by the team's dwindling attendance figures. Kreis' MLS experience could be crucial for the team.
At RSL, which had significantly less resources, Kreis coached the club into one of the league's top sides. Unlike Backe, who consistently pandered to his star players and never had a set system, Kreis's philosophy focuses on ball movement not personnel.
Whenever a high profile player departed from the team, Kreis seamlessly inserted another, with equivalent results. With the nature of MLS's tight salary cap, it is pitival for a manager to be able to manage turnover, and Kreis is one of the league's best at doing so.
While some might question Kreis' desire to leave a very secure position at RSL for the pressure cooker that is the Red Bulls, the move makes sense. A source who is close to Kreis told Goal.com that he would be open to a new challenge and Kreis has made it very clear that he would like to eventually coach the U.S. national team one day.
One of the perceived weaknesses that Kreis has had is that he's never coached big time stars before. What would be a greater challenge than being able to work with Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Marquez (assuming the Mexico international is around on opening night 2013)?
Another looming question is whether or not New York Designated Players would respect Kreis and his forthright nature, but all signals suggest that it would be positive union. Ever since Henry's arrival in MLS in 2010, the Frenchman has been effusive in his praise for Kreis, calling his side one of the best organized teams in the league. Aside from Bruce Arena, there is likely no other American coach who would be able to garner the respect of New York's stars.
The respect factor could be crucial for the Red Bulls moving forward. One of Backe's major weaknesses during his three-year tenure at New York was inability to hold his Designated Players accountable. He could find no issue with criticizing a standup individual like Kenny Cooper for being too nice, but refrained from saying anything about Rafa Marquez, who was constantly in controversial situations both on and off the pitch. It is safe to say that if Kreis were a candidate for the Red Bulls, he would ask ownership to allow him the space to critique of all of his players if justified before accepting a role.
If Kreis has the full backing of his ownership, there's no question that he could lead New York to new heights and maybe finally break its lengthy spell without an MLS Cup. It will be difficult considering that RSL wouldn't allow its standout coach to leave for nothing, but with a lengthy rebuilding process expected this season, the team's hierarchy might cave at the right price.
The Red Bulls have never spared an expense before; they should do whatever it takes to get Kreis on board.
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