The Bruce Needs Some Red Bull in His Diet, but Will it Help?

It’s official: The Bruce (Arena, that is) is the head coach of the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer. Apparently Arena needs some Red Bull in his diet, though it probably tastes like carbonated Amoxicillin at the moment, with a weird aftertaste. That’s because it takes time to get accustomed, to put your stamp on a team and to do the things you want to do. For Arena, the job is kind of like being offered a Tab instead of a Coke. The kick and caffeine is still there, but the sting of getting your butt kicked in Germany remains. And the Red Bulls roster is filled with Tab-like players at the moment. What the change in head coaches means to Red Bull fans is unclear, though The Bruce had few positive words to say about the team in his press conference, repeatedly referring to the process as one that would take “time to build.”

He did not say rebuilding, which may mean the pieces come by way of ridiculously expensive sign-and-trades or well-constructed player/personnel moves. Of course this now means we can let the speculation fly, such as looking at headlines like “Ronaldo to Red Bulls for end to hunger in Brazil, $200 million and a lifetime supply of Marlboro?” (What? Did you think he’d do it for Red Bull?) Gagging sound added. Will it happen? Well, in not so many words, it could. I’m sure Arena could use a few Red Bull shooters (no pun intended, or maybe it was). Not too long ago (and I’m damned certain Cosmos fans remember full well their mark on the old North American Soccer League) there once was a man named Pele (or Edson Arantes do Nascimento, for all you Almanac/fact-seeking schmucks) whose mere mention literally started an international incident when the old Cosmos started inquiring about big names around the globe, including his.

It took only the quick wit of one Henry Kissinger to bring about his capture, persuading the Brazilian government to then talk his club, Santos, into trading him to the Cosmos. Pele even went so far as to announce his retirement in his native Brazil, though he didn’t actually RETIRE from professional soccer. This is where the whole “quality of life” thing gets lost in the mix, to your casual American soccer fans. They want the Ronaldos, the Thierry Henrys, the Petr Cechs to come over to the States. But as far as Pele was concerned, having been shipped to the NASL was indeed a vacation. Current Red Bull and French great Youri Djorkaeff would concur with the Brazilian great, as he was busted playing hooky during a recent World Cup game between France and Brazil. He had a game that day, but in his view it was more important to watch real soccer than play in MLS. This is a concept that American soccer fans still have trouble with.

Nobody considers the American professional soccer leagues as actual professional soccer leagues; they consider them as nothing more than places to play when you are in the twilight of your career, when you should actually be coaching instead of playing. In MLS you have guys like Djorkaeff; 10 years ago it was current D.C. United coach Peter Nowak leading the then-expansion Chicago Fire to MLS Cup in their first season. Even in the lower-tier United Soccer Leagues you have Brazilian great Romario lacing up the cleats for Miami FC in the First Division. (they are currently in first place as well) What’s more is rumored national team coach Juergen Klinsman actually suited up for the USL’s Orange County Blue Star in the third-tier Premier Developmental League under the pseudonym Jay Gottingen. What’s next, Gazza (British striker Paul Gasgoigne) coming out of retirement to play for UCLA? He’d need to find his way out of the bottle first.

The Bruce will try to change this American professional soccer phenomenon, but it won’t be easy. He’s already got two who should be retired in Djorkaeff and Tony Meola, who has been on the field since 1984 (well, with The Bruce he has anyway). To be sure, many MLS teams would literally kill for the right to slip Djorkaeff or Meola into their Adidas uniforms. But the Red Bulls will need more than just two stars in their twilight to make their first run at a title; they need to go out and secure a name like Ronaldo, who has been linked to rumors of a transfer to the Big Apple. But that won’t fix the problem entirely. What would is going out and nabbing Wayne Rooney in the dead of night, along with Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Thierry Henry and about six other big names. It worked for the Cosmos. Remember the escapades surrounding Giorgio Chinaglia and his midnight run from Italy to New York? He had to hop a plane in the middle of the night, for Chrissakes! But it worked, he escaped the bloodthirsty Lazio fans at the airport and the Cosmos, well, they won some trophies and met some ladies at Studio 54. That’s all part of soccer folklore now.

All examples aside, name one famous international player currently in MLS. Okay, time’s up. Zero. There are, however, players like John O’Brien and Landon Donovan who went overseas, only to be thrown back with other exports, such as American TVs. Both are oxymorons; the last American player to actually HAVE some semblance of a career on European soil was Brad Friedel and I swear to God he came back a Brit. Listen to the man talk and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Perhaps he was too ashamed to be an American soccer player. Now you could count CD Chivas USA, the farm system minor-league team to CD Chivas Guadalajara, the Mexican club. But you can’t because Mexico is more or less part of the United States, whether people wish to believe it or not. But Chivas USA loads their roster with Mexican players (more about this phenomenon in a future story to come off my desk) so why can’t the Red Bulls? Bring in Ronaldo, Rooney, Henry and throw Cech up there for good measure, along with their bodyguards, escorts, drugs, booze and everything else.

You know damned good and well Claudio Reyna is coming back from Europe sometime soon, because The Bruce is gonna want more Virginia Cavs in the fold. On every Bruce-led team there are at least one-third ex-Virginia Cavs. He already has a head start with Meola and all he needs to do is add current interim coach/player Richie Williams to the midfield, pull Tab Ramos out of retirement and pull off a blockbuster trade with D.C. United for Ben Olsen. You know it’s going to happen, anywayâÂ?¦Bring on more of the same, the Bruce is thinking, and possibly a few MLS Cups down the road will come your way. The formula worked for him at D.C. United and on the national team. But the road looks long and the Red Bulls don’t look anything like the Cosmos, or even D.C. United.

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