Importing from Scandinavia
April 20, 2011
Erik Soler's tenure is barely a year old, but needless to say that our worries about a general manager who does not have an American soccer background have been erased. For Soler has tapped in into a source of talent that has Metro on track to do well in the league for the second straight year: Scandinavia.
MLS is structured for parity. So everything from the draft, to allocation money, to the allocation order, is designed to help the league's worst teams. So if you are like Metro, who's been pretty much average for the past decade (if you discount the 2009 season -- if only we could erase it from memory), you miss out on the high draft picks and the allocation benefits that teams get from being on the bottom. So, to improve yourself, you must rely on trades (which, as anyone knows from our history, has never really worked out), or hope that your international signings pan out.
And, of course, our international signings have rarely done so. One only has to remember the abominable reign of Juan Carlos Osorio, when one signing after another (Oscar Echeverry! Jorge Rojas! Juan Pietravallo! Gabriel Cichero! (oh, Pietravallo and Cichero...) Carlos Johnson! Alfredo Pacheco!) had proved a colossal failure in MLS. Be it because their skills didn't translate to the league (Rojas), or because they thought the league was beneath them (Cichero), or because they plain out sucked (Echeverry), or because they were a head-hunting hack ("Hard Man" Pietravallo)... Osorio's departure left Metro in a colossal rebuilding state.
Enter Soler. Enter Soler with no background in MLS, but with a background in Scandinavian soccer. He's been a player, an agent, a team owner. He has seen Americans move to Scandinavian clubs with some success. He realizes the similarities between the leagues. So what does he do? He goes to Scandinavia, and he gets players in their prime (key), who want to come to MLS (key), and who do not require a transfer fee (key).
How does he do it? Does he dangle the carrot of New York City in front of their faces? Or does he have some mystical viking charm that befuddles his prey? One thing for certain: whatever he is doing, is working.
Joel Lindpere (Estonia / played in Norway), team MVP in his first year with the club. Teemu Tainio (Finland), a disruptor and great passer from deep midfield. Jan Gunnar Solli (Norway), mistake-free at right back, not his preferred position. Even Roy Miller, Soler's first signing, who played five years in Scandinavia, should be added to the mix (Miller has his detractors, but he's an above average MLS left back). And that's before you get to the coach, the stormy Swede, Hans Backe.
Of course, Soler's record is not perfect. There's Brian Nielsen (Denmark), and even if one does not question his attitude, one must question his health, for he has not exactly graced us with his time on the field. There's Salou Ibrahim (played in Denmark), who, while not a bad player, was grossly overpaid and now let go. But overall, Soler's record is rather strong. And that, coupled with some shrewd trades and draft picks, has Metro poised to rise to the top.
Not bad for someone with no American soccer experience.