Accountability starts at the top
August 29, 2021
Three short years ago, Red Bull Arena was buzzing. Even Jesse Marsch's departure and the ascension of Chris Armas couldn't stop the juggernaut that set the MLS record for points. Everything was gelling. Goals were flowing. Defense seemed impenetrable. Fans were happy, despite falling short in the playoffs.
Today, the team disintegrated into a pathetic, hollow shell that plays in front of an empty stadium and can't score a goal to save its life. And while bashing Armas and Denis Hamlett might have been the norm a year ago, it is clear that the rot that has infected this franchise goes much much deeper.
But let's not discuss our absentee, billionaire owner who could care less about this team, as long as its hypothetical value keeps going up regardless of whether anyone shows up for the games. Let's not discuss Tarp Master Marc de Grandpre, who sure seems swell, but really should go back to his first love of selling
snake oil energy drinks. Let's discuss the job of Kevin Thelwell, the supposed panacea to the disease that Hamlett infected this franchise with. Thelwell, who helped unfancied Wolverhampton rise all the way up to the Premiership mid-table. Thelwell, whose connections in the world of soccer were supposed to be a game-changer. Thelwell, who proclaimed that he was happy with the squad as its currently constructed, as it was reeling to a morbid, boring, lifeless home loss to Chicago.
Now, to be fair, let's emphasize that Hamlett's reign left Metro in the gutter, and having Armas at the helm certainly didn't help. (In fact, Hamlett spending the supposed $2 million on Mathias Jorgensen just might be the worst transaction in this team's history.) And let's not forget the convenient excuses of the pandemic or that other MLS teams are also not engaged on the transfer market as much as before. The fact remains, Thelwell has been on the job for more than a year, it's hard to pinpoint one move that can be seen as beneficial. It's not that the team is not spending money (well, they are in the bottom third of MLS in that regards, but they are spending money), it's that they are spending money idiotically.
Let's begin with perhaps the most important move, spending alleged (all international transfer figures are alleged here) $2 million to get Gerhard Struber to coach. Now, Struber has not been a complete disaster, but the rigidity of his tactics and his team's inability to score have to be mentioned. When his was at Barnsley, the team's scoring record was atrocious as well. After Struber left, they leaped up the charts, from the relegation zone to Premiership playoffs. Their scoring improved dramatically as well. Does spending $2 million on Struber make sense when the team was getting better results with Bradley Carnell? The answer doesn't seem debatable.
Now let's get to the long list of player transactions, which must start with Dru Yearwood. Not good enough to warm the bench in the Championship, he was acquired on a supposed $2 million fee and was supposed to stabilize the midfield. There have been flashes of quality, but they have been far and between. It's been a year, but Yearwood has played a full 90 minutes just once. He now can't even make the bench and seems banished to the reserves. To think he was once counted as a Designated Player...
We will forego the acquisition of Caden Clark, who was gifted to Thelwell on a silver platter, and move to the revolving door on the defense. While Tim Parker has not been exactly good on a pretty bad Houston team, does dropping him in the favor of a costly Andres Reyes make any sense? Reyes, a walking yellow card for a terrible Miami team last year, wasn't even deemed fit to play by Struber until he had no choice but to send him to action. All this for another fee that was supposed to be in the high six figures. On the right side of the backline, we have Tom Edwards, who is a fine player, but why invest in a right back when Kyle Duncan is more than capable of getting the job done? Especially since it's obvious that Edwards' long-term goals are clearly not in MLS.
The strategy of loaning Salzburg leftovers has backfired as well. Samuel Tetteh was absolutely putrid last year. Youba Diarra, a player with a lengthy injury history, should have radiated red flags. He was injured in the season opener and has not been seen since. At least Carlos Coronel has improved a lot since a calamitous start to the season, but once again, an international slot and a chunk of salary is wasted on a position where Metro had a capable starter in Ryan Meara.
Are we done? We're not even close. Frankie Amaya, who pouted in Cincinnati, was acquired for close to a million in allocation currency. He has now lost his starting spot to Wiki Carmona (a player who needs at least a year of seasoning on the USL level). Amaya has some talent, sure, but he wants to be a #10. His ineptness in the attacking third prevents him from being a #10. In fact, there are no #10s on the roster, because of Kaku's ridiculous departure. And while Thelwell should not take the blame for that (the buck must stop with Hamlett, as well as with Kaku's treacherous agent), at least Thelwell could have confirmed that Kaku was staying -- or complete a transfer to Mexico, receiving something in return before he bolted.
The departures of Alex Muyl and Brian White can be seen as minor blips, but Nashville's turnaround last year coincided with the former's arrival. He has even scored three times this year. White has scored four for Vancouver in his short time there, while what Metro received in return amounts to pretty much nothing. (An international slot for Muyl and 400K in allocation for White... used on what exactly?)
Which brings us to the forwards, Fabio and Patryk Klimala. On paper, these should have been huge improvements. In reality, both are supplementary players who would not be starting on most MLS teams. Fabio seems to only play with his back to the goal and seems to be unable to hit the ball on target. Klimala... oh Klimala deserves a whole discussion to himself. He could not get on the field for Celtic, but Thelwell decided that he fits the Red Bull system better, and shelved out an alleged $5 million and a DP slot on the Pole. Now... Klimala is not terrible (and we will look past the absolute laziness he showed in the last match). But this is not a $5 million striker. Two goals from the run of play is not what makes a Designated Player.
If you look at the picture as a whole, Thelwell has assembled a team of transients, either players on loans or players who are looking at RBNY as a passing stop on their careers. A lot of it seems to come from Red Bull's mandate to invest in youth above everything else, but this ethos is deemed for failure. Don't get us wrong, we love Sean Davis (and he is one of the few who has improved under Struber), who is a leader on and off the field, and a smart, versatile player. But Davis should not be THE veteran voice in the locker room. Let's just leave it at that.
There are 14 games left in the season. Yes, it's somewhat possible that Metro will turn it around and scrape into the playoffs, but we're not holding our breath. (In fact, we could probably live without another first-round loss, for this team is clearly not capable for anything beyond that.) And when the offseason hits, what then? Will Thelwell own up to his mistakes? Will Red Bull realize theirs? (You know the answer to that...)
Because while Kevin Thelwell should be held accountable for the mess he created, the real accountability lies with the people who hired him.