Soccer America
Tuesday July 8th, 2008

From the first day he took the job, Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been fixated on rebuilding and renovating the MLS team that has promised the most and delivered the least.

Rebuffed in his efforts to drag along Wilman Conde with him when he left the Fire last December, and denied by Chicago again to snag Líder Mármol in a duel of discovery claims in which neither side blinked, Osorio has been searching for a playmaking midfielder, a striker and a left-sided defender the past few months. Two replacements were unveiled at a training session last Wednesday, and more possibilities are in his sights.

Pending approval of their P-1 visas, Venezuelan midfielder Jorge Rojas and Argentine defender Juan Pietravallo will be registered once the domestic transfer window opens on July 15. They could be on the field four days later when New York hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Red Bulls have offered a contract to Mexican defender Gilberto Jiménez and are not sitting around waiting for his decision; according to a source, two other players are also being pursued.

Osorio's timing may be just about right, for in their two games last week, the Red Bulls couldn't have looked more wretched. A 2-0 U.S. Open Cup loss to USL-2 team Crystal Palace Baltimore might be forgiven if only backups and reserves were fielded, but such wasn't the case. Last Friday Colorado smoked New York 4-0, a defeat that revived nightmares of 5-1 (FC Dallas) and 4-1 (D.C. United) beatings inflicted earlier in the season.

Results like those put that 1-0 friendly win over Chivas de Guadalajara on June 25 into the proper perspective, don't they?

At about this time last year, Osorio revived the Fire by adding Conde and Costa Rican striker Paulo Wanchope, instilling a tougher defensive regimen and relying on the brilliance of Cuauhtémoc Blanco to befuddle and outclass opposing teams. With no Blanco bound for New York, and both Juan Pablo Ángel and Claudio Reyna fighting injuries, the next few months will reveal if Osorio can truly transform a team with just a few tweaks, or if he simply rode the Blanco wave last season.

Osorio, perhaps the most zealous tactician amongst MLS coaches, has been altering styles and systems of play as well as personnel and formations to very average results. Whatever else he's discovered in coaching the Red Bulls halfway through the 2008 season, it's that a 5-5-5 record and winning just three of their last dozen competitive matches is at least partly due to substandard components.

"We just wanted to match them up and play the same system that we have been doing," said Osorio after the Rapids' romp. "That's down to the players and I do not think that anyone can look in my eyes and tell me that they really played today."

Osorio, a native of Colombia, certainly appreciates skill and flair, and has enough ego to believe he can infuse sufficient knowledge and tactical acumen in his players to win games. Yet he believes passionately that soccer games are decided by the straight-up, us-against-you, personal battles inherent in every match, whether they be waged down the flanks, through the center of midfield or in crowded goal mouths. When he talks about "match them up," he refers to duels of spirit and personality, not simply speed and muscle.

Early in February, as preseason training commenced, he said, "The project is as huge as it comes in the MLS. There's no secret, everybody knows that in 12 years this franchise has had 11 coaches -- very good ones, with a lot more experience and reputable CVs, and they have not been able to put a winning team on the pitch.

"It's difficult. I am a very firm man. I am giving the best possible chance to everybody and hopefully I will make the right and wise decisions. Only time will tell."

Apparently, for at least a few players time has run out and decisions have been made.

He couldn't have been more dismissive or disdainful of his team when he said, "I can't wait for the 15th of July, when we can sign some players and make a very competitive team. Because at the moment, I think all of our players have had the chance to shine and stake a claim and a lot of them refuse to do that."

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