Overtime: What Does the Future Hold for Gerhard Struber?


Gerhard Struber remains under fire for his response to the Dante Vanzeir incident. (Courtesy of Twitter)

It’s hard to imagine the last time a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise had a more tumultuous period than what the New York Red Bulls are currently experiencing.

On April 8, Red Bulls forward Dante Vanzeir uttered a racial slur in a match against the San Jose Earthquakes. The game was paused for 20 minutes as MLS officials sorted through the madness.

Vanzeir would later be suspended six games for his conduct, a number that many think should be higher. In protest, Red Bulls’ supporters groups walked out of the following week’s match against the Houston Dynamo at kickoff, leaving the typically lively South Ward empty and silent.
At center stage of this controversy has been Red Bulls’ manager, Gerhard Struber. Struber, who is in his third full season as Red Bulls manager, declined to immediately substitute Vanzeir after the incident. His statement following the incident was brief and to the point.

“During our match on Saturday, I made a decision that I thought was best given the information I had at that moment,” Struber said. “While there was a lot of uncertainty at the time, with the information that I now know, the right decision would have been to immediately remove Dante Vanzeir from the game.”

For Red Bulls fans, this “apology” was not enough. Many have theorized that Struber was aware of what Vanzeir said, yet he still decided to keep him on the field. In addition, his language in that statement doesn’t constitute an apology or accountability at all. Struber’s words around the incident and how it is affecting Red Bulls supporters fall more along the lines of ‘sorry you feel that way’ instead of a legitimate apology.

The fans have made it clear how they feel about Struber at this current moment. Before walking out of Saturday’s game, chants of “Fire Struber!” echoed around the South Ward.

Beyond his shortcomings in properly dealing with the Vanzeir incident, the Red Bulls have not been winning games this season. They’ve tallied one win, five draws and two losses so far and currently sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. New York has struggled to score goals, tallying just six in eight games. In addition, they’ve scored more than a single goal in a game just once.

Often this season, the Red Bulls just can’t seem to put the ball in the back of the net. They don’t always look void of ideas, but the lack of finishing is a constant. Whether Vanzier, Tom Barlow, Cory Burke or Elias Manoel get the start up top, New York can’t score. Their once-thrilling style of soccer of years past is long gone. This current Red Bulls team can be an arduous watch based on the lack of attacking creativity.

I do think Struber’s shortcomings tactically are a bit over-exaggerated by those who want him fired. Yes, the Red Bulls have struggled to score this season, but the poor finishing we’ve seen shouldn’t all be put on Struber. The Red Bulls have missed a lot of chances this season, and Struber’s not the one who has to physically put the ball in the net.

Yet, it is his responsibility to make changes when things aren’t working. Struber isn’t one to take accountability if his tactical plan doesn’t work. And it’s true that the Red Bulls are playing boring soccer. The average attendance at Red Bull Arena has been declining for years, and I think that has something to do with the way that Red Bulls play. They don’t score goals, and, dating back to last year, they don’t win home games.

Based on the lack of results and his handling of the Vanzeir situation, it seems obvious that the Red Bulls should move on from Struber. But he has a good relationship with those at Red Bull, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.

I think the atmosphere inside Red Bull Arena on Saturday night made it clear that something needs to change.

The stadium was eerily quiet with the walkout. It was weird. Fans cheered when the Red Bulls entered the attacking third, but the stadium was silent in moments of possession.

Saturday should have been a sign for Red Bulls upper management. There is a clear disconnect between the club, Struber and the fans. This disconnect is not one that the Red Bulls can afford to have right now. The popularity of the club has significantly decreased in the last five years, and the Vanzeir incident and its aftermath are only going to make that worse.

The New York Red Bulls need a fresh start, and they are in no position to alienate fans that are still loyal to the club. That should make the decision to move on from Struber clear.

Yet there has been no indication that the club is considering firing Struber. For now, it is important for Struber to attempt to reconcile his relationship with the fans. That comes through understanding and accountability. Otherwise, the “Fire Struber” chants will only grow much lowder.