(EDITORIAL) – “Make sure that we all believe that and know that if we are on top of the game that it’s coming. We have gone down in games but we haven’t wavered so that’s a really good sign. Again in that way I think it is another step forward too. This team continues to grow and it’s only early so if we can grow like this every game then we are in good shape.”
That quote is from New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch. Chatting with Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer during the second half makes this quote even more poignant. We talked about the difference in atmosphere around the club, it’s players, and the product on the field. It has been talked about ad nauseum at this stage, going into week 9 of the 2015 season, but the change has been palpable. The players are believing in each other, they want to succeed for each other, and as a team. Sure, the superstars are gone, but the team itself is balanced, calm, and cool. All this positivity, essentially has been borne of a painful and ugly change of management, and predictable roster change. The result has been an incredible start. Earning a draw on Sunday, New York is the only remaining undefeated club in MLS.
Funny how things have worked out thus far. But the positivity doesn’t stop there.
This season is an interesting one for the club once known as the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. It marks their 20th season in the league. Before the match vs San Jose, the Red Bulls took the time to look back at 20 years of soccer in the New York area with the unveiling of their Best 20 in 20. The list of players was voted on by the fans. Prior Sunday’s match vs the LA Galaxy, the team chose to honor beloved Juan Pablo Angel. In the press conference prior to the match, he spoke about wiping away the memories of the past, speaking of his separation from the club. He talked about attending training, and spoke about how much of a contrast it was to the early days, when Angel was forced to change outside in his first preseason with the club during the end of a harsh winter. Showers? What showers?
The belief the players feel this season was palpable even to Angel, upon witnessing how each player knows and has embraced his role in Jesse’s army.
Marsch’s approach to each training session and match, has produced this shift in the mindset of his players. That belief begets confidence in themselves as a group. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan spoke of this after Sunday’s 1-1 draw. “We never had any doubt. We came in here pretty positive that we had a lot of moments in the game where we put them under pressure and created chances. I don’t think we created so many chances in the second half, we really had a good one in the first half but the belief has been there since day one. I think Jesse has instilled a great mentality into this team and it’s been good,” Kljestan said.
Another thing that has been a positive for the organization as a whole, and an aspect that may be finally put to the test this week, has been the creation of the New York Red Bulls II, playing in USL competition. The senior club played the first of three matches in 7 days on Sunday. With a short turn around, it’s expected that there will be some player rotation to allow for recovery time. In post game, Coach Marsch spoke about the short turn around. “We have some guys that I think have been earning some playing time that haven’t quite got it yet because of the way the schedule has worked out. Two weeks ago we talked about making sure to use the USL games, use training, using supplemental fitness after training to make sure that in this stretch of games whoever was going to get called on know their roles and they are ready to go,” Marsch told reporters.
That phrase again – know your role.
The USL development is very interesting. It seems to be in line with something Thierry Henry spoke about last fall. Henry was not only a spokesperson for New York when he was here; he used his Einstein-level football mind to be a spokesperson for building MLS. He spoke about building a team the “right way,” and developing a club’s youth academy to provide a foundation and depth. He spoke about clubs that had done just that and pointed to clubs like Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders, and Real Salt Lake as prime examples of how to build a champion. Looking at that concept, it should surprise no one that he has accepted a role coaching Arsenal’s youth academy, a club that he arguably spent his most memorable years. As if hearing those words, the Red Bulls went out and signed the two best midfield prospects available (Sean Davis and Leo Stolz), trusted their back line to young Matt Miazga, Kemar Lawrence, and Chris Duvall, and created the USL team as a way to get their reserves real matches away from the senior team. Coach John Wolyniek has the club playing the very same high press that the senior team plays, getting the youth ready if called upon. How important will the USL side be? The Red Bulls play matches in bunches this season. Marsch’s high intensity system will require rotation, especially if the coach intends to keep his promise to put his best starting XI on the field for US Open Cup. One has to figure that rotation will include players currently plying their trade for NYRBII.
Back to MLS play, the Red Bulls are all in with Jesse Marsch, and are preaching the same message. Even Felipe, who, normally smooth as silk in the midfield, scored the ugliest possible goal to earn a draw vs the Galaxy Sunday, has bought in. “I’m completely happy to be a part of this organization. We are a family, we run for each other, we play for each other and every day we go to training happy to be a part of the team. This team is so motivated and this staff is putting us in the best way to play. We have to continue working hard and see what happens in the end.”
The New York Red Bulls play on Wednesday, and finish off their homestand against the Colorado Rapids. They then travel to Gillette Stadium to face the white hot New England Revolution on Saturday.
Featured Photo: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography