Red Bulls Plan Comes Together in Derby Sweep

(EDITORIAL) – There are a few things that can define a coach’s tenure in sports.  One way is a defined style of play.  For instance, NYCFC coach Jason Kreis came from a market at Real Salt Lake that had to be shrewd and creative in building a roster.  Kreis had the help of Garth Lagerway in Utah and they built a team that, simply put, won, with a group of relative unknowns that employed tactical prowess that the league had never seen to that point.  And for a while, the 4-4-2 diamond was all the rage in North American soccer.

Red Bulls Plan Comes Together in Derby Sweep

A manager can define his tenure by how many championship rings he amasses.  A perfect example of that is Bruce Arena in Los Angeles. Through smart team building and game management Arena has become one of the most legendary figures in US Soccer. Though sometimes prickly, his players often comment that his leadership made them better as players.  You also cannot argue with his resume, and the checkbook that he wields so deftly.  LA has attracted players like Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, and Gio Dos Santos, not to mention one David Beckham.

Another manager can make his name by the passion he has for the club. Mike Petke began as an assistant coach and was thrust into a job that required him to handle mammoth personalities like Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry. He recently led the club he played for, the New York Red Bulls, to the two most successful back to back seasons in team history before being unceremoniously let go in the seemingly bi-annual New York house cleaning.

In Petke’s place, the Red Bulls hired Ali Curtis as Sporting Director, and Jesse Marsch as coach.  It was a new breed of Red Bulls and many pundits shook their fist at the Harrison organization.  There were reports that Red Bulls were going to be selling the club. There were reports questioning the Austrian management’s commitment to the franchise. But, there was Jesse Marsch talking about infrastructure and building not just a one and done winner, but a program that will be successful and productive for years to come.

The exoskeleton has been there for a few years.  The training facility and academy are some of the best in the country. Very often, however, the Red Bulls senior team has had difficulty getting it’s prospects on the field due to a philosophy that featured big names in order to butts in seats. At the beginning of the season Marsch and Curtis made a promise to bring in young, dynamic players. And they have done just that, and possibly have the potential to do something very special.

Proof?

Sunday’s match against NYCFC featured 3 homegrown players for the Red Bulls – Matt Miazga (who had an impressive stint in the u-20 World Cup), Sean Davis (who scored a brace in a friendly vs Chelsea recently), and Connor Lade (who has been on this club for years while waiting for his chance).

What does Marsch have to say about his youngest and brightest?  Let’s start with Connor Lade. After Sunday’s result, Marsch was asked about Lade’s play.  He stated, with a hint of fatherly pride, “Connor has the heart of a lion. He just goes, steps onto the field, he’s not afraid, he competes at every level, he’s ready to run, he wants to gain an edge on every guy he plays against, and I knew that from watching him at other places. I was always impressed with the effort, workrate, and competitiveness that Connor puts on the field.”

To hear Lade tell it, The Plan has been the team’s focus all along. “We really want to be a unit this year, and [Jesse and Ali] do a really good job of making us play as one, and they laid out a game plan for us in the beginning of the year, and I think every day we’re getting more comfortable with it. A result like this tonight really makes you feel good about the system we have in place and we’re really excited for the future,” Lade stated.

There’s that word again – future.

So much talk has been focused on the past and the present of this club as of late. With legends around the club – Tony Meola getting honored before the derby on Sunday, and Thierry Henry strapping on a pair of boots to train with his old club – and echoes of the past from midfielder Dax McCarty’s captain’s armband adorned with Metrostars colors, to the banners hanging around the arena reminding fans of the 20 years since the team and league were formed. But, Marsch, Curtis, and the team they have put on the pitch is focused on a bigger prize – long term success.  Even their newest designated player, 25 year old Argentinian winger Gonzalo Veron fits the mold. During a press conference introducing Veron, Marsch mentioned how Veron will fit into The Plan. “We talked to him a lot about tactics and the way we play, how aggressive we are in different ways, and he’s already wrapping his mind around it. He sees it, he likes it, he wants to be a part of it. His qualities feed exactly to what this team is all about, and what we need. I think it’s another piece that helps solidify us as one of the teams that I think can grow and build as we go. He also represents, I think, what the future of this club will be, which will be younger players, dynamic players, talented players, exciting players,” he stated.

Even Veron recognizes that MLS, and the Red Bulls, are important for the future of the game on a grander scale, stating, “MLS is the league of the future, it’s very competitive, it’s growing, it’s a league where very many players want to come and prove themselves and now that I’m here I want to do just that. I want to prove my worth inside the field.”

This idea of long term success, of course, seems in stark contrast to their noisy neighbors across the Hudson. “I think a lot of people are excited about players like Pirlo and Lampard and Villa, and rightfully so. Great players, great careers, amazing, right? It’s just different from what we’re doing. We’re sticking to what we’re doing. Even when we added a guy like Shaun Wright-Phillips, who I consider a big name, as well. You can see that he fits our style, fits our philosophy, so in some ways, even though he’s an outlier from an age perspective, I think he fits into our philosophy,” Marsch stated post game on Sunday.

That philosophy has put the Red Bulls in a prime position to take one of the first two spots in the East, and even possibly contending for the Supporters Shield. As of Monday morning the Red Bulls sit 2nd in the East with 36 points, and 22 matches played. DC United is 8 points ahead of them with 25 games played. That is a feasible goal. That very same United squad also sits on top of the league. That goal also seems realistic.

There’s a lot to consider for New York down the stretch and games in hand do not always equal out to wins. But, with the majority of their stretch run games coming against teams below them in the standings, Marsch’s words at the end of Sunday’s victory ring truer than ever. “We have a fearless team…I think our guys wanted to prove a point and go in there and play against world-class players [and] show they’re up for the task. The way we play and how we play and who we are is still going to make us successful.”

Indeed.

Featured Photo: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography


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