(Jason Schott – New York Sports Day)
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch has done a very impressive job this season leading the Red Bulls to the playoffs and a great chance at the top spot in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Marsch is in his first season with the Red Bulls after taking over in January for Mike Petke, who led the Red Bulls to a deep playoff run last season and was a fan favorite since he played for the MetroStars as well.
Marsch heard boos before the Red Bulls’ home opener, but the key was his players were committed to his system, even if it took the fans some time to be convinced.
The Red Bulls clinched a playoff spot with a 2-0 win over the Timbers in Portland, and with the win, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference, with 48 points, and a great record of 14 wins, 8 losses, and 6 ties.
They have won five of their last seven games, starting with their 2-0 win over New York City Football Club. They swept the season series with NYC FC, as they won all three games against them.
They have gotten big contributions from their stars, such as forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has 14 goals, and goalie Luis Robles, who has nine shutouts.
Marsch has also gotten the most out of his role players, like Mike Grella, who has seven goals and six assists, and Sacha Kljestan, with six goals and eight assists.
They are a very deep team, with 15 players that are regularly in the rotation and they play a tough, aggressive style. They are the perfect example of a team winning with a defined system and not lured into buying European players with big names that may be past their prime.
After the win in Portland on Sunday, Marsch said of the team ethos, “We’re about committing to each other and our main motto is ‘all in,’ every guy being all in and committing to each other mentally, physically in every way and having each other’s back. I think we showed that tonight. We want to play fast. By the fact that we were able to just play the game so fast and when we lost it go back and win it again, we were just all over them. They weren’t ever able to really catch their breath, specifically in the first half. The mentality and the soccer, when those come together you see a performance like tonight and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
On the significance of clinching a playoff spot, Marsch said, “It’s significant in the sense that we’re being rewarded for continuing to believe in ourselves and push really hard but it’s not really the end goal. It’s a big step because to get to the playoffs this early in the season says a lot about our team and about the season we’ve had but we’re not stopping. We’re going to make sure that we’re all focused on the end goal. We have I think three or four at home now, so we have a good stretch of home games to really continue to push ourselves and continue to collect points. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”
Red Bulls goaltender Luis Robles said of what the team’s style of play says about every player buying in to the system, “I think it says a lot. In order for us to be successful in the way that we play, it can’t be a 90 percent effort. Everyone has to give everything and you have to trust that the guy behind you is doing what they’re supposed to do because that’s how pressing works. So, for us to be able to go out there on someone else’s home field and press the way we did, create the turnovers we did, win the amount of second balls that we did, continues to speak into the belief that we have for Jesse [Marsch’s] system.”
Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said of what level of buy-in is required for the players with their physically taxing style of play,
“That’s been the most important thing. From the first day that Jesse took over the team, he laid out his plan of the way we were going to play and I think there were a lot of questions. I remember my first morning, I came to Florida and I sat down and I had breakfast with Jesse and he started drawing out on the field how we were going to play. I had serious question marks in my head. I was wondering ‘wow, is this really going to work?’ There were a lot of questions. Is this going to work? Is it going to work in the summertime? Are we going to get tired? Are we not going to be able to do it for an entire season? I think the way that everyone has bought in and everyone believes in each other and believes in Jesse’s system has paid dividends.”
On why the team has been able to get through the season with their style of play, Kljestan said, “The belief [in the team]. We had a meeting about just not only the belief in ourselves but the belief that we can push on in games and the belief that we can finish off games in the right way and not get so fatigued and be mentally fresh throughout 90 minutes. The mentality of the team has been great.”