(Ali Curtis – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
On Monday, Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis and Head Coach Jesse Marsch held a press conference reviewing the season and looking ahead to next year.
Curtis announced that Marsch will be back next season. “Jesse’s under contract with the Red Bulls, he’ll be back next year. We’re looking forward to him being back next year, he had a great season, as did a lot of our staff, as did our players, so Jesse will be back next year. I’m not going to get into the details regarding his contract, but he’ll be back next year. We’re happy to have him and he had a fantastic season,” said Curtis.
Curtis said of the season a day after they were eliminated by the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals, “It was a long season. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get the victory and get the requisite number of goals that we needed to advance to the MLS Cup, but we’re back at the drawing board, we’re back at the stadium and we’ll do everything we can to bring back a strong club for next year, but we appreciate the support all year. You know it started – it was challenging in January – it’s November now, but there’s a lot of things we should be proud of. We accomplished a great deal this year and we’re going to work extremely hard and get back to the drawing board and get back at it this next year.”
Marsch opened the press conference by thanking the media and fans and saying, “It wasn’t easy to go over to the South Ward and our team was hit really hard by the result, but certainly the fans and the supporters this year and how they latched onto our team and how they, I think, appreciated the new movement of what’s happening here has been as big a motivator as any within this organization, so again, wish we could give the fans one more game at home to come to, but next year.”
Marsch said of any areas of improvement for next season, “Well, I think the starting point is, we’re going to – in every way, Ali and I – try to keep this group together and I think that’s going to be a challenge but one that I think we’re hopeful to be able to complete. For me right now, the emphasis isn’t on what pieces we need to get as how we continue to take the process forward because some of what will determine where we need to improve will be how we get through containing the current roster we have and keeping all those pieces.
“Clearly, we have a great foundation for the future. I think there’s some really good young players within our mix, we’ll have more Academy players I think that we’ll try to figure out a way to include for next year and there’s probably the opportunity for maybe one or two more pieces to add, but for right now the important thing is we have certain things that are on our radar, but the emphasis is certainly to keep this group together,” said Marsch.
Curtis said of the Red Bulls having a “chip on their shoulder” approach to this season and how that might change next year, “What I would say is having a chip on our shoulder is because our guys are hungry and we’re driven and when teams or individuals count us out, we have the type of group that wants to persevere and we want to win and we want to perform and we want to compete. that has a lot to do with the staff that we’ve brought within the organization and also has a lot to do with the players that are part of the organization. The success that we’ve had this season with the on-field results has been tremendous in terms of what we’ve been able to achieve from a performance standpoint and a results standpoint, but really the success that we’ve had this year is as an organization there’s certain descriptive terms that are used to describe the New York Red Bulls that have never been used before, and that’s innovation, that’s creativity, that’s hard work, that’s integrity, and I truly believe that those words are used to describe the organization in a completely different way than they’ve ever been used in the past and we feel really good about that and we’ve all worked hard to try to establish that over the last 10-11 months and that will continue so we’ve made a lot of progress this year, we still have a lot of work to do, but we’ll look forward to doing that in the offseason and in the preseason and we’ll get back at it for next year.”
Marsch said of the chip having a chip on the shoulder attitude, “or me, the chip on the shoulder one is a good question, it’s an interesting moment of where we are right now. Clearly, this has been a successful year. Not as successful as we had all hoped in winning the MLS Cup, but going into next year, the biggest challenge is going to be maintaining that hunger, maintaining that chip on the shoulder, maintaining the approach and the commitment and then actually establishing it at even higher levels so that we take all of the foundation and the good things that have been built this year and now make them even better next year and there’s potential for all that to happen, but it’s hard work.
“A lot of the assumption after a year – guys will have time off, they’ll go away, we’ll come together next year and the assumption will be that a lot of the things that we achieved this year were a lot easier to get to than they were – so for us to now understand that from the start next year that we’re going to have a target on our back, people are going to know we’re a good team, they’re going to know how we play, they’re going to know our players, the whole bit, means that we’ve got to be bigger and better at what we do and we’ve got to be hungry to strive for even more,” said Marsch.
Curtis said of the attributes he would like to improve in the team, “To piggy back off of what Jesse said, we’ve talked at length, we want to bring the core players back next year. There’s always a challenge and it’s always tricky in the offseason,but we firmly believe that there is a correlation between consistency and success so that’s important to us. It’s a pillar. In terms of identity and the types of player characteristics that fit who we are, we’re a very high-pressing team so it’s important that we have a lot of players on our team that can cover a lot of ground at all moments of the game and throughout the entire season so we’re looking for those types of players who fit who we are, that check the box in terms of their personalities and how they are as human beings, not just how they are as soccer players, and so we’ll look for those guys.
“We feel good about the team, we’ve got some depth in a lot of different areas so aside from the position specifics of where we’re going to add numbers, I think we feel good about the team right now and there are a couple targets that we’ll have and we’ll make a couple signings as early as the first part of January, but all in all we feel pretty good about the team,” said Curtis.
On the temptation to sign a high profile big-name player, as the LA Galaxy, NYC FC, and Montreal did this season, Curtis said, “We’ve answered this question since January. We’re going to go out and get players that we feel fit who we are as an organization, that they’re team-oriented, they’re driven, they’re creative, they cover a lot of ground, they’re good guys in the locker room, those types of things and those are the characteristics that we look at when we look to add players and when we look to add staff to our organization so in terms of whether or not the guy has a quote unquote ‘big name,’ that’s not as important as to making sure that this is a human being that can fit within our organization.”
Curtis said of there being any reason a big time player couldn’t fit into the culture of the team, “No, I mean what I would say is it’s the first and foremost, they need to be a good human being that fit who we are as an organization, that fit our culture, that fit our locker room. Next we look at the different player characteristics and if it happens to be what a lot of folks are describing as a big name, then we’ll look at that, and if not, you know we’ll look at that as well.”
Marsch said of their needing to improve on weaknesses, “Those are all things that I think arise in certain ways, shapes or forms. I’ll start with (playing after breaks in the schedule), one of the difficulties of MLS is how the schedule plays itself out and any team’s ability to understand how to handle travel, elevation, heat, scheduling, lots of games at certain moments, none at others, is important to success. Overall, I would say that I would give us passing marks on almost all those categories. Coming off of two week breaks, we had two weeks where we weren’t good and that was in Chicago in August and then here in Columbus (in the playoffs). How much of that has to do with the break, I’m not so sure, but we have addressed that.
“Any team has, based on their style and their players and their approach, has strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to choose to think a lot more about our strengths, which is that we led the league in scoring, we were a very aggressive, entertaining team, we led the league in possession, we had more attacking third entries, almost every attacking category we were the top in the league, if not first, then second.
“There are small little details and flaws that maybe our system – I wouldn’t call them flaws, details – that we need to include to continue to improve so when I talk about levels, I want us to get better at all those categories that we were good at and I want us to now get better at all the areas that we need to improve on, so certainly, the way we play, counterattacks will always be an issue. We have a lot of speed on our back line, we have a lot of contributors on our back line and we still had a very good goals-against average, so again, right now, my mind frame is trying to keep this group together as much as possible, getting everybody back, getting the mentality right come January and ramping it all up and now being even that much better than we were this year.”
Curtis said of the offseason, “And one of the things I would say is that we’re less than 24 hours since our season’s been over so one of the opportunities that you have in the offseason is you get a chance to look at every game that we’ve played and you get a chance to look at video, you get a chance to look at training sessions, you get a chance to look at every single data point that occurred over a very long season and ask questions, find solutions, find answers and we’ll be better next year. We’ll be stronger because we can look at all those different data points, address them with our players, as a staff so that we can really be prepared and ready to go for next year.”