(Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch at Media Day – Jason Schott – New York Sports Day)
The New York Red Bulls will be entering this season in a far different way than last year.
A season ago, there were not many expectations, as they lost Thierry Henry and there was a lot of uncertainty around their new coach, Jesse Marsch.
The Red Bulls instituted a new system under Marsch and overachieved throughout the season. They won the Supporters’ Shield, for best record in the regular season. After beating DC United in the opening round of the playoffs, they lost to the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The expectations coming into this season are pretty clear: anything short of an MLS Cup is a failure.
Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis and Head Coach Jesse Marsch spoke at Media Day on Wednesday.
Marsch said of the Red Bulls going farther in the playoffs this season, “I mean, speaking of the playoffs, I also want to be very clear that we were three and one in the playoffs, which isn’t a bad record. We fell short, but in many ways, I think our players responded to some tough moments in the playoffs. And we also learned a lot about ourselves – which is I think what we’re trying to take away from our overall experience last year, is that with our successes and with our failures to really be able to look at it objectively and understand what we did well, what we need to do better, and individually how to grow and how to grow as a unit. And I think this team is very focused on that. They understand that, they’re hungrier than ever, and I think that partly because we fell short at the end of the year, that’s meant that there’s a lot of built-in anger and hunger for this season. Now, that being said, we’re not catching anybody by surprise. Teams know how we play, they respect how we play, and now it’s going to be up to us to handle this season in a manner that sets us up for success at the end of the year.”
Curtis said of expectations for this season, “I mean I think we have – first and foremost, it’s one game at a time. And so, you know, our focus is on Toronto, for Sunday, and taking it one step at a time. You know, every team in this league wants to win MLS Cup and they go into the season looking to do that. We’re no different. So that’s a goal of ours, but to do that is to take it one step at a time. We have a very good group of coaches and staff, and we have a very good group of players, and we’re all self-motivated. We’re all very competitive. And a part of the way we play, it’s high-press, it’s high-energy, but that’s also the way in which we think, that’s the way in which we operate, and so we’re a very competitive group. Our group of guys knows that we have an opportunity to win MLS Cup. And we came a little bit short last year but we’re going to do everything we can to be better than we were last year. And, you know, next year we’ll do everything we can to be better than we were in the previous year. So it all starts with Sunday – or it actually started before that, in terms of everything that we’ve been doing in preseason and in the offseason, but we’ll take it one game at a time. We’re ready to go. It should be an exciting season.
Marsch said of expectations, “I’ll add to that by saying, you know, what a great position for us to be in. And in this business, if you don’t enjoy the spotlight and you don’t enjoy pressure and you don’t enjoy big moments, then you shouldn’t be in it. And so certainly we had a spotlight and some pressure on us last year for various different reasons, and I think that we’ve earned the right to now have some pressure and spotlight on us again, in a different way. And you know it’s all about now, I think, ‘what are the expectations?’ How do you set a daily plan in place that is – a little bit of what Ali’s talking about – that helps your team understand that when the lights come on and when they’re the brightest, that they’re going to be at their best. So that’s a big emphasis here, day in and day out, and we’re going to make sure that in all ways we’re ready for every challenge that’s thrown at us.”
Curtis said of possibly altering their plans for the team due to the success they had last season, “We’ve got a process, we’ve got a plan that we’re putting in place and there’s a number of different programs and initiatives that we were able to activate last year. I think we probably implemented about 21 new initiatives into the club last year. This year, we’re looking to implement 38 new ones and so on and so forth so we’re still tracking along in terms of what’s happening with the club and the different platforms – the academy, the USL team and the first team. In terms of the results of the first team, that was fantastic for us. We had a great year and a great season and we were fortunate to stay healthy and all the things kind of aligned. Right now we’re just focused on one day at a time, sticking to our plan and we’re trying to win the best we can so we feel good about it.”
Marsch said of the partnership on defense between newcomer Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar, “Obviously it’s early in the process for those two. There are some comparisons to last year, when we had to get the back line sorted out rather quickly, but I think that obviously everyone along the back line I think understands their roles very clearly and it’s just about integrating Gideon in a way to help him understand how to fit, how to use his strengths, what the demands are. I think that so far him and Ronald have meshed really well together, and I think there are strong possibilities for them being a really good partnership. Now that being said I also think Karl Ouimette’s done really well and I think Zach Carroll’s done really well, so those are two other young guys that we hope can establish themselves this year within the team – maybe not on the same level that Matt [Miazga] did, but I certainly think that using Matt as an example, we’re going to really push those two to try and establish themselves this year.”
Miazga went to Chelsea of the English Premier League during the transfer window.
Marsch continued on the defensive unit, “And then obviously it’s exciting that Damien [Perrinelle] is ahead of schedule on his recovery, and you know we expect him to be back some point in May and know that when he comes back that he’ll be a very solid player for us. So I’ve gotten a lot of questions this preseason about the center-back position and in that sense, I mean, Ali and I had a million more questions a year ago today – but the center-back was a question mark last year and I think it wound up being a position of strength, and I expect nothing differently this year as well.”
Marsch said of how to win MLS Cup, “When I look at the end of last year, and I look at the playoffs, we were still – you know, obviously we were built in a way to have success in the regular season and I think that, I said this at the end of last season, that where we were at is we need bigger challenges to see exactly who we were and where we were at and the playoffs were that. And we fell short and even though – I said three and one – I don’t think we played as confident and energetic, maybe, down the stretch as we did maybe during the season, but it’s also the games are different.
“It’s almost like an entirely different season and a different league once the playoffs come. And it was important for us all to go through that. And to be honest, me as a coach – I’d never coached a playoff game before, so it was good for me to be a part of it, and I think that we’ve all grown from it and learned from it. And there’s a lot of little details that we’re trying to include to make sure that the next time that we’re confronted with big challenges like that that we’ll be up for it, but more than anything for me this is part of our process, is learning and growing and adjusting to the past, and learning about ourselves and how we’re going to move forward. So I expect to see a team that’s a lot more seasoned and understands so much more clearly exactly who we are, what we’re about, and how to put it in place on game day and certainly in the biggest games.”
The Red Bulls will be opening the season this Sunday at home against Toronto FC, the first time they open at Red Bull Arena since 2011. Marsch said of that, “They told me that since 2011, the team’s always been on the road. I think being at home and being in front of our home fans to start the season will help us gain momentum. Playing a team like Toronto we know will give us a really good game so it won’t be easy, but to be back – I’ll even say it – coming back from Orlando, our fields are better here, the weather’s been great the last two days, the stadium’s awesome, the training facility’s awesome. Our new goalkeeper coach said to the team today, ‘you guys have no idea how lucky you are to have the facilities and be a part of this organization.’ So when you come back home, we walked back onto the field today and everybody from the front office gave us a standing ovation and a big cheer. I told them I felt like I was in the Oscars, so in all ways I think we’re really excited to be back home and start the season and start the season the right way.”