For as long as New York soccer fans can remember, the New York Red Bulls (formerly the Metrostars) has been a revolving door for players, coaches, and front office personnel. The club has been the center of media and fan attention in the past few weeks with the firing of beloved coach and former club legend, Mike Petke in favor of Jesse Marsch. A wave of players have left the club in the wake of their loss in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, and it appears that the club is moving rapidly past the Henry-era.
Only one month into the Marsch-era, it is apparent that there is a different dynamic between the coach and club; a dynamic that was not seen under Petke. These disparate coaching roles, within the same team, highlight the many types of relationships that clubs and coaches can have in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Petke was officially given the job as head coach when the club removed the “interim” tag only weeks before the start of the 2013 season. That left little time to build a roster and define a style of play for a coach who had no experience as a head coach.
Throughout Petke’s two year tenure, player acquisition appeared to originate from his superiors. Former New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh used a great deal of his football connections all over the world to bring in internationals such as Tim Cahill, Juninho, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lloyd Sam, Johnny Steele, Peguy Luyindula, and Damien Perrinelle. Each player had a relatively significant role for the club’s Supporter’s Shield winning season. The Red Bull parent company even played a role in sending defender Ibrahim Sekagya from Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg to the United States.
The club also acquired several MLS-proven players such as stalwart defender Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, Bobby Convey, Kosuke Kimura, and Eric Alexander. Whether Petke was integral in signing these players is pure speculation, at least from the outside looking in, and it appeared more that Petke did not have a significant role is selecting his players in general. Many believed that Henry played a more significant role in the players that were brought into New York.
Petke’s role was simply to make it work on the field. In his two years at the helm, Petke became a fan favorite, partly because the club resembled the blue collar, hardworking style that he himself exemplified as a player with the team. Players such as Olave, Alexander, Dax McCarty, Chris Duvall, and Tim Cahill demonstrated their drive and commitment to winning, even if winning was ugly.
Conversely, Jesse Marsch has decidedly made his mark on the team in terms of player acquisition in a short period of time. Red Bulls traded Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo for midfielder Felipe Martins, a move that reunited Marsch with the play making midfielder from the days when Marsch coached the Impact. The club also signed defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste from the now defunct Chivas USA, where Marsch finished his playing career.
In the deal with the Impact, New York moved up to the top spot in the allocation order and signed USMNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan from Belgian club Anderlecht. This is not the first time Marsch has coached Kljestan, since Kljestan saw time with the national team prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup when Marsch was assistant coach of the team. The signing of Kljestan shows a combination of Marsch’s influence and Red Bull’s deep pockets.
Marsch is also not immune to the power of the parent company. Red Bull Leipzig in the German second division has requested for young US defender Matt Miazga to train with the club for the next few weeks. Nonetheless, Marsch’s rumored 4-2-3-1style of play is the impetus for the club’s player acquisitions. Each player that Marsch has brought in will fit this system. The departures of Alexander, Oyongo, Kimura, and other Petke mainstays signal that the coach is calling most of the shots, not the parent company.
From an outsider’s perspective, fans of a team might be more inclined to see their club have their coach heavily involved in player acquisitions. For teams like the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake under Jason Kreis, this model has proven successful. However, the Red Bulls first trophy came in the Petke era, with Red Bull bringing in pieces for Petke to make into a winning puzzle.
The Red Bull organization has shown trust in their coach and new Sporting Director Ali Curtis. Now they must hope that their coach will bring success on the field. This is the only formula that will bring fans to the games and revenue to the organization. Failure on the pitch will only mean the revolving door in Red Bull management will continue to spin.