This years’ New York Red Bulls are kind of a mystery. In what was the second most controversial trade this off-season, the club shipped longtime midfielder and fan favorite Dax McCarty off to Chicago, while Jesse Marsch has tried to implement a 4-2-2-2 formation with mixed results.
However, one’s thing for certain: NYRB do not lose at home, with four wins and a draw so far at Red Bull Arena in 2017. What can Galaxy fans expect tomorrow? We talked with the experts at Once A Metro to find out more.
Thanks to Austin Fido for the time.
LAG Confidential: Funny story: The last time the Red Bulls came to LA, I was distracted more than once by Ali Curtis, who was on the roof adjacent to the press box going nuts over every call, half chance, etc. The dude embodied passion.He also had a clear track record of success. So why on earth was he canned?
Once A Metro: Was he canned, or did he walk? The official line is there was a mutual agreement that it was time to part ways - neither Ali nor the club seems inclined to let a separation agreement that took about a month to negotiate be undone by contradicting the official record. What we observed is Ali quit the scene at the Combine pretty much as soon as it was established Jesse Marsch was not leaving RBNY and was in fact returning to join the team in time for Draft. And the next we heard from him, he was heading out the door.
It's hard to shake the feeling that there is some element of truth to the most persistent rumor about his departure: the Dax McCarty trade had something to do with it. The gist of the theory is that one of the senior d-mids had to go this season; it is suggested Ali favored shipping Felipe out, Jesse Marsch preferred to see Dax go. Jesse was at Leipzig's winter training camp for most of the Combine, landed back with RBNY shortly before the Draft, and Dax was traded shortly after.
It was reported Curtis was on a plane to New York at about the same time we heard Marsch was on a plane to LA. It was easy to reach the conclusion there was only room for one of them in LA; easier to support the conclusion when McCarty was traded and there was no word or sign from Curtis that he had any active role in team decision-making while the Red Bulls briefly wrestled with being the talk of the MLS off-season.
Trading Felipe would have been no less surprising than the Dax trade, so there is no suggestion that Ali lost his nerve. Curtis introduced himself to RBNY fans with an unexpected decision to abruptly ditch a club legend, and Mike Petke's dismissal wasn't the only cold-hearted deal done on Ali's watch. The issue might simply have been that he was being asked to risk his job and reputation for roster moves he didn't support. Though "you're trading the wrong D-mid" seems an odd hill to choose to die on.
Personally, I wonder whether that passion you saw on the roof at StubHub might help explain why Curtis ultimately walked. My hunch - and it's no more than that - is Ali's particular interest was in building a strong connection between team and fans. He talked a lot about building community and bonds between the club, players, and fans.
Yes, the Petke episode was a funny way to express that ambition, but there's evidence to suggest that call was made before Curtis was appointed - accepting the RBNY sporting director job included accepting the task of firing Petke.
All the community chat was really the only stuff Curtis said that wasn't right out of the RalfBall playbook. Pretty much everything RBNY has done since 2015 aligns almost perfectly with what Leipzig and Salzburg started doing in 2012, when Ralf Rangnick was appointed to oversee both clubs: the high-pressing style, focusing resources on developing talent rather than buying players in their prime - it's the Rangnick template; it's RalfBall. But one thing Red Bull has never been particularly interested in is sentiment. Over at Salzburg, Red Bull is quite open about the fact that it is a selling club now, and often seems slightly baffled by persistent fan discontent with player turnover given the fact the team wins trophies even more frequently than it offloads its biggest talents.
For me, that was the one thing Curtis seemed to prioritize that Red Bull did not: building a strong connection to the fans. Red Bull basically seems to think that connection is built by winning - no more, no less. I'm guessing that the guy you saw ranting on a rooftop in California maybe wanted to see stronger bonds between fans and club than those established by three points, which perhaps led him to favor not dismissing an all-time great for the second time in the three seasons. And when it was made clear that wasn't his call, it was time to go.
LAG Confidential: What's the Red Bull's secret to producing talented attacking midfielders such as 18-year-old Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Alex Muyl and so on?
Once A Metro: RBNY fans think of Adams more as a defensive midfielder, but he has repeatedly mentioned he admires Naby Keita and seems to have set himself the target of emulating the Leipzig man's achievements - so I think he'd thank you for recognizing he wants to offer more going forward than we tend to credit him for.
In the case of almost all the Homegrowns RBNY has under contract at the moment: the secret probably isn't RalfBall. Yes, in 2015 we saw the club commit to bringing young players from its Academy to the first team in a way it hadn't really done before - and that was surely a selling point to those players persuaded to sign up with RBNY. In the case of Adams, the club went out of its way to get him under contract, signing him to a deal with NYRB II when he was 16.
But it's a stretch to say these guys grew up playing the Red Bull way. I can't tell you what style of play the Academy favored prior to 2015, and I'm not sure it had much connection to what was happening at the first team level. Ralf Rangnick brought his soccer vision to Red Bull in 2012, but it didn't obviously arrive at RBNY until Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch were appointed. Anyway, Sean Davis was in college by 2011; Muyl aged out of the RBNY Academy and went to Georgetown in 2013.
For the moment, the club seems to be harvesting the benefits of simply having a good Academy, which was ahead of its time for several years. Those involved in Academy player recruitment, retention, and development are the secret. So credit should largely go to Bob Montgomery - who was head of the RBNY development system for almost 10 years (and is still a visible presence at the club, just not technically running the Academy any longer) - and the team he put in place. Before him, MetroStars legend Giovanni Savarese was in charge of youth development, and also deserves some praise for building an Academy capable of spotting and signing the likes of Juan Agudelo, Matt Miazga, Adams, Davis, Muyl, and a host of other players who never made it on to RBNY's books or had the misfortune to get stuck with the team in its pre-RalfBall era.
Arguably, the true secret is there just wasn't as much competition for the best youth prospects as there is now. Today, RBNY has Philadelphia Union's Academy to the south and NYCFC on its doorstep. The new neighbor across the Hudson has poached a number of the youth clubs that used to feed into the RBNY Academy, absorbing them into its development network. So the Red Bulls picked a good time to get even more serious than they were about youth development, because it looks like scooping up the next Adams or Davis or Muyl isn't quite as easy as it used to be.
LAG Confidential: Will we see the 4-2-2-2 formation anytime soon, or has it gone the way of the dodo?
Once A Metro: It's not dead, yet. Just resting. You might see it pop up during LA's visit to RBA, you might not. It's the only real Plan B the Red Bulls have at the moment, and a lot of players on the current roster were signed with the expectation they'd be able to make the 4-2-2-2 work. Jesse's recent actions have made clear the team doesn't have to play that way (and that was an open question for a while, since it's a formation made famous by RB Salzburg). But I'd be surprised if we never see it played again this season. Indeed, the Red Bulls haven't really abandoned it at all - it's just no longer the starting point and focus of every game.