In nearly a quarter of a century of having played and coached through nearly all levels of soccer in the United States, Denis Hamlett has seen it all.
He was an MLS original as a player during the league’s inaugural season in 1996, who worked his way up the coaching ranks in both MLS and college soccer. Now, however, the former New York Red Bulls assistant coach can cross the final item off his soccer bucket list.
Hamlett, who has seemingly seen and done it all in this country’s soccer pyramid, is finally now a sporting director.
Earlier this week, the Red Bulls made official what was already widely known: that Hamlett would become sporting director, taking over for the outgoing Ali Curtis. It was Curtis who pieced together two highly successful seasons with New York, taking a team with the lowest payroll in the league to two Eastern Conference titles in the regular season as well as the 2015 Supporters Shield.
In a conference call on Wednesday, Hamlett cited that his experience as a coach and an assistant in the league as being “crucial to my understanding of the league, the personnel, the talent, what it takes to win in this league.”
From there, he points to his last two years on head coach Jesse Marsch‘s staff as helping him understand the global reach and resources of a Red Bull organization that includes clubs in the German Bundesliga, the Austrian Top Flite, as well as in Brazil.
“We have a lot of resources here. For me, being in this position, I think that’s what is important – you use all the resources that you have available to you. Already been talking to the different sporting directors; a lot of these guys I know as an assistant coach and have relationships with them. I think it’s a combination of using the resources that we have, using the people that I have within my organization in terms of the support staff, because I think we have a wonderful support coaching staff,” Hamlett said.
It is a key point. Unlike most teams in MLS, the Red Bulls truly have a global empire with the resources to boot. It is a major reason why Red Bull Leipzig has had such success in their first year in the top division in Germany, despite a minuscule payroll compared to the top teams in the league. It is also why the sister club in Salzburg has become a juggernaut in Austria and routinely qualifies for the Champions League.
But what Hamlett’s never done, despite being a head coach with the Chicago Fire and an assistant coach in several MLS locales, including the last two years at Red Bull Arena, was work in management. He’s replacing a man in Curtis who came from the league front office, someone who literally wrote the book on player acquisitions, allocation money and a myriad of rules that are uniquely MLS.
Hamlett’s chops have been made as a coach and an assistant, never the one making the calls on player personnel.
Now with the MLS regular season just days away, Hamlett can’t merely tread water as he adjusts to his first-ever foray into management. He must now get quickly assimilated into the role, especially as the team looks to make moves to bolster the roster after what has been a relatively quiet offseason in terms of player movement.
Perhaps the unspoken influence of Oliver Mintzlaff, Red Bulls Head of Global Soccer, can be seen here too. A former agent, Mintzlaff has earned accolades and rightly so for his development and growth of Leipzig this year, a team thought set for a Bundesliga struggle instead of vying for a seat in European competition next year. The hands-on approach of Mintzlaff and his personal Rolodex can’t be understated in helping Hamlett in this new role.
New York certainly has access to this pipeline of talent provided by two Red Bull teams in Europe, but also to a scouting network and contacts that are deep. Having had players such as a Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill suit up for the famed club also gives a name recognition internationally that few in this league can come close to matching.
“I feel that we’re in a good position, I welcome the challenge. I think that’s what it’s all about in terms of as a person, in terms of growing and developing; you want challenges to bring out the best in you,” Hamlett said.
“For me, it is a wonderful opportunity.”