It was a link made possible with former coach Bob Bradley that helped sell him on the move to MLS.
In 2015, Keita was loaned to Norwegian club Stabæk where Bradley was the manager at the time. During his stint at Stabæk, Keita enjoyed arguably some of the best play of his career, flourishing as an attacking midfielder.
Under Bradley, Keita often lined up as the No. 10, a position switch from the wing that the speedster admits took him out of his comfort zone. But that move was typical Bradley, Keita stated. The position swap introduced him to concepts and even a position “that I had never played before in my life,” he further added.
The deal to bring him to Red Bulls first had its genesis in July. Keita said, “it all happened so fast.” A couple of weeks later, he had signed a deal with the team knowing full well that his new head coach had a strong connection to his old one.
It was a similarity he embraced, with him not only moving leagues but continents.
Jesse Marsch had played for Bradley with two different MLS clubs, then became his assistant coach with the United States national team. Bradley also had similar connections with Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett, one of his assistants with the Chicago Fire and Chris Armas, who thrived under Bradley in MLS.
So when Keita’s agent approached him about the move, the pacey attacker listened and soaked it all up. Then he heard something that actually made him want to sign-up: Marsch’s connection with Bradley.
“He told me the catch here is that the coaches and the coaching staff know Bob really well and the way that they work is similar. Then I said, ‘OK, let’s get this done.’ And I know the way he works and the way it works here. They work 100 percent – the whole team. I fit in perfectly,” Keita told MSGNetworks.com.
“When you’re on the pitch, you work. But when you’re outside, they are friends and nice with each other. So I think I’m in a great place, I’m in a very nice place to be.”
It remains to be seen where and how the Red Bulls will utilize Keita. This year might be too early for him to make much of an impact with the 27-year old jumping right into the middle of the league’s fixtures without the benefit of a true preseason.
His fitness is growing and the most important component is that he continues to train. But most importantly is his play with his new teammates.
As far as position, he isn’t sure a designation matters too much. Whether he’s slotted in an advanced role as a No. 10, or on the wing, Keita thinks that the Red Bulls formation allows him to float between both roles. He was a substitute this past Saturday in the Red Bulls 2-2 result at FC Dallas, his first taste of MLS action.
ALL ACCESS: Behind the scenes of #FCDvNY
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) September 6, 2017
“For me, the way we play, I have almost nothing to say because the team – from our captain all the way down to the No. 6 – everyone does the hard work,” Keita said. “The little stuff you do for the team. The offense, the way we rotate, the way we move, in many situations I find myself as a No. 10, even if I’m a winger.”
RED BULLS NOTES
– Aurélien Collin is on the mend from plantar fasciitis, making progress with the injury. The hope, Marsch mentioned earlier in the week, is that Collin can begin training this week after being out for nearly a month.
“He’s feeling better, he’s actually at the doctor right now,” Marsch said. “We’re getting him new orthodontics, we’re hopeful that he can be out training soon.”
– Winger Daniel Royer (knee) is also improving after being out for over a month as he’s done some individual work with the training staff as of late. There’s a chance he might be a part of this weekend’s gameday roster at the Chicago Fire.
“We’ll see, yeah, we’re hopeful,” Marsch said. “Again, he’s making really good progress but we don’t want to put him at any further risk.”