He never got to take his team down the ‘Canyon of Heroes’ for winning MLS Cup, but as Jesse Marsch leaves the New York Red Bulls, he might go down as the most transformative individual in the franchise’s history.
What the Red Bulls have become is in large part due to a man who exuded class and breathed fresh life into an organization that was in need of direction just four years ago.
The move by then-Sporting Director Ali Curtis in early 2015 to cut ties with head coach Mike Petke was a difficult one, given the stature and nature of Petke. As a player, Petke bled the team’s colors and as a head coach, he led the Red Bulls to the first trophy in franchise history. Marsch stepped into this difficult spot, taking over a team that was picked to miss the playoffs and took them to their second Supporters’ Shield in three years.
An MLS Cup has eluded the team during Marsch’s tenure, but there is stability within the franchise. The aforementioned Curtis helped lay the gameplan for this team to get younger and Marsch embraced this vision. The team’s vaunted Academy system began to fully integrate young players, paving the way for the likes of Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams to cement themselves with the United States Men’s National Team. The New York Red Bulls II, the club’s feeder team, has been extremely successful and developed a promising group of youngsters that are fully indoctrinated into the Red Bulls way of playing.
Marsch fully supported the philosophical shift from big-name players with bigger salaries to a leaner and younger group built on the team concept. As this year’s run to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League showed, Marsch’s philosophy worked well. This team can literally press their opponent into submission.
Along with current sporting director Denis Hamlett, Marsch made the decision this offseason to invest a club-record transfer fee in Alejandro ‘Kaku’ Gamarra, a player who appears to be worth every penny of that fortune invested. As Marsch heads to Europe for a coaching opportunity, he does so with a foundation in place.
Coaching changes from the MetroStars days of Eddie Firmani, Carlos Queiroz and Bob Bradley to the slew of Red Bulls upheavals over the past decade have brought about a level of uncertainty. Roster overhauls — as was the case when Marsch took over the team — typified these massive shifts in power. Instability and uncertainty had ruled this franchise since inception.
This time, there is none of that as this team builds upon the groundwork Marsch laid out.
Hamlett and the newly appointed Chris Armas need merely to carry on the work. Sure, Armas will have his own managerial style with Bradley Wright-Phillips noting that his new skipper isn’t as intense as Marsch. But the tactics remain and the mentality is unchanged, even during these early hours of the new transition.
Marsch has laid a very unique framework here in tandem with Curtis and now Hamlett. It is up to Armas now to build upon this and finally bring home an MLS Cup to an organization that desperately needs one.
Armas is intelligent and bright, likable and knowledgeable. In many ways, these are the same traits that made Marsch a success here in New York for the past three seasons.
Marsch shouldn’t be blamed for leaving midseason for this opportunity. The fire and drive that takes him to Europe are what fueled the changing fortunes of the franchise. The Red Bulls are now a team built on a systemic process and a true identity, not on fading stars.
Someday, a statue of Marsch could well be erected outside of Red Bull Arena. If it ever happens, it will be entirely deserved for a man who was the architect of a true change in fortunes for a team that had suffered so long without an identity.
[The Red Bulls Face Sporting KC on MSG & MSG GO Saturday at 6:30 PM. Download for Free.]