For the Red Bulls, It’s a Wrap

DOHU64SWAAAgVa0

Red Bulls logoHARRISON, N.J. — It was clear-out day at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday when the club hosted end-of-season “availability” for club officials and a handful of players.

And although the sting of last Sunday’s ouster from Major League Soccer‘s Eastern Conference semifinals at Toronto still smarts, Coach Jesse Marsch and Sporting Director Denis Hamlett were steadfast in their commitment to an organization that is still desperate to win its first significant piece of silverware. And the two guys at the head of the club’s U.S.-based hierarchy asserted that the story of the 2017 season was the emergence of the club’s young players — Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Aaron Long and Alex Muyl — all of whom played significant and valuable minutes for the senior team.

“When I came here, I challenged veterans saying that we were going to be about developing players, and that they’d probably take some jobs at some point,” Marsch said. “That’s a harsh reality, but the way everyone has embraced it has amazes me.

“I think what has been happening here has been unique in the league. The number of Homegrown minutes [7,810, tops among MLS teams] were outrageous. We see other teams that have not been as successful, but we’ve invested, challenged our players to be successful. It’s an incredible model and this is what the sport needs in this country.”

At present, the Red Bulls’ shining development star is Tyler Adams, 18, who was called into the U.S. senior men’s national team camp for the first time ahead of next week’s game at Portugal. Marsch, without divulging contract details, said that Adams would be back with the Red Bulls next year, but the coach also acknowledged the cold facts of world soccer.

“He’s grown so much, he works his butt off,” Marsch said. “On my first day in this job I went down to Bradenton to watch a U-17 game. He was the youngest player on the field, but right away his quality lite up the field. You could see all the qualities. He helped the USL team win a title last year, we made some moves [trading Dax McCarty] to make some room to help him develop. He played well in the playoffs and now gets a call from the national team.

“You can go back to the Chelsea game. He was the best player on the field at 16. He basically beat Chelsea by himself. He’s unique.”

Marsch added that Adams is under contract, “he’s here,” he said.

“It will be a challenge to analyze how to manage what are the next steps for him, but what an incredible challenge for him and us,” Marsch said. “How fortunate we are to have him when we have him. Keeping him is a good thing for him and us, but we all have to look at the opportunities for the club and Tyler to see what the future looks like.

“I think we can probably all agree he won’t be here his whole career. Right now, he says all the right things. He’s ambitious and he should be.”

Captain No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3

Though the veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan wore the captain’s armband during matches, he said that he shared the job with Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

“I think the guy who wears the armband gets to talk a lot, but I actually feel like there’s been more than one captain during my three years here,” Kljestan said. “For the last three years, I’ve felt like a leader.”

Kljestan asserted that the absence of the injured Aurelien Collin (who played in only nine games) had a huge impact on the defense. Collin has returned to France to rehab from plantar faciitis, but with a $450,000 price tag in 2017, the club might decide to stick with Aaron Long and look elsewhere for less expensive options. The same could be said of Kljestan, who earned nearly $800,000, though he led the league in assists for the second straight year. All will be up to Marsch, who came right out and said that the best position on the field for Adams is in central midfield. There have been some published reports that Kljestan, 31, a native Californian, might be interested in joining expansion Los Angeles FC, though nothing definite and nothing that Kljestan addressed directly.

“I like being here,” Kljestan said. “It’s been a very good three-year period for me and the club. I’ve had successful parts of my career here, and hope I can continue here.”

He then turned a bit wistful when he spoke of the club’s ultimate goal of winning its first MLS Cup.

“I think the pressure has found its way into different players, especially when we play at home,” he said. “Everyone wants it so bad, to be the first group to win MLS Cup for this club. Everyone wants so bad, I think sometimes it drains you in a way. We have a long-suffering fanbase and I think, a times, that pressure gets to players. When that happens we don’t play with freedom.”

Notes

Most of the players and coaches will have an extended break from Thanksgiving through Christmas. … In December, the Red Bulls (who qualified as Eastern Conference champions in 2016) will learn their opponents after the CONCACAF Champions League draw. … None of the current senior roster players is expected to train with an overseas club during the off-season. Preseason training will probably begin the third week in January, with the club setting up four-week camps first in Florida and then in Arizona to prepare for the Champions League and the 2018 MLS season. … Sporting Director Denis Hamlett said he had been informed that the league is investigating the incident between the Red Bulls and Toronto FC that occurred in the tunnel at BMO Field as the players left the field at halftime. … Hamlett also said that the club is committed to Red Bull II next year, with home games at Montclair State University. … Coach Jesse Marsch said he plans to work toward the completion of both his UEFA and USSF Pro coaching licenses during the coming year. … Looking ahead to next year’s World Cup, the Red Bulls, assuming they retain both players, will likely be without the Panama internationals Michael Amir Murillo and Fidel Escobar.