Curtis, De Grandpre discuss the firing of Mike Petke

Empire of Soccer caught up with New York Red Bulls General Manager, Marc de Grandpre, and Sporting Director, Ali Curtis, to speak about the current state of the team.  In this first part of a three part series, we look back at the Petke firing.


New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis made job evaluations his first point of duty when taking command of the club.  The idea was simple; take an inventory of the current staff, share his new vision for the club and see who fits into the plan, and who does not.

Several players and executives met with Curtis in the days prior to his meeting with then-head coach Mike Petke.

Needless to say, when the two finally came together, it was anything but a cheerful chat.

“It was extremely difficult,” Curtis tells EOS. “Probably one of the most challenging meetings I have ever had in my professional career.”

Curtis and Petke are no strangers. Both plied their trade under the DC United umbrella a little over a decade ago. Since then, Petke continued on with his playing and managerial career while Curtis helped build the infrastructure of the Major League Soccer system.

Reunited under the most unenviable of circumstances, it was Curtis who broke the news to an unsuspecting Mike Petke over his firing — and it is Curtis who continues to be in the eye of the storm ever since.

“I knew the decision to change the head coach and remove Mike was going to be one that was unpopular with a lot of our supporters and fans,” Curtis concedes. “At the end of the day it is my responsibility to make decisions that I believe are in the best interest of the club.

“Mike is a guy that is very loyal. He has strong character and is very passionate and he has meant so much to the New York Red Bulls. It was very difficult. It was a difficult meeting [but] I have to put myself aside. It is my responsibility to have those difficult meetings if that is what is best for the club.”

“[But] I believe Jesse [Marsch] is our guy,” he continued. “It wasn’t about moving Mike so much as it was bringing Jesse aboard and I am really excited about what Jesse will bring to this club and I believe the supporters and fans will embrace him.”

As Curtis describes, Marsch is a “like-minded” individual, with an eye for the technical aspects of the game, and an open mind to the growing field of analytics in soccer.

“We want to be the best, and in order to do that, we really need to improve in a number of different areas,” Curtis explains. “A lot of the way I view the world as it pertains to the sporting side of Red Bull, looking at the first team, looking at our team operations as it pertains to quality control, team administration, cross department communication, looking at our player development model and what that means as it pertains to our academy as well as what we are doing to bridge that gap between [players aged] 18-22, MLS is migrating to a USL Pro team or affiliation and what that means to our club and really the science and medical area which is really performance based. How can we drive performance for our players at the youth level as well as the pro level in a very sophisticated and innovative way? Creating scouting and recruiting platforms that are comprehensive, analytical and very technology based, and then, how are we creating this environment for our players and staff that deals with wellness, bring players on in terms of off-boarding and on-boarding and what we are doing off the field.

“Jesse fits that blueprint and will help lead this team to success,” he concluded. “I am very confident in that regard.”

In many ways, the Petke-era achieved success in spite of those ideals. From the head coach to his technical staff, Petke-ball kept it simple, focusing more on work rate, direct messaging and training than analytics and technology.

That, in a sense, could be one source for the decision to fire Petke. Ali’s “vision” would have the potential to create an ideological rift in the sporting department between the new guard and the team’s stalwart coach.

Along with that idealogical rift, however, there is a growing campaign within New York to better align themselves with the rest of the Red Bull global football apparatus.

“We are part of a global soccer group and we want to be aligned and integrated, and part of doing that is making sure we have a global philosophy,” General Manager Marc De Grandpre tells EOS. “Ali’s vision, Red Bulls vision and Jesses vision is aligned top to bottom.

“It’s about how we play and how we conduct ourselves on the field and winning — but doing it the right way week in and week out.”

Several hallmarks of that playing style have already been discussed, with both Marsch and Ali citing a “high tempo” style befitting of the Red Bull energy drink monicker.  The Red Bulls may have been amongst the top scoring sides in MLS throughout the Petke-era, but one of their main critiques was the style of play employed by the technical staff. Seemingly, Austria wants a more entertaining product than the standard, blue-collar offering of the Petke regime.

By all accounts, Marsch is in line with that sentiment.

For his part, De Grandpre claims no responsibility over the firing of Petke. The decision, he said, was made both under the purview of the domestic and global sporting side. He, as the operation head, held little to no say.

However, De Grandpre does back the new administration and embraces the club’s new-found direction — and hopes the fans will understand the team’s decision as the season moves on.

“We know we made a difficult, not easy, very hard decision that wasn’t taken lightly by anyone in this organization. We made a change with a very popular coach,” he concedes. “We weighed everything across the board, the reaction of the fans, short term, long term, everything was weighed out. We went through every box to make sure we were doing what’s right for the club, our fans, our supporters, short and long term. That I can unequivocally say was well thought out.

“We made this decision to hopefully drive this thing in the right direction long term and our fans will be excited once they see what is going to happen here short and long term,” he continued. “We understand their current frustration but over time, hopefully, it will dissipate, and they will see in Jesse and Ali, we have two winners that will take our team to new heights and they will be proud of them on and off the pitch and feel a true connection to each and every player on that club.”


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  • JasonRBNY

    “We weighed everything across the board, the reaction of the fans, short term, long term, everything was weighed out.”

    I call bullshit. If this was so well-thought-out, why release such a terse, rude press release about Petke’s firing then? The story got away from them, the fans reacted much more strongly than they anticipated, and they aren’t admitting it precisely because they DIDN’T think this out.

  • Further proof it’s a Red Bull problem. These guys must sell. I’m supporting the Red Bull out movement.

  • #REDBULLOUT

    “We are part of a global soccer group and we want to be aligned and integrated, and part of doing that is making sure we have a global philosophy,” – This is why we need local ownership. We don’t want to be part of their global marketing campaign. #REDBULLOUT

  • Alex

    Ali Curtis needs to learn to be man enough to admit that he was simply afraid to have a head coach under him who is very charismatic and stronger individual all around. That why insecure little b*tch Ali Curtis decided to bring in someone he can control and boss around.
    How can this be all about bringing Jesse Marsch? What did he accomplish as a coach, what did he prove as a coach? What makes him better than Mike Petke? Jesse Marsch as a coach does not even deserve to be compared to a figure like Mike Petke!

  • Gruff and Manly Bob

    I’m glad I read the comments first because JasonRBNY said EXACTLY what I was about to post. Total BS !

  • Anthony

    LIARS!!!!!!

  • James from LI

    I love how MDG refers to Curtis and Marsch as “two winners”. These guys haven’t won anything. They had a winner for a coach but they fired him.

    The only type of winning fans will accept from these clowns is silverware. That’s the bar Petke set. Anything else will have to be regarded as failure. I’m afraid even winning MLS Cup won’t be enough to totally heal the rift they’ve needlessly created with the fans. I for one am done giving this team any more of my money until Red Bull is gone.

  • JD

    I am completely on board with Petke’s removal. I found his teams to be the most boring, least sophisticated RB/Metro teams that I ever remember watching. In case you all forgot, mid-way through the season there were serious questions as to whether he was good enough in the first place. In fact, this site and Petke credit Fraser with the tactical changes that lead to his success at the end of the season. In short, I didn’t believe Petke was head coach material when he was originally signed and despite his record, he has not anything to change that opinion. As far as embracing a global brand of soccer, I am all for that too-as long as the style is adapted sufficiently to meet the requirements of MLS. The fact that RBNY stuck with a former MLS player and coach shows me commitment to that principle. I look forward to better soccer being played in RedBull Arena in the upcoming years. Petke was a great servant of the club but should have never been anything more than that.

  • Stevie

    Count the number of times Ali said the words “win” or “trophies” in the above quotes…Yep…ZERO.

    Plenty there about global operations, aligning visions, blah, blah, blah. Pure Suit Speak.

    I feel for the Red Bulls fans. All they want is a winner and all they get are artificial stimulant beverage advertisements.

  • “Analytics” is code word for “Austria isn’t going to give us more money so now we have to play money ball.”

    And how many World Series have the Oakland A’s won since they started using analytics?

  • #RedBullOut

  • Absolute Disgrace

    These guys are disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

  • martin rocha

    if they wanted marsch here so bad, why not hire him as a top assistant, so if the team does struggle, you have a coach right there to replace? Something is not right, but i hope good things come from this awkward firing/ hiring

  • BenF

    So… Curtis was in the front office of MLS for a while right? Is he there now as a transitional officer while the RedBulls try to sell their share of the “Single Entity” aka MLS? Is he there to insure the faux league doesn’t falter?

  • Uhm…

    If these guys truly understood Curtis would resign and Petke would be hired back.

  • Dave

    “Seemingly, Austria wants a more entertaining product than the standard, blue-collar offering of the Petke regime”

    Where do they think they are playing? Who do they think is supporting the team? What a load of horse$#!+ Petke’s success and loyalty deserved better than the likes of these clowns.

  • ScottyF

    test

  • ScottyF

    The Curtis strategy is a total crap shoot. I’m all for technology and analytics, but these things have to be back tested and proven to large degree. unlike baseball where the long pauses in the game and batting order can drive certain desired outcomes, soccer is too random at times. Soccer is a player’s game. Baseball is a manager’s game. moneyball fails in soccer. Curtis’ approach is too theoretical and academic. His points sounds a lot like a MBA class project at JPMorgan than someone who speaks from experience. With the budget cuts from Austria, there really nothing left to lose by employing this strategy. Oh wait…..we forgot about the fans. TOO LATE. Guys! Moneyball was only a movie. They’re basing their strategy on a movie!! HA Ha.

  • I just want to say

    Fcuk them.

  • Upper 90

    What a bunch of mealy-mouth corporate bullshit. I hate these guys. I really do. They’ve ruined something that was so special and pure and successful – yes, successful – and watered it down into some poll-tested corporate palaver. What they clearly don’t understand is the human element of what made the RBs successful – Petke is a leader who resonates with the fan base.

  • NYsoccerfan

    Great points. The silence to your posting is deafening.

  • NYsoccerfan

    Petke was the Tim Sherwood of the NY Red Bulls….

    I’d love to hear Henry’s opinion the firing.

  • JP

    Curtis back to the Getto you go. you will be fired by June with your 300 page boy scout project..

  • Carl

    I pretty much concur with the rest of the comments … which call it as it is … utter BS … or RBS in this case,

    Pretty much the last nail in the coffin for my love affair with the Red Bulls …

  • Pingback: Ali Curtis on Red Bulls' player acquisition goals, Designated Players and more()


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