by DAVE MARTINEZ
HARRISON, N.J. – Flanked by his players and speaking directly to the denizens of the South Ward, Jesse Marsch finally put humility to the side in a rallying call to the New York Red Bulls faithful.
“We’re bringing back the Shield,” he said, addressing the remaining fans after the match. “And after we win the Shield, we are going for the Cup!”
It was a powerful declaration that incited a passionate, almost primal cry from the remaining fans in attendance. More importantly, it was a distinct message from the Red Bulls boss to anyone within listening range: now is the time to dream big.
“It’s a nice moment for our club,” Marsch said after the match. “It’s a nice moment for the players and the work that they’ve put in. I’m happy for the organization and the positive vibe that has gone on here from day one that I’ve been here. Everyone around here has continued to show belief in me and belief in the way that we operate as a team and belief in our players. It means that we’ve all been put in a situation to succeed.”
His statement offered the kind of finality that not only put the club’s preseason drama and angst to bed, but also added a sense of vindication to the new management’s approach and dedication throughout this unpredictable campaign.
“It’s a nice time to reflect, yeah, but we’re hungry,” he continued. “We’re not satisfied. We want more. We want to honor everything that’s been done by making the strongest push we possibly can and to have the exact mentality we know we need to have in order to really give us a chance to win a championship.
“That’s where we’re at right now.”
It is also a place few predicted New York to be. Between the unceremonious firing of Mike Petke, the multiple changes in the Sporting Department and the arrival of New York City FC, the Red Bulls were quickly dismissed by several fans and pundits alike long before a ball would roll on the MLS season.
“You go back to Mike Petke. He’s been such an influential figure at this club. I know there was a lot of passion with who Mike is and how he’s from the area and everything that he brought to the club. It wasn’t easy following in his footsteps,” Marsch offered. “I just tried to step in here and do the job I thought needed to be done. I asked the fans to give the team a chance and I felt that if the team went on the field and played the way that I know they could then the fans would eventually start to like the team.”
With a chip on their shoulder and a mission to succeed, New York managed to put together a season unlike any other in club history. A team that could very well have gone 6-10-17 without a blink from fans and media alike are now one win or a Dallas loss from the Supporters’ Shield with an impressive 17-10-6 record.
The Red Bulls have achieved success by breaking away from nearly every predictable “Metro” trend of the past 20 years. Most of the club’s offseason and transfer window acquisitions have panned out, save for the injury-ridden Ronald Zubar and the nostalgia pickup of Dane Richards. Even in their cases, the club has strategically and intelligently worked both men to their advantage; Richards was loaned out shortly after the season and Zubar has been nursed to health as Matt Miazga continues his growth at the professional level.
The predictably unpredictable starting XI that has defined the Red Bulls for years maintained an almost boring continuity under Marsch. And as that steady XI propelled them to their lofty perch atop MLS, New York also managed to integrate youth into their identity, starting with Red Bull II in USL on through to the senior team.
Most importantly: the results have been consistent. Save for a four match winless run in May, the team has taken the same high-pressure approach to positive results all season long. In fact, if you take away those four matches in May, the club is a stellar 17-6-5 on the year.
Not bad by any standards.
“I think there’s a true appreciation for the way we play and what we do,” Marsch said. “I think as the year has gone on, the fans anticipate what’s happening on the field because they know what we’re trying to achieve tactically. They know our players. It’s been fun to see the sort of ‘crescendo’ of how the ebb and flow of the cheering and the excitement inside of the stadium goes based on what we’re trying to do on the field. We have smart players and a smart fan base.”
Is it vindication for both Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch? They won’t admit to it. Not now anyway. However, the proof is there for all to see — against all odds, the club has improved, and they are hoping to add to their gains with not one, but two pieces of silverware before it is all said and done.
“It is important that we stay hungry, that we have an instinctual desire to go forward, get goals, defend, and nonetheless, not only win the shield, but advance towards the cup,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said after the match. “I think the word I like to use is resolve. There’s been several times this season where we may have not played well…but you look at the resolve of this team, the mental fortitude, and we know that when our quality comes out and we have that mental toughness, we’re going to be very difficult.”