Often overlooked, Marsch Lauds Contributions Of ‘Little Gem’ Felipe

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RUSS McKENZIE

HANOVER, N.J. – It’s been no secret that the trio of Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, and Felipe are the foundation that Jesse Marsch and the New York Red Bulls have used to build the style of play they have employed all season long.

However, while McCarty and Kljestan have consistently received praise in their roles, the yeoman’s work of Felipe usually gets overlooked.

“(Felipe) is a guy I found in Switzerland. We watched him a lot and thought very highly of him. I used to call him a ‘little gem’. When he came into the first day of preseason in Montreal, I could see he was even better than we expected,” Marsch recalled after training on Tuesday.

Kljestan and Felipe, of course, have history with Marsch.  Kljestan played alongside Marsch on Bob Bradley’s Chivas USA roster, and then Marsch helped coach him while serving as an assistant coach to Bob Bradley on the U.S. Men’s team on the run up to the 2010 World Cup.

Felipe, however, played for Marsch on the Montreal Impact in their inaugural season. When Sporting Director Ali Curtis traded Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo for Felipe and an allocation spot that would become Sacha Kljestan, it raised some eyebrows. But much like when Bob Bradley traded AJ Wood and a 2nd round pick in the 1998 College draft to bring Marsch with him to the Chicago Fire, Marsch knew what he was getting himself into.

“Over time I think he has shown his value (to the Red Bulls),” continued Marsch, “I think he’s grown this season as well. I’m asking him to play differently than I asked him to play in Montreal. But, I know he’s very versatile.”

Felipe has been a major contributor to the Red Bulls high press. His poise on the ball has made him an integral piece to Marsch’s game plan. His connection with the other two members of the midfield triumvirate has often exceeded expectations as Felipe has spent most of the season quietly going about his business as a pivot in the Red Bulls formation.

It is an interesting arrangement when you look at how Marsch has achieved stability in his midfield. The Red Bulls boss has swapped the roles of Kljestan and Felipe to a high level of success. Kljestan spent the majority of his professional career playing in a deep lying position, while Felipe was considered to be more of a creative central midfielder. As the season progressed, it was clear that Marsch considers Kljestan to be the #10 that Red Bulls fans have coveted for so long. That left Felipe to play from a deep lying position, often covering the most ground per match. In fact, Marsch was quick to point out that Felipe led MLS in sprint meters covered over the course of the 2015 campaign.

Felipe credits his teammates for his progression this season, but called the two other points of the triangle out specifically. “I try to learn from (my teammates) every day. Having Dax and Sacha… you can go and learn from them.”

Marsch brought Felipe into the Red Bulls fold, knowing his tendencies. He completed the puzzle by bringing in Sacha, as well as using the pieces already here. “I knew that having a guy like Dax McCarty in here meant that those were three guys that we could really rely on.”

When compared to his midfield partners, Felipe falls short in the goals and assists categories. However, he is the “Iron Horse” of the group, starting a team-high 36 matches this season, logging 3,103 minutes this season (second to Luis Robles) while adding five assists in that time.

Overall, Felipe has settled into a more subtle role in the Red Bulls midfield — but one that carries just as much importance as his teammates.

For that and much more, Marsch is happy to see the progression.

“I think Felipe has fit in really well (with the team). I think he’s grown as a person and as a player. It’s exciting to see him get to show himself in big games, and he can continue to prove to everybody how good he is.”