With MLS Cup the top priority, Red Bulls’ Roxburgh says player management key to success in 2014

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

Next season will be a busy one for the New York Red Bulls.

Their Supporters’ Shield victory clinches a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. The U.S. Open Cup awaits them, presenting a unique test to the quality and depth of their roster. And of course, the regular season will be a week-in, week-out battle as teams test their mettle against the best overall club in the league.

Without question, 2014 will put their fortitude to task and challenge the man management and leadership skills of the team’s braintrust.

Which tournament will garner the most importance? Who should play, and when? These inevitable questions are bound to challenge both Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh and Head Coach Mike Petke all season long.

The key, says Roxburgh, is to set the right priorities for the season and manage the players accordingly.

“Our priorities are straight forward and that’s the MLS Cup,” Roxburgh explains. “You then do the best you can in all the rest of them.”

How to get there? The short term goal, he explains, is to get “the right” players on board for the season while limiting turnover. Next, the team has to have it’s eyes on the Supporter’s Shield “because it can help” their postseason efforts.

“It could have been us hosting the MLS Cup,” he mutters with regret.

Once in a solid position, it’s all about winning the ultimate prize.

All other competitions will be managed with the hopes of staying “competitive” on all fronts. “It’s a balancing act and what you’ve got to do is decide at any moment,” he says. “Each game in it’s own right, you have to go and try to win it no matter what the competition is. Then you use the best you got available to do that while at the same time having an eye to what is coming next.

“The Champions League is only the first phase of it and at the end, it would be to try to stay in it. The Open Cup has it’s reward, so it’s of interest to us,” he explains. “For example, if it’s the early rounds of the [U.S. Open Cup] and you have a big game coming the following weekend, that midweek, maybe you go for a slightly different squad to save a couple of legs for the following one.

“That’s what soccer management is about.”

If the roster is put together correctly, it will also allow seldom used players to prove their worth with the first team. “It is an opportunity to put people in to blood them, to give them more experience,” Roxburgh says. “You might need them when the big games come. Who knows?”

This season alone, the Red Bulls featured five players who failed to make a single appearance. Six of them them didn’t see a minute of regular season action at all while ten players registered under five appearances.

“You don’t want to be carrying anybody,” he says. “You want everybody to be able to contribute something.

“Young Marius [for example] — he is one that could at any minute blossom. He is immensely talented. He is explosive. Last year we only saw little moments of what he is capable of.” Roxburgh also spoke of the opportunities Academy products like Matt Miazga could gain this year, and pointed towards Connor Lade as a player he would like to see “get back to where he was”

“It’s a juggling act,” Roxburgh admits, “(but) we want everybody in the club to be capable of playing in our first club.”