Red Bulls’ Hamlett Ready for ‘Huge Challenge’


Denis Hamlett’s first few days as the Red Bulls’ new sporting director have meant sleepless nights, hours on the phone and a transcontinental plane ride to Vancouver. After Thursday night’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against the Whitecaps, it will be on to Atlanta for the opening of the 2017 MLS season against the expansion United on Sunday.

“It’s been hectic,” Hamlett said during Wednesday’ conference call. “There are a lot of things flying around. A lot of things on the table. It’s something I welcome, though I’m not getting much sleep. But that’s O.K.”

Hamlett, who replaced Ali Curtis in the Red Bulls’ top team back-office job, finds himself in the curious position of having vaulted from an assistant coach to Jesse March to Marsh’s de facto superior. It is a curious, uncommon turn of events — nearly as curious as as the departure of Curtis, the reasons for which have been largely swept under the rug by the team.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Jesse and I have had a professional relationship for 20 years,” Hamlett said. “It goes back to Chicago [when Hamlett was a coach with the Fire and Marsch a player]. Now, he’s going to report to me, but it’s a partnership. We’ll make decisions that are best for the organization and the team. The key thing is to make sure we always communicate.

The thing guys don’t know is that Jesse and I have the utmost respect for each other. For me and for us that’s the key, but at the end of the day I’m the sporting director. What’s most important is that decisions will be made with Jesse.”

Hamlett said the club is currently searching for his replacement as assistant coach.

Any one who has followed MLS and the Red Bulls knows the club has been less than a paragon of stability (stretching back to the team’s days as the MetroStars). Since the Erik Soler/Hans Backe regime, New York has cycled through sporting directors/general managers (Soler, Andy Roxburgh, Jérôme de Bontin, Curtis) and coaches (Mike Petke and now Marsch). At the same time, the club’s approach swung from high-profile international stars (Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Rafael Márquez) to the current emphasis on building — sprinkling in complementary, but not overly expensive, players from abroad. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the elevation of Hamlett is the Red Bulls’ promoting from within.

Asked about the club’s past lack of stability and the need to foster continuity, Hamlett said: “We realize it’s something that’s out there [in perception]. For me, I draw on my experience in Chicago. We were so successful because there was stability and support among the coaching staff and players. We’re trying to get the right balance bringing in younger players and the right midlevel players who can help top to bottom. It’s important in our league to feel that we’re doing something special. And I think we’ve created something special the last few years.”

Hamlett’s journey begins Thursday night in British Columbia, where the Red Bulls need a victory or a high-scoring draw to advance to the semifinals of the regional club championship — a place the team has never ventured. Likewise, the Red Bulls have won two Supporters Shields in the past four seasons (2013 and ’15), but failed to perform in the postseason, including last year when New York finished first in the Eastern Conference.

“This is a huge challenge,” Hamlett said. “I look forward to taking this team to new heights.”