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Ibrahim Sekagya: "I see myself being here for a long time"

The Assistant Coach for NYRB II sits down with Once a Metro to discuss his time in the global Red Bull organization, his roles with the team, and his career aspirations.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Ibrahim Sekagya knew he would be a coach before joining the New York Red Bulls in 2013.

What he didn't know was it would be for the organization taking him in, and in the same system he played for six years in Austria at Red Bull Salzburg.

"What I can say is my situation is different," Sekagya told Once A Metro.

"When I came here, I had been in Salzburg for a long time. It was like a home. By the time I came here I had an offer to become a coach, and this is the thing I wanted to do when I was a player.

"While playing, I think you think about that when you are done, you think about being a coach. It's so different though, it is nothing like playing."

Sekagya joined the New York Red Bulls II coaching staff after retiring from professional football following the 2014 MLS season. He has spent this season as the Assistant Coach for NYRB II, which has challenged him to change how he views the game of soccer.

Sekagya's primary role is to look for changes made in-game, so he can advise Head Coach John Wolyniec about possible tactical adjustments.

"As a coach, you focus on watching the other team, how they are playing, and looking out for things you have to change, such as the marking," Sekagya said.

"You can see 'oh, this person is marking this player', and you have to focus on that so if the other team they change something, I can tell [Woly] and we can see what we have to do.

"That’s the whole thing. And being an assistant, I think we understand each other. I understand what we are doing as a team, like the system which we want our players to play in."

The system that is here...is the global system of all Red Bulls   -Ibrahim Sekagya

That knowledge of the system comes from his six years of playing in Austria for Red Bull Salzburg. Sekagya came over in the middle of the 2013 season from Austria, one of the few successful examples of Red Bull's desire for global soccer synergy working in favor of the team in New York.

"The system that is here - like, the Red Bulls system that they are playing - is the global system of all Red Bulls. Something was new, but it was not new to me. Because that is the thing we used to do in Salzburg when I was a player."

When he came over, however, it was a steep transition between the contrasting styles of play of the two franchises, as Mike Petke's "pragmatic" playing style was different from the Gegenpressing tradition he was used to in Salzburg.

"Football-wise, it was different from when I was in Salzburg and when I was here. In Salzburg, being there for six years, it was something: I had a lot of coaches and a lot of players, and the system was not the same here," Sekagya said.

"It is just starting to be like everything in Europe, Red Bull in Brazil, or in Germany doing the same thing. The first time it was a different experience, the football one - it was something else, the first time I was here."

In some ways, therefore, it may have been an easier transition to coaching a familiar system than it was to playing a less familiar one, but coaching brings its own challenges. The high-press system of NYRB II was only part of the task for Sekagya and Wolyniec this season. They also have to manage the large player pool from which NYRB II draws. To assemble the team, the organization has relied on loans from the MLS squad, loans from the RBNY Academy, and players signed to USL contracts.

The reserve team is a critical pivot point for the Red Bulls' player development strategy. It is where prospects and first teamers meet and play together competitively. It is where the club must balance the needs of young players eager for professional experience and pros seeking to push their claim for first team minutes. In total, 37 players have seen playing time in 2015.

Everything is going in a good way, and you can see it -Ibrahim Sekagya

Sekagya said that in the beginning the team did not "prepare well," to handle the player pool, but as the season went on "all the players, they have done well." When asked which player he thought had improved the most over the course of the season, Sekagya could not single out one performance saying it would be unfair to the entire squad.

"At first it was hard to know which player you want to play, and who needs a lot of minutes," Sekagya said.

"What was hard was from the MLS team we never knew what players would be loaned that week. I also think all the players, they have done well. I think everything is going in a good way, and you can see it."

Despite playing all over the world before coming to New York, Sekagya says that he loves raising his family here.

"There is a lot of different things you can do for the family, and I think living here in New Jersey it's nice, its good," Sekagya said.

"I see myself being here for a long time."

But he holds special affection also for the country in which he spent his formative years as a soccer player and as a man: "Argentina was something special," he said, "That's where I grew up. I went there when I was 19; being there until I left, I think I learned a lot from them."

He remembers his time in Argentina fondly: "I was there for seven years. I think the football was different. If you are talking about fans...they live football. The culture is so different than all the cultures I've been with."

As he continues to help NYRB II grow, Sekagya would be remiss not to mention that he is working to help grow the game of soccer back in his home country of Uganda. He took a trip during the 2014 season to cheer on The Cranes during their African Cup of Nations qualification, and believes he needs to "give back" to the country of his birth in any way possible.

I try to give, to help the kids...as well as the football in my country -Ibrahim Sekagya

"I’ve been outside for so long and I learned a lot, and I need to give back to my country to help develop football," Sekagya said.

"I try to give, to help the kids which I see, as well as the football in my country.

"I’m trying to plan an academy, to have some young players around; those are things I’m trying to start in the future. I’m a coach here, and I talk with the national team coach. I talk with the people organizing, and they ask me what they need, and we talk about football and I follow what they are doing."

Sekagya said "his dream" is to one day be appointed the manager of the Ugandan National Team, but for now he continues to work on obtaining all of his coaching badges in the United States.

"I think those are things that make you be a coach. If something comes up, going back to coach for my country - I think is one of the achievements in football, if you can do it," Sekagya added.

A career can climb no higher than the summit of its ambition. Sekagya has become one of his country's most admired players by successfully meeting the goals he sets for himself. But he is grounded and aware of the work ahead. He is happy to be learning his new trade with RBNY," saying what the organization has done for him, "it is something fantastic."

The most iconic player in the history of Ugandan football - New Vision's Fred Kaweesi on Ibrahim Sekagya (newvision.co.ug)

"The people I'm working with are fantastic; I'm enjoying being a coach," Sekagya said.

According to Sekagya, the development set-up at RBNY is not just a learning environment for players, but also for technical staff.

"For now, I am concentrating on learning, to have more experience and to do my badges here - and coach as much as I can here," Sekagya added.

"Because the people around the first team - coach and all that - they know about soccer. And you can see how the club changed. I try to learn a lot, to see how everything will go."

Most immediately, he must see how things go for NYRB II in the USL playoffs. His team has a game on Oct. 3 against the Rochester Rhinos to decide whether its season will continue. The Red Bulls' reserves have made the Eastern Conference semifinals in their inaugural season, but they must face the best team in USL on the road to prolong their playoff journey. As ever, Sekagya is up for the challenge.

"I think we are going there to know what to expect and how it is going to be," Sekagya predicts.

"It is not going to be an easy game. We have played them for three times, and this is going to be another close game, which we just need to win. That’s all I think will matter now.

"I just wish the fans that come to watch us in Rochester are going there to see us and support the guys so that we can get the victory."