Sometimes it pays to look back before looking forward. At the Red Bulls' training facility on Thursday, RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch was preparing his squad for the weekend's trip to D.C. United, but it was also the first chance to catch up with him about the team's last performances.
After the MLS match against Montreal Impact (for which game, Marsch was suspended) last weekend, the team was straight off to El Salvador for a CONCACAF Champions League match against Alianza FC. Now DCU is on the horizon, but there's still a moment for a look back.
Denis Hamlett stepped into his suit and tie to run the technical area against Montreal. It's not the first time he's done so this season, and he currently boasts a 3-0 record as stand-in head coach of RBNY. Marsch follows the results in his absence a little more closely than that: "His goal differential is +6," the head coach noted.
"But when Denis and Chris [Armas] take over for me on that particular day, there's a total confidence from my end and the team's end when those guys handle that moment and they have done a good job, Marsch continued. "I also think the team has harbored more responsibility internally, and that can be a positive product of me being suspended. Now when I do get suspended I'm not thinking about that; we try to challenge everybody to take a big role and I think the staff has done a great job with that."
The team's coaching resources are almost as deep as its player pool. Marsch also spoke to the way Sean Davis has stepped up to take his opportunity under difficult circumstances. The second-year pro has been asked to fill the space in the lineup vacated by the injured Dax McCarty. Davis has scored in consecutive league games. His current form promises his coach a selection headache when The Captain returns - and Marsch welcomes it: "Sean Davis has done very well, showing some savviness and being a better player out there as well, because once Dax comes back it's going to make it challenging for me to get them both on the field."
Davis represents an important objective for RBNY: he's a homegrown signing and one of the first to benefit from the existence of a fully-professional reserve team. Davis also has the misfortune of playing the position where the first team is deepest. Captain Dax, Sacha Kljestan, and Felipe have been stalwarts of the central midfield, and the club's success last season was in part owed to the trio's ability to sustain form and fitness.
But Davis is setting an encouraging example to both players and staff: as he succeeds, so too does the club's development philosophy.
"What we have here is a belief in our club system," said Marsch, "Whether it's the academy or the USL and how it leads to the first team, it's my job to make that fit and honor that on a daily basis.
Within our competitive games I always have to find a way to make that work and how to translate that to each player differently. With the schedule we've had it's been easy for me, but down the stretch I have to continue to find ways to honor the group and the club the right way so we can continue to have an identity as who we are."
The club has two important games coming up. First, NYRB II will host Louisville City in a big match for the top spot in the USL Eastern Conference; next, Hate DC Week concludes this coming Sunday afternoon with a trip down to RFK to see DCU. The games will both test and demonstrate the all-round depth RBNY is trying to build.