You know the new season is underway when the New York Red Bulls have their Media Day. Just over 48 hours before the first team kicks off the first leg of its first-ever CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, RBNY opened its doors to the press pack.
After the traditional chit-chat with faces fresh and familiar, reporters settled in to wait for RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch to take his seat.
Notice that empty seat next to Marsch? That would usually be Ali Curtis next to him at Media Day, but sadly Curtis is now the former sporting director of RBNY. Maybe it was just force of habit that put an empty chair next to Marsch for his press conference, but he was in no mood to talk about why the seat was unfilled. The head coach batted away the question of whether his first assistant, Denis Hamlett, might be moving up to fill Curtis’ role: “He’s a member of the coaching staff right now, and no other comment will be made on that. In the near future, there will be clarity on the structure of the club. When Ali was here it was a by-committee thing, so until that time comes nothing further.”
More questions inevitably followed, about both Ali Curtis and abruptly-traded club captain Dax McCarty. Marsch put a stop on them very quickly.
I’m focusing on Champions League and the season, I will not be answering questions about Ali or Dax.
Moving on, what positives are there around RBNY?
Marsch said he liked the energy around the club, and he also believed the Red Bulls got a favorable draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the CCL quarterfinals. RBNY had some good moments in preseason, though the coach conceded that four weeks came and went quickly - he wished it had been longer.
Though he said he wouldn’t talk about Dax McCarty, Marsch did entertain a question about the decision to hand the captain’s armband to Sacha Kljestan: “Almost wasn’t a choice at all, he served as the vice-captain for the past two years, but we said it’s not just one guy who leads the club. It’s a full team effort.”
The team has been conspicuously tinkering with a 4-2-2-2 in preseason, and Marsch confirmed the new formation is the intended direction for RBNY this year.
Of course, there was a similar intention last year - but the club’s awful start to the season forced a quick re-think and a return to the 4-2-3-1 that had brought success in 2015. Marsch has confidence in his team and the preparations for the first challenge of the year: CCL. But there will be a lot of eyes watching the season-opener on February 22 for real evidence that last season’s early struggles will not be repeated.