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Timing of Red Bulls’ Natasha Patel announcement encapsulates curious 2019 strategy

New York could have made this hire much sooner. Instead, it’s done with an eye toward 2020.

Natasha Patel, then with Southampton, speaks on the importance of video in educating players.
YouTube/Hudl

The Saints are marching in on Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard, but peculiarly-late in the year, it must be said. Natasha Patel, formerly the Head of Performance Analysis at English Premier League club Southampton, is stepping into the same role at the New York Red Bulls.

The hiring has multiple layers. There is the surface observation of another addition from Southampton following the loan of Josh Sims this summer, with the backdrop of Ralph Hasenhuttl, the former RB Leipzig head coach who is now managing Southampton.

Patel, like Sims, should make a smooth transition to a club that shares many principles with Southampton, where she spent nine years altogether, the first six as an academy analyst.

But, below the surface there is a more unknown quantity: the meaning behind a hiring – made two weeks out from the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs – that is admittedly aimed at 2020 and beyond.

“I can’t wait for the 2020 season,” Patel said in an introductory video put out by the club. “Obviously, I’ve just come in the back end of this season, really for the playoffs, which I’m delighted to be a part of. But, it will give me a good chance to prepare for next year, and give a really good chance of being successful in the 2020 season to come.”

Victor Bertini had been the Performance Analyst in New York until June, when he left to join Jesse Marsch’s staff in Salzburg. Marsch had been quoted as calling Bertini his “right-hand man” in New York, so it is no surprise he wished to reunite with him while taking over the Austrian champions this summer.

What is surprising, or perhaps just a drawback of the Red Bull Global structure, is that Bertini was not permanently replaced in New York until this week. For the three-month stretch run of the regular season, New York had an interim performance analyst juggling first and second team responsibilities.

While on a far smaller scale, it parallels the situation last season when Marsch jettisoned to Leipzig and New York appointed Chris Armas as interim head coach. Though fans have been quick to single out Armas this season, so much of the decision-making over the last year points to either a lack of urgency or an imminent organizational restructuring in New York.

There are the aforementioned moves with Marsch and Bertini, the lack of first team signings over the last 12 months and the prolonged search for an Academy Director, which was finally ended in August with the hiring of Sean McCafferty.

Prior to that, the much-heralded Red Bulls Academy had been director-less for 27 of the 42 months from February 2016 to August 2019. David Longwell, who had only been hired 15 months prior, was let go as Academy Director the night before New York’s Eastern Conference Final second leg last November.

Despite attention needing to shift to an impending first round knockout in Philadelphia on Oct. 20, New York is making it hard with moves that – when coupled with a team that looks a shadow of its former self on the field – signal a club already moving toward an off-season overhaul.