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Report: Red Bulls to hire Finnish goalkeeping coach Nieminen

Well-traveled instructor had previously been with San Jose Earthquakes among numerous other positions

Atlanta United FC v New York Red Bulls - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The New York Red Bulls may have found their new goalkeeping coach.

According to Elmo magazine, the club is hiring Jyri Nieminen for the role. The 33-year-old Finnish coach replaces Preston Burpo, who departed the club at the end of the 2020 season. He possesses a UEFA Goalkeeping A License and a USSF Goalkeeping A License.

Nieminen has prior experience in Major League Soccer, serving as the San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeping coach from January of 2018 through June of 2019. He eschewed a playing career – being deemed “too short” at 5’9” – and moved to the sidelines at the age of 18, working with Finish outlet Bollklubben-46 and other local organizations. Future stops included FC Honka youth, Turun Palloseura, the Estonian national youth national team setup, and the ASPIRE Academy in Qatar. He was very complimentary of MLS considering the quality to be higher than perceived in Europe.

“The level of the league has developed incomprehensibly,” Nieminen told Yleisradio Oy. “In MLS you never have to face hooliganism or financial instability. Players are allowed to be at ease and they are respected the same way as basketball or hockey players The level of coaching has risen insanely…opponents are tactically enlightened and there are a lot of tactically good coaches.”

Nieminen also shared his belief that the “defensive motivation and tactical maturity is not top notch.” He believes it is an issue derived from the salary cap with money being spent more frequently on attacking players. This causes “conflicts to arise in the balance of the teams.” The traveling was also described as “insane,” which is a fair assessment of the league’s oft-discussed airfare issues.

After spending time stateside, Nieminen was hired by Orlando Pirates of the South African DStv Premiership in July of 2019, replacing former Red Bulls goalkeeping coach Andrew Sparkes. According to Goal, the Finn is “credited for boosting the confidence of goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands [who was] under fire from fans following a series of errors.” He departed the club at the end of this past December.

In a recent interview with KickOff, he shared his reasons for leaving Orlando. “I decided to leave for personal growth, but more than that for family reasons,” he told writer Nkululeko Dladla. “I haven’t been home in two years and a lot has happened. Now it is time to slow down, reflect and only then move on.”

While at the South African club, he attempted to raise the level of goalkeeping coaching in the country but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Despite the amount of “raw talent,” he believes there is a need for “a more structured education and development process.” However, “nobody ever replied to [his] messages.”

The move is considered a massive step forward for Nieminen’s career by football expert Gert Remmel. “His position in top football circles is practically cemented,” he told Elmo. “Red Bull is a big brand and such a guarantee of quality that Jyri does not have to fear unemployment for the next ten years. Jyri has the opportunity to move within the group and a good chance to find a job after New York at the absolute top of European football.”

The potential goalkeeping coach shares certain qualities with recently hired assistant Bernd Eibler. Both are younger than many of their colleagues and have a focus on education and development. Nieminen was a speaker at the IGCW International Goalkeeping Workshop in 2014, presenting “Spanish Goalkeeping Training Methodology: The Spanish Way.” He also reportedly speaks six different languages, three (Finnish, Estonian, and English) with fluency.

Goalkeeping is a challenging part of the game of which few people understand. Rating a coach’s quality or fit for a role is difficult from someone in the game and nigh impossible for a person outside of it. The Red Bulls currently have two players fighting for a starting role in David Jensen and Ryan Meara, with highly rated backup Luca Lewis considered a future option. Nieminen needs to establish a plan for both the short and long-term that sets the club up for success. Although considering how often he (and most coaches) have bounced around, it’s questionable whether any plans will be seen through.