In a turn of events that becomes more surreal by the day, the world’s biggest club is plucking one New York Red Bulls figure after another.
Given the track record of this topic, this column will likely become obsolete within an hour of publishing. The first and most obvious domino to fall was the hiring of former Red Bull soccer director Ralf Rangnick as the new interim manager and de facto sporting director at storied English club Manchester United.
Rangnick is known for his wide network of former players and assistants devoted to the German’s distinct footballing ethos, and part of such network overlapped with New York during his time plotting out energy drink soccer for the Red Bull corporation in the mid-to-late 2010s. The most intuitive possibility for such ties to enter the picture in Rangnick’s new project in Manchester emerged when rumors were reported in the South African press that longtime Rangnick acolyte Bradley Carnell would be leaving his position as an assistant coach in New York to join his makeshift United staff. The next day it was former Red Bull Salzburg and current New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber linked to a role under Rangnick at United through the British press.
Then over the weekend, things got really psychedelic. After a loss to Union Berlin in a game in which he was suspended due to covid protocols, former New York manager and Rangnick protege Jesse Marsch was dismissed as RB Leipzig manager after a tenure of just four months. In the midst of such news setting the Stateside soccer scene ablaze, America’s gym buddy Taylor Twellman made a Twitter post implying that not Marsch but his former assistant (and unsuccessful successor) in New York Chris Armas would be benefiting from Rangnick’s new position at Old Trafford and assuming a role. Twellman would delete his initial tweet in the face of widespread ridicule of the idea that the manager dismissed by New York one year ago before an even more disastrous run as Toronto FC boss would obtain such a lofty position, but then hinted at it again the next day. Then, the news spilled from a variety of sources on Monday that Armas was indeed to be hired as an assistant coach under Rangnick, sending jaws across North America onto the floor.
But whether or not Armas is qualified as a vision-setting and public-facing manager (he assuredly isn’t as the last three years have shown) is somewhat beside the point. This will be an assistant coaching role where the Long Island native’s attention to detail and knowledge of the Rangnick-style training system will come in handy. Rangnick has hinted in interviews since taking over the United job that the rushed midseason timing of his arrival meant some of the ideal targets for his staff would not be available, and a figure like Armas fits the current void.
But the possibility of Armas walking the grounds at Carrington became somewhat less shocking when reports out of England (particularly the London Times) on Monday that the newly-unemployed Jesse Marsch indeed was also close to a role on Rangnick’s staff at United. Such a role would re-unite Marsch not only with former assistant Armas but with his longtime mentor Rangnick who he worked with as a touchline duo at RB Leipzig during the 2018-19 Bundesliga season.
But the fact that a duo of Americans who spent their entire playing careers in the Sierra Mist era of Major League Soccer will be sitting in the brick dugout at Manchester United doesn’t feel as bizarre as it should. The personnel twists and turns on both sides of the Atlantic ever since Rangnick and the then-fledgling Red Bull global soccer umbrella hired Marsch for New York in 2015 have had a ripple effect throughout American soccer and now the highest levels of Europe. A real-life (redacted title of soccer-themed Apple TV sitcom) appears to be unfolding in Manchester this month, but it’s been years in the making, dovetailing with both the rising level of MLS and the rising relevance of American players in the European game.
But, as this particular website is entrusted with finding out, what does this mean for the current New York Red Bulls?
Despite the ostentatious links to the United role last week, current New York head coach Gerhard Struber said in an interview with Sky Austria on Monday that he’s flattered to be connected with such a position but that he is far too excited with his current project in New York to entertain such offers at the moment. It also appears Bradley Carnell is staying put for now, despite knowing Rangnick for longer and having the same (if not more) qualifications for the role as Armas without the stigma of a recent failed managerial career.
Sometimes platitudes are legitimate, and maybe Struber and even Carnell truly are committed to a New York team riding the momentum of a strong finish to an up and down 2021 campaign. But it should be noted that the consistent drone of rumors around Struber in particular that has hummed in the background of the only two-week-old Red Bulls offseason isn’t sustainable. New York sporting chief Kevin Thelwell must be able to build a squad for 2022 knowing whether or not he must adhere to Struber’s picky tastes, and the Englishman now has to strike the balance that every sporting director lucky enough to have a coveted head coach does, bolstering current plans but hedging for what increasingly seems like a sleeping giant of a departure.
But in the meantime, enjoy the new world where goofy small talk about paying for an EZ-Pass eventually leads a pair of buddies to the biggest stage in professional sports.