It wasn’t a gameday, but it was the closest thing to one we’ll have for a few months. New head of sport Jochen Schneider headlined postseason media day for the New York Red Bulls after the club made their end of season contract announcements, and OaM chief editor Ben Cork was there to begin noticing a couple or three things about the club’s future…
ATTACKING PIECES TO BE ADDED…AGAIN
Not to be a broken record, but interviews with sporting executives are supposed to be boring. Long-term planning and back-of-house organizing doesn’t lend itself to the sort of dramatic gestures and concrete declarations that fans crave. Jochen Schneider initially maintained such a political approach in Thursday’s press conference, but soon buckled to a series of direct questions from New York journalists.
Initially guarded and sensibly avoiding showing his hand in a way that could change conversations with agents, rivals, or his own club’s personnel, Schneider eventually broke down and stated that it is “obvious” adding to the attack would be the club’s focus this offseason.
“You know clearly where we have to improve our squad. Everybody knows sometimes we were struggling to score goals and I think we need to to strengthen our offense. Normally I’m not a guy who talks a lot about that because it’s not helpful for the club but it is too obvious where we were struggling a little bit.”
While Schneider’s reluctant honesty is appreciated, the content of his message was concerning in that it would mark the second offseason in a row with recruitment operating on the premise that Gerhard Struber’s defense-first tendencies can be saved by hypothetical better personnel. Despite Struber’s claims throughout 2022 that he was hobbled by a lack of transfers, last winter saw a wholesale replenishment of New York’s attack with the additions of Scottish international winger Lewis Morgan, Brazilian dribbling maven Luquinhas, and Premier League loan forward Ashley Fletcher. Despite this diverse group of big ticket signings, Struber never engineered a formula for consistent chance creation in 2022 outside of Morgan’s isolated wonder strikes, particularly after a troubling decline in production from Luquinhas the more he was drilled to play vertically by Struber.
The rump response to this quandary from many fans and observers throughout the year was to blame the club’s supposedly misfiring strikers, but Schneider doesn’t appear to share that view either. When asked whether he anticipates selling on any players this offseason (such as maligned designated player Patryk Klimala), Schneider denied so and expressed a desire to keep the existing core together. Schneider further stated that the club is still negotiating for the potential return of late season loanee Elias Manoel, who himself was scoreless outside of the team’s regular season finale against Charlotte. Former New York loanee Fabio Gomes has been linked with a potential return, even though the Brazilian is yet another striker who rarely found the net in Struber’s system.
Finding personnel fits in the final third can be more of a numbers game than more tactical positions deeper down the field, and adding more layers of possibility to the depth chart always helps. But it is far from clear that new faces will change much about an attack that’s been consistently made subservient to the team’s pressing structure.
…AND IT IS TIME TO MEET, THE CONTINENTALS
The only other moment when Schneider cracked slightly from his professional polish was in response to a pointed question from OaM contributor Eric Friedlander, who asked for Schneider’s thoughts on head coach Gerhard Struber’s mildly infamous postgame comments following last month’s playoff exit to Cincinnati. In the most baroque of several similarly unpleasant press conference rants over the course of 2022, Struber again bemoaned his squad as incapable of winning trophies, but also launched a gratuitous attack at fans and journalists who expected better results in big games.
While few expected Schneider to publicly disown his head coach based on press quotes, it was perhaps a bigger surprise to see the German further coarsen the already-strained dialogue. In somewhat awkward phrasing, Schneider remarked that he has “the advantage of being European” and thus understanding that Struber is one of many old world managers who have a more blunt and cold way of discussing their work than Americans, who Schneider claimed are conditioned for more positivity.
To start off, any American who lived through the Jurgen Klinsmann national team tenure should be more than familiar with the ungracious tendencies of Teutonic coaches. But even furthermore, the idea that negativity is an inherent trait of successful Red Bull soccer flies in the face of New York’s history, one in which Ted Lasso prototype Jesse Marsch braved town halls and roster churn with a smile on his face and a can-do spirit that led the club to its greatest heights.
All in all, both Struber and Schneider’s comments were minor but unsavory flourishes that paint a somewhat concerning picture of management’s attitude towards local feedback at a moment when the club is coming off the worst-attended playoff game in its history.
SCHNEIDER SEEKS FAMILIAR BUT DIFFICULT LEGACY
Unlike his head coach Struber, who cited the club’s spending strategy as part of his medley of unprompted excuses after this month’s playoff exit, Jochen Schneider refused to acknowledge the team’s payroll as a concern when asked such a question on Thursday.
“I don’t want to compare us to other clubs and how much money they are spending,” said Schneider. “This is their responsibility. We are responsible for the New York Red Bulls. I’m happy with the situation here.”
“We have to get the best out of our possibilities that we have here, and you can believe me there they are good. You can believe me that we’ve discussed with our organization in Europe how much we’re going to spend next year.”
It’s clear by now that Schneider seeks to double down on the ties between New York and the Red Bull flagship in Austria that have grown in recent years. Schneider opened his press conference on Thursday by announcing the club had hired Salzburg video and data analyst Sebastian Häusl as the New York’s new head of scouting, the first figure to formally assume the role since the exit of Paul Fernie in 2021 and the first Red Bull veteran to hold the position since the exit of Benjamin Ehresmann in 2018. Schneider also announced that former Salzburg and New York defender Ibrahim Sekagya had his interim tag removed and would be the reserve team’s new permanent manager following a decade under local legacy figure John Wolyniec and a brief interlude with former Liverpool and Seattle youth coach Gary Lewis.
Schneider’s predecessor Kevin Thelwell had communicated a desire for New York to replicate the now well-established Salzburg model of a young squad serving as a holistic conveyor belt for academy prospects and foreign recruits on the rise, and the club is still well in line to continue such work with its existing core. While Schneider’s most recent crack at club-building with Schalke 04 ended in a calamitous relegation, the German possesses the know-how and network within Red Bull to add further depth to existing soccer infrastructure in a club at a station like New York’s.
The best version of Schneider’s approach will see him develop something similar to what former Salzburg executive Ernst Tanner has built 100 miles away in Philadelphia — an efficient youth-oriented club that inspires the fanbase by importing foreign ideas while enmeshing itself with local soccer culture. The worst version of Schneider’s Red Bulls would be a perpetuation of the last four seasons, in which underwhelming results, ugly football, and uncommitted leadership have left the club stuck in its least lovable ebb of the Red Bull Arena era.