Jesse Marsch: “Everything that we’re doing right now is with an eye towards the ultimate championship. That’s what this club needs and that’s where we need to go.”(Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
The Red Bulls have ruled the Eastern Conference and then some the past two seasons.
In Jesse Marsch’s first year as head coach in 2015, the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield as the best regular-season side in Major League Soccer.
Last year, New York did not soar as high, but captured the Eastern Conference crown.
And what have they showed for their efforts?
A pair of playoff disappointments.
Given the team’s struggling start to 2017 — a sixth-place standing and a 5-6-2 mark entering Saturday night’s home match vs. the New England Revolution — the Red Bulls have refocused, well, their focus on the season.
Instead of regular-season glory, they must concentrate on reaching the playoffs and just worry about the annual ultimate goal — dancing around with the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at MLS Cup.
“With some of the changes we made, we knew that maybe some regular season goals wouldn’t be as attainable as they were in the years past,” head coach Jesse Marsch told reporters at the Red Bulls Training Facility Thursday. But everything that we’re doing right now is with an eye towards the ultimate championship. That’s what this club needs and that’s where we need to go.”
Those changes included using younger players.
For example, the team dealt veteran midfielder and captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire. In his place have been a pair of younger and less experienced midfielders who have made their share of mistakes — Tyler Adams, who is with the U.S. Under-20 national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and Sean Davis.
“We knew that we were going to go with some youngers guys,” Marsch said. We knew that in the beginning of the season it might be a bumpy road. That’s proven the case, I think we all could see that was forecast.”
A little more than a third into the season, the Red Bulls find themselves 12 points adrift from first-place Toronto FC (8-1-5, 29 points). Translated, that is the equivalent to four games behind the Canadian side with 21 matches remaining in New York’s season.
“I also think that we can give some of these young players some bigger experiences so come the end of the year, they’re really ready for some huge challenges,” Marsch said. “Ultimately that’s what this year is. We’ve got to find ways to grow every day. It’s no different than any year but this sense, when you have a younger group, you have to have a little more patience but continue to build the process the right way and build the momentum to be the kind of team you want to be at the end of the year.”