By Michael Lewis
Regardless who was going to be named his successor, replacing a head coach such as Jesse Marsch was going to be a tough act to follow.
A dynamic personality on the field, in the locker room and with the media, Marsch did just about everything as a Major League Soccer coach during his 3 1/2-year tenure, everything but win an MLS Cup before he departed to guide Real Bull Salzburg.
The Red Bulls powers that be anointed his assistant, Chris Armas, as the new coach. It was Armas’ first professional coaching job and he continued the Red Bulls’ superb start to the 2018
Armas’ dismissal – when an MLS club announced a parting of the ways, it is secret code for firing – might have been a bit premature, even after Wednesday night’s debacle against D.C. United. That was a 1-0 loss deep into injury time against a struggling club at good old Red Bull Arena.
I would have liked to have seen Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell give Armas a couple of more games to redeem himself, to see if the team could rebound against the Philadelphia Union at RBA Sunday night.
But then again, we don’t know what was transpired behind closed doors in the front office or in the locker room. Who knows? Perhaps Armas was in the process of losing the locker room or had lost it already.
Just from what we saw, Armas could not find the right combination to accrue wins and just as important, to celebrate goals once in a while. The Red Bulls have scored seven goals in nine matches this season.
So, as I write this late Friday morning, the Red Bulls don’t have a head coach with Philly looming in two days.
A few thoughts on the state of the Red Bulls:
There is plenty of blame to go around, from Armas, to the front office to Red Bull headquarters in Salzburg.
The team has yet to replace departed striker Bradley Wright-Phillips as it struggles to find a forward who could put the ball into the net occasionally, not when there is a lunar eclipse.
The BWP case is a complicated one. He earned a base salary of $1.2 million and guaranteed compensation of $1.38 million last season, according to the MLS Players Association, as a designated player and after an injury-plagued campaign in which he accrued but two goals and four assists in 19 appearances, the team did not want to bring back a 35-year-old attacking off such poor production. If BWP did come back, he would have had to take a big salary cut.
Los Angeles FC head coach Bob Bradley, who has forged a reputation of taking older, veteran players and getting productive seasons out of them, took a chance with Wright-Phillips and he has pushed all the right buttons as BWP has tallied four times in six matches (that’s four more than the RBNY front men, total).
Then there are the players.
Since Thierry Henry called it a career after the 2014 season, the Red Bulls have not signed one player of stature to become an impact player and excite the fans to fill up Red Bull Arena (yes, the attendance at RBA has been a main concern, especially since it has the best atmosphere of any venue in the league, even when there is no one in the stands).
Instead, they have relied on young players, Homegrown Players and in many instances, mediocre foreign players from Europe. While on paper, developing your own talent is a fine attribute, it might not necessarily make it in the rough and tumble world of MLS, where teams are signing proven players from South American and Europe.
Some of the young players will make it, some won’t while others might become trade bait for an international spot (see Alex Muyl’s deal to Nashville FC this summer).
Quite frankly, the players they have brought over from Europe, particularly midfielders, aren’t impact players, players that you can rely on, on a consistent basis, except for Daniel Royer on the right wing. They are ordinary players. They’re OK players, but not impact players.
I am certain Armas was the right man to handle these type of players and getting them to raise their game.
Salzburg has done a lousy job in finding the right players for the Red Bulls.
When Thewell was hired as head of sport earlier this year, I had an inkling that things would change. No one becomes head of sport and allows things to remain the same especially a mediocre and underachieving span. If you are a trained “Kremlin watcher” you read between the lines in the Red Bulls press releases, as sporting director Denis Hamlett had been pushed aside and not mentioned in any of the press releases proclaiming the addition of new players. That’s not an end-all, by any means, but an indication of where things are going.
Is Hamlett next on the firing line? Can’t tell you.
But I can tell you the Red Bulls don’t have most of the Chicago Fire connection that propelled the team to success in recent season. That includes Marsch, Armas and CJ Brown, who also was shown the door Friday. Now, Hamlett is the only remaining member of that “club.”
There’s little doubt this is Thelwell’s Red Bulls’ team now after starting to clean house.
Who else he is going to jettison and who he is going to bring in is anyone’s guess.