(Red Bulls Head Coach and Sporting Director Denis Hamlett on Wednesday morning at Red Bull Arena – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Red Bulls had a largely successful season, reaching the U.S. Open Cup Final, CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, and reached the MLS playoffs for the eighth straight season.
The fact it didn’t end with any hardware would seem disappointing, especially since the MetroStars/Red Bulls franchise has never won a trophy. The only banners that hang at Red Bull Arena are for two Supporters Shields, earned for having the best regular season record.
Their head coach, Jesse Marsch, sees the glass half full on their season and feels “there’s something really special happening here.”
“We’ve learned a lot, we’ve grown a lot, and we have a lot to build upon to move forward,” Marsch said on Wednesday morning in the season farewell press conference at Red Bull Arena. “From a points perspective and everything else it may not look as successful, but for me, this is our most successful season.”
The Red Bulls got the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, as they had 50 points with a record of 14-12-8. They have been in the playoffs 14 of the past 15 seasons.
In the playoffs, they won in Chicago, 4-0, in the opening round. They faced Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals and lost 2-1 at home, followed by a 1-0 win on the road. Toronto advanced on the road-goal rule.
Marsch continued, “For me, this season was probably the most challenging. We had less-established players, more new guys and young players in the system. We had to go through a lot of different challenges in the year in terms of results, and then changing the formation, dealing with an Open Cup run, but in all those ways, I think they actually helped us grow the most.
“I feel like, even when I look at the playoffs, that if we had six halves of playoff football this year, I feel like in five of them we performed great. The one with Toronto, first half at home, we were a little hesitant, but even then, we walked out 1-1.
“I mean, one of the things we’ve had struggles with in my timeframe here has been in the playoffs really playing the way we want to play and really in a brave and courageous manner going after the games the way that we want to. I think that this year was markedly different in terms of the understanding of what we wanted to be come big games, and you could even go back to the Open Cup run and technically we’re 6-1 in elimination games, and a lot of those were on the road, so whenever we had our backs against the wall, this team really responded.
“I think the toughest part about saying goodbye to this team is, in that sense, we feel like there was a lot more to give from everybody. The tanks were full, guys were ready to keep pushing. It’s not the kind of year where we’re left with frustration.”
On whether the fact that they were playing their best soccer at the end makes the ending of this season tougher, Marsch said, “It does make it tough, it does make it tough. We obviously all know the rules on away goals, but to go up against one of the best teams in league history (Toronto) and finish 2-2 and win at their place and shut them out, limit them in almost every way, it’s tough, right? You felt like this group was really ready, so, but that’s the reality of what we do.
“Saying goodbye is never easy because, you know, around here, I think we’re really lucky to have great young men on this team, great people within the organization that truly care about the right things and care about working together, which makes it so much fun and it gives us a real chance at something, not just being unique, but really doing something special. I think that’s the disappointment that comes. Everybody, whether it was losing in the Open Cup final or coming up short again in the playoffs, everybody that’s around here senses that there’s something really special happening here. The only way to really crown it is to put trophies up on top of it.
“Everybody’s working tirelessly to do that and, even as we sit here right now, the discussions are how to build this thing to be even better for next year, how to use our resources, how to challenge guys in the offseason to make sure that they come back really ready for the Champions League challenges, so, the clock never stops, right? You really never get rest, but it’s a labor of love for everybody here.”
Marsch finished his third season as Red Bulls Head Coach, highlighted by winning the Supporters Shield for best record in 2015. This season, he became the franchise’s all-time wins leader with 48, passing Hans Backe and Octavio Zambrano.
Denis Hamlett was on Marsch’s coaching the staff the past two seasons, and he just completed his first campaign as the team’s Sporting Director.
Hamlett said of the challenges this season and whether Marsch will be back next season, “Yes he will be. I think it’s been a challenging year, like Jesse mentioned, but I think Jesse and his staff are committed to sticking to who we are and what we are. You could see it’s pretty evident when you step on the field in terms of how we play. From my standpoint, when you look at the first team, all the way down to our second team with the Academy kids, we’re creating something that’s different, something that’s unique to this league. We’re making sure that we want to stay true to that and then continue to develop that.
“It’s a challenge but, like he mentioned, look, in the playoffs, what we were able to do. We came up short at the end of the day, but our guys left it on the field. So for me, from my standpoint, that’s all we can ask for from guys when they step on the field, is make sure they compete, be brave, and take the game to the opponent, and we did that.”