The New York Red Bulls capped off the most successful and comprehensive regular season in the 23 years Sunday night. It was a night, and a season full of astonishing numbers and records. They tallied 71 points, the most points accrued in MLS history. 14 home wins, the most in club history. And a very important, 28 road points, the most in club history.
Best Season in MLS History: Started by Marsch, Executed by Armas
Ironically, the most substantial number of them all is the smallest. The Red Bulls compiled their best season ever under the watch of two coaches.
While the thought of Head Coach Jesse Marsch seems like a distant memory, it’s only due to the consistent form seen under Chris Armas’ watch. Midseason coaching changes rarely ever coincide with success, transitions usually take time and result in a dip in form. Though, that was not the case when Jesse Marsch left the Red Bulls for their on-the-rise sister-club, Red Bull Leipzig.
Subtle changes made all the difference
The promotion of Armas was met with doubts from those outside of the organization, and for understandable reasons. Armas came into the job with no head coaching experience at the professional level and a high standard of excellency to upkeep. There was no doubt from the players though, and his predecessor reaffirmed Armas’ pedigree, “he’s patiently waited for partly an opportunity, but partly to see this club grow to be everything we know it can become. I’ll tell ya, I can’t wait to see him lift MLS Cup. It’s his turn”.
That mantra of “the next man up” invigorated Armas’ roster as well. Players like Marc Rzatkowski, Alex Muyl, and Derrick Etienne Jr. all hit their stride. It helped to lift the main core of the group. Rzatkowski received trust and starts from Armas and delivered electric performances against Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta United. Alex Muyl flipped a switch in the final stretch of the season providing game breaking assists and goals. And on Sunday night, Derrick Etienne Jr trusted with the start delivered the sole goal of the game to clinch Supporters’ Shield.
Off the field, Armas’ tactics helped catapult the team to win 12 of their last 18. In regard to Jesse Marsch, Armas said postgame Sunday, “when he left, yeah, we were ready to run with it and the team is ready to do that and the coaching staff we’ve put our stamp on things in many of the same ways but with our taste”. The press remained the team’s bread and butter, but Armas really did put his own “stamp” on the team.
The pace in which New York played at reached an equilibrium. Starts seemed slightly slower yet lent itself to more late game heroics and wins. Substitutions came in timely manners and player roles remained simple and straight forward. A belief on patience for the extra pass seemed radical but gave way to a more composed attack with contributions coming from multiple sources.
Don’t forget where it all started
At the same time, Jesse Marsch did leave a lasting mark on this team and club. He instilled a dogged mindset in the club from the top-down. Marsch believed heavily in youth and placed emphasis on player development through the academy and Red Bulls II. Armas reiterated that thought after the 1-0 win against Orlando City, ” It’s a success story what he did when he got here. The culture changed, the way people worked changed. The way he took this thing on and we were right there with him.”
While Armas is humble enough to acknowledge Jesse’s contributions, this moment is his. 12-3-3, 2.17 points per game and a 5 game winning streak to finish the season. Those are MLS Coach of the Year numbers right there, but the job is not done yet and Armas is well aware of that, “23 years, they come out (supporters) and they support us and we know they want the Cup, and this is the first step.”
Nonetheless, congratulations to all those involved in the organization on their third Supporters’ Shield in six years.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography