The New York Red Bulls return to the field this Wednesday against a familiar face. Felipe Martins, once a mainstay in the Jesse Marsch Red Bulls, returns for the first time with his new club, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Felipe came to New York following a trade with the Montreal Impact. Ali Curtis sent Ambrose Oyongo, Eric Alexander, and an international roster spot, and received Felipe and the top spot in the allocation order in return. That move facilitated Sacha Kljestan’s return to MLS, and created a strong central midfield group along with Dax McCarty and Felipe.
During his tenure with the club, Felipe appeared in 125 matches across all competitions (20th most in team history), scoring 10 goals, and adding 19 assists. The Red Bulls won the Supporter’s Shield during his debut season, and he endeared himself to Red Bull fans with his midfield tenacity.
On Monday afternoon, I caught up with the former Red Bull midfielder ahead of his return to Red Bull Arena this week.
You were a fan favorite at Red Bull Arena, and I think a lot of fans were disappointed to see you go. What was that like for you, and moving your family to a very different location?
I think it was a very, very tough year. So many things. Adjusting to a new life was very difficult. I think we still are not fully adapted. It’s difficult with school for kids, and my adaption to the west coast. That’s what it is. I kept playing. I renewed my contract, which I think is a good sign how they trust me and how they believe in the process. But it was difficult to move from New York to Vancouver, but we are trying to adapt the best way we can.
Was that difficult transition compounded at all by the difficult year the Whitecaps had? Carl Robinson started the year as coach, he brought you in and he was dismissed during the season. There is a little bit of an unknown factor then with whoever comes in after him.
Yes. I think in general it was difficult, in soccer and in my personal life. You always try to adapt, and to focus on trying to do your best for the team. I did last year, and I try everyday.
When the season ended, there was a little bit of a kerfuffle during media day. That ended up shaking things up quite a bit. You survived all that and came into the team this with a new coach, Marc Dos Santos. He is well renowned within the lower levels of US Soccer, but hasn’t really had that shot in MLS up to this point. What’s that been like, and what is the biggest difference between the previous administration and this administration?
I think many things change, especially the culture and the way we play. Marc came with a very clear game plan that he wanted to implement. I think he’s done a great job on changing the culture, the way we play, and how people around the club think and do things. That is very positive. It’s still a process. There is still a lot to be done. But I think they did a great job and keep doing a great job implementing their system. That part has been great.
Overall, your performance this season, how are you feeling? How has everything been?
For me, it hasn’t been a great season until now. I think I haven’t played as consistent as I would like. I play two or three games, and then don’t play for another two or three. That’s difficult. I don’t get a good segment to play the way I would like. Especially when it is a new team, it takes time to adjust. It hasn’t been great, but that’s what it is. I keep pushing hard everyday to play the way [Dos Santos] wants me to play, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. My goal is always to do the best for the team, and that’s what I’m going to continue to work on.
What’s unusual about it from an outsider’s perspective is knowing how consistently we would see you on the field with Red Bull. But like you said, it is an adjustment period and it takes time. Overall, there are some similarities with the way Vancouver has experienced success and how Red Bull experience success. You get some step forwards, maybe a couple of steps back, but ultimately the process is moving in the right direction. Do you feel that?
I think the team, every single game, we improve. Sometimes you have to take one step backwards to take two forwards. The team is improving every game, and the players are adapting every game towards the goal and the way they want us to play. That’s the positive. It’s a long year, especially in MLS. I’ve been around long enough to understand that this can happen. Ups and downs. Especially if you change so many players, but I think we are progressing.
This Wednesday is your first time coming back to Red Bull Arena. Are there emotions tied to that? Is it something you have been thinking about at all?
Yes. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I have so many friends there. I have fans that still love me. It will be an emotional [return]. The only thing that I’m sure of, is that if I score, I’m not going to celebrate because I have so much respect for Red Bull.
I think a lot of fans would like that as well. One thing, from my perspective, and your tenure with the team that I was so used to, was always seeing your son schooling all the other children with the ball at his feet. Is he still progressing as a player?
[Laughs] Yes. He’s still loving it. It’s hard for me to say, but he still loves Red Bull. He is still a kid. He’s very innocent. Everytime he see’s Red Bull play, he remembers it, he talks about it, and it is part of where he starts. His first touch on the ball was at the stadium, and it is great to see the way he remembers Red Bulls. He is still playing and he loves it.
Thank you very much Felipe. I look forward to seeing you Wednesday.
Thank you my friend. See you Wednesday.
Photos by Bill Twomey Photography