Your Team, Your Voice: Why the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole signing should be a model for RBNY – by Matt Mierswa

YOUR TEAM YOUR VOICE is a series dedicated to the fans of the New York Red Bulls. You have a soccer story, let us help you tell it.

Love them or hate them, the Yankees are THE model franchise in North American professional sports. With 27 championships and another 13 AL pennants, there is no other franchise that can match their historical success, although the Montreal Canadiens come close. The Yankees have the pedigree and financial might to go out and get any player they want, and for most of history they have.

Yet, since the turn of the century, the Yankees’ approach to team building has varied. There has been fluctuation between rosters built with homegrown players and with free agent spending. Recently, the Yankees have eschewed high-dollar players everyone assumed they would sign in favor of promoting from within. Until this week.

In the wee hours of December 10-11, 2019, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to the largest pitcher contract in history. By landing the biggest fish in the 2020 free agency pond, the Yankees re-asserted themselves as the Evil Empire. The core of their roster has been built through internal development, but this decade that has only taken them so far. The Yankees have learned in the past three seasons that as talented and well-rounded as their squad could be, they lacked one final piece to put them over the top.

If you’re a big enough RBNY fan to have found this post, you can probably see where this is going. In the past decade of sustained success, RBNY’s team-building model has focused on either big names or sustainable development, but never both. When Red Bull GmbH announced themselves as heavy hitters in this league by opening RBA in 2010, they sought to make a splash on the field as well. The club brought in, at various times, Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Tim Cahill, Dwayne DeRosario, and others. The results: five straight playoff appearances, one Supporters’ Shield, and twice topping the Eastern Conference.

After 2014, the club changed course. Henry retired, Cahill went to China, and Ali Curtis fired Mike Petke. The organization prioritized the überpress we all know and love and implemented that philosophy throughout the development ranks. Relatively big signings remained (Sacha Kljestan was no slouch), but in large part every acquisition or promotion from the reserves is viewed as a cog in the Energy Drink Soccer machine. The new philosophy has been more successful overall, yielding five more playoff appearances for an active streak of ten in a row, two more Shields, three seasons atop the East, a US Open Cup final, a CCL semifinal, the single season points record, and…24 seasons without a championship.

Both philosophies are viable and have resulted in sustained success for a full decade. Soccer is known as a “weak-link” sport, and RBNY’s emphasis on development and tactical unity guarantees a higher floor than most opponents. Barring an unprecedented number of injuries, RBNY will never truly be “bad”.

Over the course of a 34 game MLS season, navigating cup competitions, international call-ups and midweek fixtures, a deep and well-rounded roster will prevail. Even injuries might not stop the machine, as the 2019 Yankees showed by plugging holes and dominating the regular season. Yet both teams consistently ran into trouble in the playoffs throughout the 2010s. Opponents are rested, there is no margin for error, and scoring or conceding at the wrong time can change the entire season.

That’s the final hurdle. Developing your own talent is the most sustainable path to success, but a team with real vision knows when and how to supplement internal development by making a splash for the right player at the right time to evolve from contender to favorite. That’s what the Yankees did with Gerrit Cole.

Tragically, that’s what RBNY haven’t done. They have never melded the two pillars of roster building to truly instill fear around the league. In the first half of this decade (and further back) they sought the brightest lights for the top of the marquee and reverse-engineered a roster from there. In the Marsch/Armas era, they have built rock-solid teams with quality players who are always good enough but lack the sheer brilliance to win knockout competitions.

I don’t know the club’s budget, but they are owned by a multi-national corporation that earned $6 BILLION in 2018. RBNY spent a little over $8 million on players in 2019, while brother Leipzig spent that much on two starting midfielders. While some might deride this team’s New Jersey roots, any soccer fan with an Instagram knows that Manhattan, a ten minute train ride from the stadium, remains a huge draw for international stars. There is no reason why RBNY can’t be in the mix for every significant player interested in MLS. They won’t all be right for the club, but you can’t know that unless you’re in the room.

I am ashamed every time I look up and see tarps across the upper deck of our soccer-specific stadium. Even more so in the aftermath of 2018’s record-breaking success. But I get it. There are many other things in the New York metro area vying for people’s attention. If you want butts in seats you have to attract them. That can mean a known-commodity in the starting XI or a championship squad. Ideally it can be both in the form of one or two game changing Designated Players to supplement an already strong roster. The academy is established. Red Bull II is a perennial USL favorite. There is little risk of regressing into a bloated and top-heavy roster. The time has come for RBNY to sign a Gerrit Cole.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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About Joseph Goldstein

Joseph Goldstein is the managing editor of RBNN as well as the co-host of the Seeing Red and Raising Bulls podcasts.

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