All about the culture: New York Red Bulls reveal how they turned the page from DP era

The New York Red Bulls shed a batch of veteran savvy, two global megastars and a much-beloved homegrown head coach last winter as a new leadership regime enacted a sweeping change of both personnel and identity. Yet today they find themselves in possession of the Supporters' Shield and two games removed from MLS Cup.

How'd they do it? There are many useful answers to that one. But for captain Dax McCarty, it all comes down to the culture instilled by new head coach Jesse Marsch, who has won over a fanbase that went into open revolt when his predecessor Mike Petke was dismissed after two solid seasons in charge.

“The good thing about a whole new staff coming in is, they don't have that burden of history that I've had in the past here,” said McCarty this week as his team prepares for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at Columbus Crew SC on Sunday (5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, MLS LIVE).

“Jesse's come in and done a great job of making sure this Red Bulls team establishes its own identity, and that identity is that of a family, and a team that's all together as one.”

RBNY have been known as something of a “Hollywood” club, both in terms of star power and drama, dating back to before they were even the Red Bulls. From the league's inception, the MetroStars lured big names like Roberto Donadoni, Branco and Lothar Matthaus to the old Giants Stadium, and Red Bull continued in that vein after their 2006 rebrand with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, among others.

A painful tradition of underachievement also dogged the franchise year after year. But now the old ways seem to have finally been consigned to the history books.

“In the past, the identity of this team has always been about individual players, it's been about controversy, it's been about failures,” said McCarty. “While we recognize the past and we recognize the failures that this club has gone through as an organization, we want to build our own identity. We don't want to be cast in that same light as those organizations from the past.

“It's obviously a great challenge for us because we recognize that maybe history is not on our side, but I think the good thing about our team is that we're a little bit young and a little bit naive. And all we care about right now is the next game, all we care about is winning. That's a great testament to the coaching staff.”

In one of his first public appearances as head coach, Marsch addressed a room full of angry supporters at a contentious town hall meeting last winter in the wake of longtime Red Bulls player-turned-coach Petke's departure. Sporting director Ali Curtis had made the coaching swap one of his first acts on the job, prompting wrath from fans loyal to Petke, a Long Island native, and suspicious of yet another new leadership group arriving on the scene with big ideas.

“You don’t have to like me, and you may never like me,” Marsch said. “That is the role of the coach, but that isn’t important to me. What’s important to me is the team.

“If we lose, you will hate me. If we win, maybe you will put up with me. But give this team a chance to take the field and compete.”

Marsch's forthright approach struck the right chord, and his aggressive, high-energy philosophy and tactics quickly won over the locker room. And the squad's consistent quality over the ensuing nine months won over the doubters one by one.

“I don't think there's been any negativity all year about anything from the past. It's only been about how we can build something for the future that's sustainable, that's about every person, that's something we can be proud of,” said Marsch this week. “The mantra has often been one game at a time, one training session at a time, one moment at a time, and it’s helped us get to where we are now. We’re not changing that for anything or anyone or any situation.”

Star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips accepted and excelled in a significantly different role from his previous tasking as Henry's right-hand man, while McCarty crafted a powerful engine-room triumvirate with Sacha Kljestan and Felipe. Mike Grella earned a contract after a lengthy preseason trial and suddenly bloomed into one of the league's most creative attackers. And the unexpectedly rapid maturation of Homegrown center back Matt Miazga into a steady, at-times dominant starter at age 20 has anchored an impressive defensive renaissance.

“The mentality that [the coaching staff] have been able to establish within our team,” noted McCarty, “the confidence that they’ve been able to give us as younger players and as a younger team, the balance between having veteran presence on the team and making sure that we’re still young and fresh and have a lot of new faces. It’s been a great balance.”

RBNY's ambitions are such that anything short of MLS Cup may be seen as a disappointment at this point. But the speed and smoothness of the Curtis-Marsch revolution has given their often-impatient fans good reason to look forward to the future with excitement.

“We’re about each other, and every day we come in and prove that game in, game out and day in, day out,” said Marsch of his group.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity ahead of us on Sunday, and we’re going to go and go full throttle and give everything we have.”