Jesse Marsch - New York Red Bulls - Complaining

HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls fell short of silverware in 2017, but head coach Jesse Marsch says that his third season with the organization was the best one yet.

On the surface, the statement raises more than an eyebrow. The Red Bulls failed to win the Eastern Conference regular-season title for the first time under Marsch, lost in the final of the US Open Cup and were eliminated as the sixth seed this past Sunday in the Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. For a team that has twice lifted the Supporters’ Shield, its performance in 2017 would seem to be a disappointment.

But Marsch, who admitted on Thursday to becoming more philosophical as he completes his third season with the Red Bulls, saw the hurdles and challenges of this year as part of the reason why this was his most successful year with New York. He saw a team peaking, even as they were eliminated by a Toronto side that won the Supporters’ Shield.

“You 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. For me that means that we’ve learned a lot, we’ve grown a lot and we have a lot to learn from moving forward,” Marsch said on Wednesday.

“From a points perspective and everything else, it may not look as successful but for me, this was our most successful season.”

Successful, perhaps, if the aches and bumps prove to be growing pains necessary to compete at a high level again next year.

There was a bit of upheaval this offseason for the Red Bulls, ranging from the controversial move to trade captain Dax McCarty to the termination of sporting director Ali Curtis, who made several crucial decisions that led to the Red Bulls' success the prior two years. There was also the integration of several young players ranging from Tyler Adams and Sean Davis to Aaron Long and Michael Amir Murillo, all of whom became influential in the starting XI.

Factor in three different formations and injuries to several key players and the Red Bulls did show a lot of character this year.

It was a learning year for Marsch, he admits, and perhaps a rebuilding year for the team.

“I think for me, this season was probably the most challenging. We had less established players, more new guys and young guys in the system. We had to go through a lot of different challenges in the year in terms of result, in terms of formation…dealing with an Open Cup run,” Marsch said.

“But in all those ways, I think they actually helped us grow the most. I feel like even when I looked at the playoffs, if we had six halves of playoff football this year, five of them we performed great – first half against Toronto at home we were a little hesitant but even then we walked out 1-1. One of the things we’ve had struggles with in my time frame here, has been in the playoffs playing the way we want to play and in a brave, courageous manner going after the games in the way we wanted to. I think this year was markedly different, markedly different in terms of now understanding what we want to become big games.”

Ultimately, however, the Red Bulls struck out on all their goals, with captain Sacha Kljestan noting that they’ve only taken one of nine possible trophies since he arrived three years ago. The core is talented and exciting, featuring a number of Homegrown players and others developed in the USL with New York Red Bulls II.

But while Marsch can wax eloquent on overcoming obstacles and growth within the frame of the big picture, the 32-year old Kljestan sounded disappointed that the Red Bulls season ended at BMO Field on Sunday.

“I would agree that the team grew over the course of the year. We set in motion some good building blocks for the future. Especially next season if we can keep the core group and a lot of the young guys that got a lot of major minutes this year.” Kljestan said. “I think a trophies standpoint then no, the season was not a success. We got close in the Open Cup, unfortunately we didn’t win but I think it was a good run and that also will build a lot of experience for the future. 

“A lot of good memories a lot of good moments but overall when you don’t win and you have the desire and the goals to be a champion, then of course it’s not successful when you don’t.”