National Writer: Charles Boehm

New York Red Bulls seek "more clarity" with Struber exit, Lesesne promotion

Struber RBNY

It wasn’t exactly a firing, nor was it really a resignation, according to New York Red Bulls head of sport Jochen Schneider.

But with RBNY sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference standings with nine points from their first 11 matches of the 2023 season, and the second-worst attacking output in the league with just seven goals thus far, it became clear to him, head coach Gerhard Struber and the rest of the RBNY leadership team that something had to change.

“It's an ongoing process that you evaluate: Where are we? How do we play? How do we perform?” Schneider told reporters in the wake of Struber’s departure from the club on Monday. “We couldn't be happy with the outcome.”

Saturday’s ugly 1-0 home loss to I-95 rivals Philadelphia Union, the Red Bulls’ fourth of the year, proved the tipping point.

“We came to the decision now after the Philly game, together with Gerhard, that we need to do something,” added Schneider.

In the club’s announcement of the parting, Struber alluded to the difficulty of being separated from his family, who remained in Europe following his move to RBNY in 2020.

Yet the Red Bulls’ global ownership group are said to rate him highly, having reportedly paid upwards of $2 million to hire him away from English club Barnsley. Schneider stated on Monday the parting was not influenced by Struber’s handling of the situation around suspended striker Dante Vanzeir when the Designated Player used racist language during a match against the San Jose Earthquakes on April 8.

And RBNY’s new head coach, Troy Lesesne, can thank Struber for his presence at the club in the first place, having been hired by the Austrian as an assistant last year after three years in charge of USL Championship side New Mexico United, a club he helped launch as both head coach and technical director from its birth.

“Gerhard is the reason that I’m here. He's the one that hired me, he's the one that saw something in me, and I learned an incredible amount from him,” said Lesesne, reeling off the list of RBNY and Red Bull GmbH executives who have invested their faith in him despite a relative paucity of MLS experience.

“Oliver Mintzlaff, Mario Gómez, Jochen, Denis [Hamlett], Marc [de Grandpré], they see something in me and they see something in my coaching profile that I don't think that a lot of other clubs at the first-division level probably would look into. I'm not a household name,” he said. “I can't walk into any room and everyone knows who I am. And that's OK. But as Jochen just said to you, 19 seasons I’ve been working as a coach and honing my craft to be prepared for an opportunity like this whenever it comes along.”

Emphasizing his knowledge and familiarity with the current squad and the wider Red Bull DNA, Schneider insisted no coaching search of any kind is underway at present. RBNY are investing full faith in Lesesne, at least through the end of the ‘23 campaign.

“No, it's totally focused on Troy and giving him and his coaching team all the support they need to be successful,” said the German executive. “I’m quite experienced, a long time enough in this business – many coaching careers have started like this. So we are totally focused on supporting him and the team and that’s it.

“The good thing is, he’s already more than one and a half years in the building. He knows the players in and out, he knows the staff in and out. He has seen all the games. It's completely different if somebody wants to step in from the outside who haven’t been with us for the last 18 months.”

Lesesne’s first job is to resuscitate the dormant attack.

“We want to make sure to never lose the identity of Red Bull, but continue to take steps forward to be more creative, to be able to hopefully create more chances and more goals. And that's going to take some time. It's the hardest part of the game,” said the South Carolina native, who played and coached at the College of Charleston and Charleston Battery early in his career.

“In so many phases of play,” he added, “I think that we feel really good about what we’re doing – against the ball, in transition, set pieces, with the ball. We just have to provide a lot more clarity, we have to have a lot more control in the match and then hopefully some more creativity in these moments.”

He’ll have only a matter of hours to make significant changes before his first match, Tuesday’s US Open Cup clash with Atlantic Cup rivals D.C. United at Montclair State University. On Saturday looms the first Hudson River Derby match of the year, a meeting with New York City FC at Red Bull Arena, capping a busy week he hopes can serve as a “reset” for his frustrated squad.

“He's an inspiring coach and incredible person, really works well with young players, can develop them,” said Schneider of Lesesne. “He's a very good leader at training every day, [brings] fantastic energy into the building. These are the reasons why we are convinced that he's the right one now for this job.”