When Aurelien Collin arrived at the New York Red Bulls training facility in Hanover, New Jersey, last week after a trade brought him north from Orlando City SC, the first thing he did was take a seat in a dark room.
Jesse Marsch joined his new center back and fired up the projector. On the screen, the Red Bulls’ head coach ran the 30-year-old Frenchman through play after play. This was what would be expected from him. This would be his role – defined one clip at a time.
For Marsch and the Red Bulls, gaining an edge via video analysis has turned into something of an obsession.
“It’s become almost a labor of love looking through these things and finding the little details that help our players understand how to get better,” Marsch told MLSsoccer.com this week following the club’s second straight victory after an frustratingly slow start.
For the holdovers from last season’s Supporters’ Shield-winning side, the sessions help hone the high-pressure system the incoming coaching staff implemented to great effect in 2015. For newcomers like Collin, a former MLS Best XI central defender, video sessions serve as a sort of onboarding process.
And although it’s Marsch who sets the tone in the film room, it’s video analyst Victor Bertini who does the heavy lifting.
When Marsch was being interviewed by Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis following the dismissal of Mike Petke after the 2014 season, he made it clear that a emphasis on video analysis was among his top priorities. After attempting to split the work among himself and his assistants in Montreal, he knew a full-time analyst would be a requirement, not a luxury.
Little did he know Bertini was already in the fold. On his first day in charge, Marsch met the staffer who he says now is his “right-hand man.”
“When I first met Victor, I [asked], ‘What’s your role?’ Marsch remembers. “He said, ‘I’m the video analyst,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you existed.’”
In the past year and a half, the relationship between Marsch and Bertini has blossomed.
They meet early each morning to discuss the focus for that particular session, week and match, both in terms of self evaluation and scouting. Bertini is integrated into everything the Red Bulls do, including the team’s tactical preparation, game planning and match review.
“I often joke that he runs our club,” Marsch says, “because he’s very aware of all of our tactical concepts, all of our soccer concepts.”
Once game and training footage comes in – the Red Bulls tape and evaluate just about everything they do – Bertini splices and tags any action that could be useful to the staff. Often, Marsch says, he finds things nobody was looking for. Those insights help the coaching staff plan and run two to three film sessions per week. The players also have access to stations with clips targeted to their position and role.
The goal is to make video an everyday part of preparation. The key is quality over quantity. Bertini makes the operation organized and the clips easy to digest. Then it’s up to Marsch to keep players engaged.
“I find that if you do it too much, and if it’s not organized, players tend to tune out and their attention spans will wane,” he says.
Marsch knows from experience. The 42-year-old played under former US national team head coach Bob Bradley in college at Princeton and in MLS with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. Marsch says Bradley was the first to introduce detailed video analysis to him, but the current Le Havre coach was bound by the technology that was available at the time.
“Bob was a very detailed guy with video but this was back in the day with VHS,” he says. “I remember him writing down the times on the tape of the counter that he would fast forward and rewind to.”
Bradley was looking for details that could make the difference between a win or loss. A slight positioning shift here or there. A bad habit that could be remedied on the training field. A weakness to be corrected or exploited on set pieces.
Under Marsch, the Red Bulls have run some of the most intricate set-piece plays in MLS. Since his arrival, they have scored 18 goals from set pieces, tied for first in the league with Sporting KC and Montreal, and have given up only 11, second behind the LA Galaxy.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we have video of a lot of the different set pieces that we try so that when we say we’re going to do them in a game we can show the video of what we’re looking for from what we’ve done in the past,” Marsch says. “We’ve even thought about creating a NFL-style playbook because we have over 100 corner kicks that we run. It’s a matter of pulling out what corner kick we think can be effective based on how they line up and based on the personnel we have in the game on that day.”
Of course, that attention to detail extends to both sides of the field. Defending Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Luis Robles credits Bertini for the intel that helps him set the Red Bulls’ defense when on opposing dead balls.
“There’s a lot going on in that moment, so if you can already have some of that prep done then you aren’t scrambling to organize your defense, set up your wall and then trying to figure out, ‘Is he going to hit it with his left foot? Is he going to hit it with his right foot?’” Robles explains. “… By having a resource such as Victor you’re able to not only feel confident about your preparation but even more confident about your knowledge in the game.”
The Red Bulls had immediate success under Marsch, going undefeated in their first seven games of 2015, but the start of the 2016 season did not go as smoothly.
New York failed to score in five of their first six games but slowly, confidence seems to be seeping back into a Red Bulls side mentally and physically exhausted.
After back-to-back wins against Orlando City SC and FC Dallas – and more importantly, seven goals in two games to get 2015’s MLS-best attacking rolling again – they finally have some good tape to watch as preparation begins for Friday’s visit to Camping World Stadium (7 pm ET, UniMás).
“A lot of our success has to do with tactics [and] quality, but it also has a lot to do with preparation,” Robles says, “and Victor is a huge part of that.”