Former New York sporting director Ali Curtis couldn’t provide many details about his departure from the Red Bulls on Thursday, largely sticking to the tone of his statement in the club’s announcement that he and the team had mutually agreed to part ways.
Speaking to MLSsoccer.com, Curtis said that his departure was not a firing by New York, who he’d led since December 2014.
“There’s not a whole lot of detail I can provide or that I can get into,” he said. “We did spend the last three, four weeks trying to figure out a path moving forward. I had some views, the club had some different views and we felt that this was the right conclusion. I’m looking forward, honestly I’m looking forward to what’s next. I’ve got a lot of energy, I’m an optimistic type of guy and I’m excited about the next opportunity.”
The Red Bulls were largely successful during Curtis’ tenure. His stint began controversially, as the Red Bulls caused an uproar among their supporters by firing Mike Petke shortly after Curtis was hired. He replaced the popular former Red Bull defender with Jesse Marsch, hiring him as head coach in January 2015. The pair had immediate success, leading the Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield in 2015 and the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference in 2016, as well as earning a berth in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Vancouver that will begin next Wednesday.
Things first became bumpy in January during the MLS Combine in Southern California. Curtis unexpectedly left Los Angeles during the Combine and ahead of the SuperDraft, returning to New York just as Marsch was arriving in Southern California. Marsch missed the start of Combine/SuperDraft week while in Europe meeting with Red Bull executives, a trip that MLSsoccer.com reported included talks for Marsch to be head coach of the organization’s Austrian club, Red Bull Salzburg.
Curtis said that he left LA to begin the process of working through the “differing views” the club referenced in their press release announcing his departure on Thursday morning. He didn’t travel with the Red Bulls to Arizona or California for any of their preseason trips, a departure from the previous two preseasons, when he did travel with the team.
It was reported on Jan. 31 by Metro’s Kristian Dyer that Curtis was no longer acting as New York’s sporting director, despite still holding the title, and that assistant coach Denis Hamlett had taken over as point person in the Red Bulls’ personnel department.
Asked about that and other reports on Thursday, Curtis simply said that he remained sporting director of the club until Wednesday night, when he and the team finalized their decision to part ways. He said he could not go into specifics about whether the discussions of the last four weeks were with Red Bull Global head of soccer Oliver Mintzlaff, Marsch or anyone else. When asked, he did not indicate whether or not he received a settlement from the Red Bull organization.
“I can’t go into detail in terms of what the different perspectives were, who were the different perspectives were with, or those types of things,” he said. “What I will say is that I have heard in various articles, you know journalists speculating what the different views were and who they’re with, and from my perspective the vast majority of all those articles that I’ve read are false. Not really to go into detail in terms of what was written, but I will say that my time at the club I had a chance to work with some really, really good people, staff and players and I wish them all the best moving forward.”
The Red Bulls were active in the period that Curtis and the club were trying to sort through their differences, notably trading midfielder and captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $400,000 in General Allocation Money on Jan. 16.
McCarty has been outspoken about the trade since arriving in Chicago following the conclusion of the US national team’s January camp, criticizing Marsch for how he handled the deal and saying that he didn’t think Curtis “had anything to do with the decision.”
“It’s clear for everyone to see that [Curtis is] no longer a part of the decision-making process going on at the Red Bulls, which is a little surprising to me consider he put together two years of one of the best teams in MLS that won the Supporters’ Shield and won an Eastern Conference,” McCarty told reporters on a conference call earlier this month.
On Thursday, Curtis declined to comment about whether or not he was involved with the decision to send McCarty to the Fire.
“I don’t think that’s for me to comment on. I think you’ve probably got to talk to the folks at Red Bull,” he said. “I think highly of Dax as a player and a person. I did get a chance, I did read the article so I saw his quote, but I don’t want to comment on that. What I will say is I’ll probably give Dax a call at some point just to say hello just because when you work with people you develop personal and professional relationships and I’d like to keep that going with Dax.”
The 38-year-old Curtis, who worked in the MLS player department for years before taking the Red Bulls job, is respected around the league and will be a likely candidate for future GM jobs if he chooses to wait for any to open. For now, he plans to stay in the New York area, where his six-year-old and two-year-old children were born and where his wife works as an executive for Creative Artists Agency.
“I think it’s important that I do take a step back and kind of dissect and analyze what I want, what’s out there and then kind of make a decision that’s in my best interest and my family’s best interest moving forward,” he said. “I don’t know how long that will take. If it’ll take seven days, seven months or a year, I’m not sure, but I’m going to go out in the marketplace and listen and have conversations and talk to relationships that I’ve had for 10 to 15 years and go from there.
“I will say that I’m going to take every experience and every memory that I’ve had, and once I do arrive at what’s next, I’m going to attack that opportunity with a tremendous amount of energy and be aggressive in it.”