HARRISON, N.J. — This year the New York Red Bulls will feature a young squad, which is something that head coach Jesse Marsch wants to see more MLS teams emulate, particularly when it comes to young domestic players.
On Thursday night in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 vs. Olimpia (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes Network, go90.com), the Red Bulls will likely feature at least four American players under 25 in their starting XI, three of whom came up through their academy system.
In a new era of more money being invested into rosters and a higher pedigree of international players being lured to MLS, Marsch is convinced in the value of playing young talent, in particular from an academy where players are taught how to press and counter-press before being integrated into their USL squad and then finally into the senior team.
Marsch is hoping that other teams feel equally compelled to go with young talent for the good of the league and the game.
“In the current US climate, I think developing young American talent is more vital than ever,” the Red Bulls coach said on Tuesday. “That being said, there are countless people in this country, putting their best foot forward in this manner. To just talk about Red Bull would be totally unfair.
“But now if you apply it on how to get some of those grassroots movements into being big-time players, it requires professional clubs who are ready and willing to play young players.”
Marsch wants to see other clubs follow through with their own youth development plans.
“I think what we’re doing here at Red Bull, yes, is very important to football in our country. It’s what we believe, it’s who we are," Marsch continued. "It benefits our style of play. It also is a benefit that we have a great academy. Nonetheless, it is really important that we have coaches in MLS who are willing to play young players.
"We need to find a way to incentivize academies, homegrown players, youth development, selling of young players – whatever it might be, so that teams are actually committed to playing young players. Not just hoping that they’ll play young players and have good academies, but actually doing it because they’ll be rewarded.”
This past year saw more Homegrown players integrated into MLS squads and more minutes doled out to Homegrown players than at any other time in league history.
Real Salt Lake topped the list of clubs that in 2017 gave the most minutes to players under the age of 21. Coming in at third on the list were the Red Bulls, which was once an organization that for years relied on signing marquee stars and veteran internationals. But each year during Marsch's tenure the Red Bulls have gotten younger, promoting talent from their academy and USL sides, all while maintaining their status as a playoff team.
And after an offseason during which the team splashed cash on Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra, Marsch says that he is “more optimistic sitting here right as coach of this team that we can be champions than I’ve ever been.” If RBNY do hoist the MLS Cup, they could feature the youngest starting XI in league history to ever win a trophy.
“I don’t want this to be taken as a massive talking point,” he said. “I think it’s great that we have some good foreign coaches in this league and that they bring something new. But I think that it’s important for everyone to understand, that given the climate of where we are with US Soccer, developing the American player is important – is massively important.”
“If we have coaches that don’t value that, we’re going to jeopardize the future of where we are with US Soccer. This is a responsibility, this is a responsibility as a professional coach to commit yourself to the young American players. It’s a responsibility we all should have.”