Jesse Marsch: Red Bulls "at the forefront" of player development in the US

HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls haven’t won an MLS Cup title, or a U.S. Open Cup crown for that matter. And they aren’t currently atop the Supporters Shield standings. 

But Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch has no doubt about where his club stands in terms of developing players.

“We are at the forefront of player development in this country,” Marsch said following his club’s 4-0 win over New York City FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night. “There’s no question, there's no question that's where we sit.”

The proof is in the results and Wednesday’s match was just another example. With their opening USOC match coming in the middle of fixture congestion that includes a huge league tilt at Columbus on Saturday (5 pm ET | ESPN - full TV & streaming info), Marsch went with about four regular starters to take on NYCFC. 

In his starting XI were a pair of debutants in defense – outside back Ethan Kutler and center back Hassan Ndam. They were two of six players in the starting lineup to have featured for Red Bulls II this season and among eight who have made the jump from the USL side over the last two seasons.

“I don't know if I should even say this, but sometimes I call it brainwashing, because when you come here, you have to believe that this is the way to play the game, you have to,” Marsch said. “If you have any doubts or you want to pass the ball around and you want to think all about possessions, this is not your place and it won't work. You have to buy into who we are and how we do things, and if you do, you are rewarded.”

Kutler and Ndam are just the two latest examples. Goalkeeper Ryan Meara said there were no awkward moments in the back because he was comfortable with the duo.

“That’s one of the great things about this organization. We’ve all played together before, whether it’s Red Bulls II. They’re always up training with us,” Meara said. “I’ve played with them a handful of time, even in the last couple of months I’ve played a couple of games with them. We’re all familiar. When we do all come together it doesn’t matter who is on the field, there’s definitely a familiarity there.”

The Red Bull way of playing is etched into the mentality of players from the academy up to the first team. Every team looks and plays the same. It helps a seamless integration into the higher levels. 

“I think to be able to step in with the first team and be able to know exactly what your role is kind of simplifies what you need to do on the day,” Meara said. “I think it’s a credit to Jesse and the whole organization. Anytime guys seem to come up from Red Bull II they do great.”

Vincent Bezecourt is another example. He said he took him time to get the tactics down, but once he got comfortable in the system, he’s been able to flourish and on Wednesday he struck for his first professional goal with the first team.

“When you get in, you have to follow all the tactics and be on point,” he said. “When I first got here, I think it was three years ago, it took me a little while to understand the tactics. But now I think everyone in the first team roster and the second team roster knows what to do and even in the academy.”

While the Red Bulls are able to fully take advance of that mechanism to give young players needed game experience, it is something sorely lacking for their rivals in NYCFC. 

On Wednesday, NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira had Jonathan Lewis and Homegrowns James Sands and Joe Scally on the field together for the final 14 minutes of their loss. 

While Vieira calls Scally “the future of this club,” there is no USL team at the moment for players like him, Lewis, Sands, even veterans like Tommy McNamara to stay game fit. 

“It’s really difficult when you don’t have a second team that would allow them to play every week because with my experience, you can train well every single day, but the reality is you need games and you need proper games,” Vieira said. “When you look at the Red Bulls and the number of players coming through their academy, you’re not surprised because they have a challenging game every week that allows them to improve. Until we have that, it will be difficult for us to improve those young players we have in our squad.”

However, Vieira also noted that establishing an NYCFC second team is currently behind the club’s long search for a stadium.

“I think our priority now is to have a stadium and like you know when you have a stadium in one of the five boroughs, this has a cost as well,” Vieira said. “I think we have to go step by step. We know what we need to improve and we’re going to do it.”