HARRISON, N.J. — “I’m not answering any questions about Ali and Dax.”
New York Red Bulls head coach, Jesse Marsch, was clear regarding topics that were off limits at Monday’s Media Day at Red Bull Arena. Dax McCarty is the popular Red Bulls captain who was traded to Chicago and Ali Curtis, the club’s former sporting director, who left the club in mysterious fashion.
Though Marsch didn’t want to talk about McCarty and Curtis, he ended up sharing at least some insight into how the Red Bulls will manage without two key figures behind the club’s success in recent years.
“Without Ali being here, there is a lot of shared decision making like there always has been so in that sense, not much has changed,” said Marsch. “In the near future, we’ll announce more on structuring. Right now I’m focusing on Wednesday’s game and the upcoming season.”
As for whether the departures of McCarty and Curtis could serve as a distraction to his team, Marsch downplayed that notion.
“Those are huge talking points on the outside,” Marsch said. “There has been no distraction on the inside.”
On Wednesday, the Red Bulls will host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the quarterfinal stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. Sacha Kljesten will wear the captain’s arm band in place of his former midfield mate, McCarty.
“It wasn’t even a choice,” said Marsch. “Sacha has pretty much served as the vice-captain for two years. It was pretty clear that this guy is our top team leader right now.”
Marsch and Kljesten have a substantial history together. They were teammates for three seasons at the now defunct Chivas USA – and Marsch was an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team under Bob Bradley in Kljesten’s previous incarnation with the full team. Marsch also played under Bradley, a former assistant at D.C. United.
“Jesse was like a coach already when he was playing,” said Kljesten. “He and I have had some talks where he said he studied Bob Bradley a lot when he was a player – on how Bob was always focused in on what each guy needed and that Jesse tried to do that as a player, too. He wants me to take a little bit more of that on.”
“He’s a unique character,” said March. “There is an ease of how he interacts with the others around him.”
“It’s important for me to be aware of seeing how guys are doing,” said the 2016 MLS assist leader. “Sometimes its what’s going on in their personal lives as well. It takes a lot.”
Marsch, the 2015 MLS Coach of the Year, suggested that there will be at least three players who will have advanced leadership responsibilities this season.
“It’s a community effort,” said Marsch. “Luis (Robles) and Brad (Wright-Phillips) will take on big leadership roles and I think there’s room for young players to fill in those roles as well.”
Among those nascent members of the first team are Sean Davis and Tyler Adams – a pair of Red Bull Academy graduates who will be counted on heavily to take over the midfield chores once occupied by McCarty.
“Both Sean and Tyler have earned the right to play in a higher platform,” said Marsch. “Both are poised to have huge seasons.”
Adams suffered an ankle injury with the U.S. Under-20’s in Saturday’s loss to Panama in the CONCACAF qualifiers. Marsch was awaiting the results of an MRI and remained hopeful that Adams would only be sidelined for one or two weeks.
Marsch said he is confident that Mike Grella (knee surgery), Alex Muyl (head injury) and Damien Perrinelle (Visa paperwork) will all be available for Wednesday’s match although admitted that his side needs more time to be sufficiently ready for competition.
“Look, we aren’t totally fit and we aren’t totally sharp,” said Marsch. “We challenged the players to put more into their off-season so that when they came in they would be more physically prepared. For the most part, the guys came in pretty fit.”
Marsch has been impressed with 20-year old Panamanian right back Michael Murillo, and indicated he was hopeful to make one more attacking addition.
“We feel like at the end of all this, the potential for us to have our best roster, our most well-rounded team and the most weapons within our arsenal could be at the highest since I’ve been here,” said Marsch. “And that’s saying something.”