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Red Bulls ready to take new approach as post-Henry era begins

Red Bulls at RBA (USA TODAY Sports)

Photo by Jim O’Connor/USA TODAY Sports


A new era is about to begin for the New York Red Bulls, one that will see the club look much different than it ever has since Red Bull bought the team eight years ago.

For much of the decade, the Red Bulls have been synonymous with spending big. They have splashed cash to bring in big-name veteran stars like Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill, the hope being that they could help the club achieve success both on and off the field.

Results have been mixed, however. New York has struggled to consistently garner attention in the local market and managed to win just one trophy, the 2013 Supporters’ Shield, in recent years. But with Henry’s decision to leave the club, the Red Bulls have the luxury of hitting the reset button going into 2015 and are planning to do so.

The Red Bulls have begun plotting for the future with a game plan that focuses a bit more on the long term. A fresh strategy that may not be as eye-catching as the trademark money-spending ways of years past, but one the club’s current brass believes will help the team be even more competitive on a consistent basis.

The Red Bulls have yet to reveal their plans, but head coach Mike Petke recently hinted at changes being on the horizon.

“I don’t think I’m ready to talk about that right now, but we have a very good plan for the future, and it is going to take understanding from our fan base, understanding from the media perhaps,” said Petke. “We want to build something, I want to build something, and I think that we have a good idea of how to do that.”

What does that idea entail? Sources tell SBI that it will involves changing the club’s long-held philosophy on signing big-name players, and more.

With regards to acquiring another Designated Player, the Red Bulls have stated publicly since the end of the 2013 season that they want to sign a playmaker who comes in at a much younger age, not to mention a much cheaper price, than established veterans like Henry, Cahill or Marquez. Think of a player in the mold of Diego Valeri or Javier Morales, talented but relatively unknown commodities who are capable of being stars and come at a much cheaper price.

Sources tell SBI that part of that strategy is so that the Red Bulls can have a player capable of being the centerpiece of the franchise during the years leading up to and in his prime. The thinking is that if that player succeeds, a decision can be made in the later years of his career whether to keep him around or sell him, possibly for a profit, and start fresh.

Some might argue that this would be a poor approach given that deep-pocketed New York City FC is set to enter the fray and take some of local spotlight next year. But sources have said that the Red Bulls are confident in their plan, especially since they have tried signing established marquee players in the past only to come up short in MLS play.

All this is not to say that the Red Bulls will completely shy away from big-name acquisitions, like an Henry or Cahill, in the future. Not if the right name and pricetag came across the club’s desk. But the team wants to follow the more proven MLS recipe for success and avoid signing only Designated Players in the latter stages of their careers, a move the Red Bulls have done in recent years with little in the way of championships.

The new strategy is why it is likely that New York undergoes a sizable overhaul this winter, a shakeup that had to be expected once it became clear Henry would not be returning. Sources tell SBI the club is preparing to part ways with several veterans, which began late on Tuesday with the announcement of some contract options not being picked up.

Bobby Convey, who has not been seen at the club in some months, was one of those players. Sources have told SBI that Convey, whose locker room has been empty for some time and not been made available to media, is leaning towards retirement after dealing with a problematic health issue since August.

As far as plans for a USL Pro team goes, Red Bulls’ sporting director Andy Roxburgh said in September that the club was skipping launching one for next season after saying early in the year that it intended to have one in 2015.

According to sources, one of the reasons for that decision was not having a grass field capable of providing a true professional experience for younger players – with bleachers for fans, proper lighting, etc. The club also wanted to have the proper setting and atmosphere in place before committing to upstarting a USL Pro side, but that wasn’t possible under the circumstances.

The Red Bulls began exploring options for a USL Pro affiliate – an MLS mandate for clubs without a third-division team of their own – but have yet to announce any plans for that and may be reconsidering what route to take ahead of the 2015 season.

In terms of a potential sale of the Red Bulls, which has been rumored greatly in recent months, sources have told SBI that the club’s ownership is not actively looking to sell the team. It might be sexy to think of the energy drink-sponsored franchise being sold off to a new ownership group, but the Red Bulls have stated publicly that they are committed to the franchise and its supporters.

MLS commissioner Don Garber expressed his confidence in the commitment of Red Bull during his State of the League address on Tuesday.

“The Red Bulls are committed to Major League Soccer. How this discussion got out that they weren’t, I don’t understand,” said Garber. “I was out in Austria recently, I met with (Red Bull owner) Dietrich Mateschitz, as we met in the past.

“How anybody can question the commitment that this team has, they’ve spent more than any other club. They’ve built and privately financed the most expensive stadium in Major League Soccer, they compete in a market where the cost of operating from a marketing perspective and a staffing perspective are more than any other club, and they have invested more by significant percentages than any other club in Major League Soccer.”

Red Bull has continued to invest, and the club’s recent decision to fund a multi-million dollar expansion of their training facility in New Jersey suggests the ownership remains committed to the club.

What does appear ready to change though is how the club spends its resources on building the roster. With Henry gone, and Cahill not guaranteed to return, the Red Bulls appear ready to usher in a new era where building a balanced team, rather than showcasing big-money stars, is the priority.


  1. Sadly, with the exception of a couple of “sources tell SBI” items, this article is mostly old news and/or speculation. Spending on a promising young player is not the same as going low-budget, nor is it inconsistent with qlso spending on an established DP. Until and unless RBNY makes some moves, or announces in clear terms that they’re going in a very different direction, we’re just talking to ourselves here.

    • I hope you’re right but I think Mike’s statement that the fans need patience and understanding is pretty scary for fans of this team. It’s pretty clear that this ownership group is in pure cheap out mode, to which I say please sell ASAP to someone serious about running this team. NYCFC signs Lampard and Villa and we sign the possible future Morales and Valeri hopefully maybe?

      • Completely agree that Petke’s comments are ominous. Also hoping that they do not signal a 100% shift to youngsters and away from big-ticket DPs. Can’t we have a little of both?

      • At this point, you can only have three DPs so why not go all out and sign three good DPs? Then if you want to fill in the rest of the roster with a lot of homegrown players, that’s great as long as you have a system that is capable of producing them.

        I’d love to root for a bunch of Jersey guys developed in the Red Bull academy – but only if they are good. I don’t want a cheap substandard team out there. If I wanted that I’d become a DC United fan or something.

  2. So the arrival of NYCFC frees RBNY to act like the small market team they always wanted to be. I hope I am wrong but the new era that’s about to begin seems like it’s going to be very disappointing for supporters of the Red and White.

  3. RBNY has historically only spent money on things that go on inside their stadium.
    Excellent stadium, multiple DPs but absolutely zero interest in marketing the team.
    They spend less on advertising than any local lawyer or dermatologist. Few know they exist

    So now what’s the deal? No more DPs and STILL no marketing?

    Part of me thinks they just want to make whatever money and profile they can by letting NYC do all the marketing – a rising tide lifts all boats. Yet they still seem to have a hair-trigger itchiness to fire any coach who doesn’t win immediately (Petke almost got the axe this summer)

    Austrians are odd people, no?

    • “RBNY has historically only spent money on things that go on inside their stadium.”

      RBNY went all out in the early days after they bought the franchise. Billboards in Times Square…

      • Not now, but in the EARLY days. Shoot they had Shakira play when they played their first game as Red Bull in 2006 in Giants stadium. It was enough to draw a crowd of like 30k or something. But when you fit 30k in a 80k stadium, it’s like 5k at Red Bull arena. Not impressive in the end. Red Bull saw that after the first year and started to draw back on their marketing strategy to a point where they just rely on Facebook and other online media like emails and twitters.

  4. they are going to be so bad. lol

    we need understanding from the media. Basically, don’t call us out when we win 2 games because our owners got the cheaps.

  5. Disagree completely with “expansion geek” – As much as MLS and the USMNT are sometimes at odds, this is absolutely the right time in the World Cup cycle to rebuild. More importantly, a grass-roots rebuild with locally grown talent might finally bring fruition. I think Seattle is very happy with the development of Jordan Morris, and he’s going to be their star in 3.5 years. DeAndre Yedlin is nothing to sneeze at either, and he came up through their Academy. We should be dumping a ton of money into our training and development, too.

    …and if NYCFC wants to pretend that they are the 1980’s Yankees, go for it, but it should be noted that they didn’t win Championships again until they developed their farm system…

      • I think there has to be a difference between calling a team “low budget” and “low salaries”. I think they should spend like crazy on development. There is nobody out there that can replace Henry, so why try to do that? Getting Henry was a perfect storm in his career at that time, but there isn’t anyone that I can think of that is similarly situated now.

        So, I’d rather see us develop stars rather than ones that are fading.

        That being said – Mix D at the right price would be pretty cool…

      • I can’t believe some people fall for this. This is 100 percent about the team cheaping out and saving money. If they are so committed to youth development, why aren’t they fielding a USL Pro team so academy products like Miazga or Armando Moreno have somewhere to develop between the academy and first team?

        This team has been plenty the past five years – five trips to the playoffs and the Supporters Shield. LA Galaxy have a lot of DPs and look at all the trophies they’ve won.

        There are plenty of guys who can replace Henry – literally dozens playing in Europe right now. But they are going to be expensive. Instead, RBNY will just peddle some garbage about youth teams etc., put out a garbage product and urge patience. Get your wallets out Austria!!

      • Thierry Henry is class. It’s still very hard to find anyone of his calibre who will take the league seriously (a necessity to a successful MLS career), and has that level of class.

  6. Red Bulls should go after Tim Ream and Mix Diskerud. They need a centerback and a playmaker now that Henry has moved on. Mix could play centrally in front of McCarty and Alexander. Why not spend some dosh on American players?

    Will BWP continue his scoring without Henry’s service?

    • Nice idea, but good luck getting either of them to pass successully through the Don Garber double-secret probation allocation machine for MNT players.

    • Diskerud has always seemed to me to be a player who struggles if the play gets physical. To the extent I am right, MLS would either toughen him or he would flounder.

    • It’s not a bad idea. Clearly, NYRB are looking for some solution that involves them avoiding an arms race with NYCFC, because right now it would appear that NYCFC are more than happy to lose money while they build their brand. There aren’t a whole lot of talented guys abroad to choose from right now, but players with some USMNT appeal would be a good way to placate the fan base without spending $7 million in salary.

      Mix, in particular, seems like a good choice. I think they could also use Ream, but I’d be reluctant to spend a DP spot on him, which might be necessary depending on his current wage situation and market value abroad.

  7. The problem is that there is no future after Henry or in red bull life. I feel so bad for red bull fans because we all know for a fact if they were to rebrand, they would have more fans and they wouldn’t struggle that much in the jersey- New York area.
    There is no future, red bull owners won’t open their wallet and something tells me red bull wants to be like RSL in New York, but we are talking about New York and everything in New York has to be top level.
    Why not go after drogba, sneijder, and top center defender and boom, u have a team.
    It’s New York, look what happen to chivas USA and nycfc all they need is a stadium and red bull might be off the radar.
    By any chance, does anyone know if red bull has a contract with league or they are actually in for a good time. Hopefully there’s a clause that makes them rebrand after years of being in MLS.

      • They were mostly mediocre with Henry so I doubt they will be significantly different without him. It will be interesting to see if they can compete with NYFC or just kind of fade away.

      • Every team in MLS is mostly mediocre, so they could very well remain in the top half, and therefore the playoffs. But the past few seasons they have been solidly among the top few teams in the league. Last year they were the best over the season. They were 1 goal from the MLS final this week, and have recently been dictating play against good teams. They have a fairly deep team, a good midfield, and living in NYC will always attract players. Henry is gone to history, (“pour l’éternité” as l’Equipe put it), but metro will be fine.

      • Made the playoffs all five years he was with the club and won the Supporters Shield. I wouldn’t say that’s mediocre.

      • You either are on a steady diet of crack cocaine or you failed every math course you have ever taken. Fade away? You are as misguided and misinformed as Expansion geek.

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