HANOVER, N.J. -- It is 'Tournament Day' with the New York Red Bulls, the best day (or perhaps the worst depending on who you're talking to) on the team's training schedule. It is a day where teammates may not talk to each other following training, where assistant coaches are vilified. And where no one wants to lose, even if it means they're limping off of the practice field.
The concept is simple but the fallout is anything but. 'Tournament Day' doesn't happen every week but often where there is an opening in the training schedule. The coaching staff splits the squad into four small-sided teams that will play three matches, so each team plays the other ones once, on condensed fields. The matches are 12 minutes long and then the teams rotate in round robin style.
There is one interesting twist, however: Jesse Marsch, the Red Bulls head coach, keeps track of where each player's squad finishes, first through fourth. And there is a season long tally in his office for bragging rights. No one wants to be the player at or near the bottom of the final 'Tournament Day' rankings. This leads to a certain level of intensity on the practice field.
And more than enough hand-wringing off of it.
The assistant coaches serve as referees and linesmen in the matches, calling offsides and fouls, hand balls and penalties. Judging whether a ball goes across the line or not led to one assistant coach hearing a handful from a couple of players a few weeks ago. The accusations fell just short of corruption and collusion and while player and an assistant walked off the field smiling with each other, another 'Tournament Day' is surely around the corner. And with it comes more drama and appeals.
Or as midfielder and captain Dax McCarty puts it, "A frustrating day for a lot of people.
"It's tough, it's aggressive. it's for pride. Obviously as professional athletes, we all have a lot of pride, don't want to lose. A lot of controversial calls made by our questionable referees, AKA the assistant coaches," McCarty said. "But there's only one winner at the end. It's certainly an interesting day that riles a lot of people up. But it's all good, it's competitive and we want it to be competitive because that's the kind of team we are."
The idea for 'Tournament Day' came from when Marsch was at Chivas USA and Preki was the head coach. Preki learned it from his playing days under Kansas City head coach Bob Gansler.
"I joke around because often those days are bloodbaths," Marsch said. "What it does more than anything is cultivate a competitive spirit. We just basically split up teams,
"It's not a coaching day, it's not a concept day, it's not a tactical day. It's which team wants it more."
Marsch said they try to make the teams as balanced as they can. According to his tally, the top two players with the best record on 'Tournament Day' throughout the season are midfielder Sacha Kljestan and defender Roy Miller.
"I do think that's been an important part of our process of becoming good competitors," Marsch said. "And this team trains hard, really hard. And that's exemplified every 'Tournament Day'."
The Red Bulls are a notoriously fit team, something they have to be given their high press style. This system requires New York to do a lot of hard work and running so fitness is paramount to its success, as is a fighting spirit.
In other words,'Tournament Day' is the perfect blend for what Marsch wants from his teams.
"I've done tournaments but this one where you keep where you finish is different," midfielder Lloyd Sam told Metro.
"It makes it more intense to win and see where you're going to be. I wouldn't say it is fun, it makes it more intense. You want to win and see where you're going to be. I wouldn't say it's fun. There's always someone who has to lose. If you lose, you're pissed off."