When Ali Curtis was hired by the New York Red Bulls to be their sporting director last year, he knew that tough decisions had to be made. One of those decisions, made in January, was that he felt there was a need to change the head coaching position.
It was a far from popular decision, essentially starting a riot and turmoil among the fanbase as an immensely popular and successful head coach was being released just weeks before preseason was to start. But Curtis had in his heart that Jesse Marsch was the right man for the job.
So he endured public outcry and protests and patiently trusted his gut.
Now his gut and his unpopular decision is being rewarded when on Tuesday, the man Curtis selected was named MLS Coach of the Year. Marsch becomes the first man in franchise history, dating back to 1996, to win the award. That is saying something, especially since the list of former coaches to walk the sidelines for this team includes a former World Cup winner at head, three head coaches who have coached the United States national team and another head coach who currently coaches the Finnish national team.
Marsch didn't have any of their resumes, a long-time MLS player who was an assistant national team coach and spent one year as head coach of the Montreal Impact. But he was nothing short of superb this year in his handling of the Red Bulls.
"One of the things you look at is a guy's background: Does he have something to prove? Does he have a chip on his shoulder? So that when he comes in here, he can really kind of hit the pavement running. That was Jesse, when you look at his background, when you look at his coaching background and he had something to prove and he's done that this year," Curtis said on Tuesday.
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"He's also really galvanized this group on the field as well as off the field. It's been great. We've had a great year and Jesse has been a big part of that.
Curtis called Marsch "a good friend, a good colleague and a good leader."
Under Marsch, the Red Bulls captured the Supporters Shield for the league's best record with an 18-10-6 mark, marking the second time in three years that the club has lifted that trophy for the best regular season in the league. What is most impressive is that he did so with the league's lowest payroll and with a team lacking a true, marquee star.
Instead of big bucks and big names, it was his meticulous preparation and a high-press system that has now taken the Red Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals. If they should advance, Marsch's squad will host MLS Cup for the first time ever in franchise history.
It would be just another first in a season full of them. First team to qualify for the playoffs. First place in the Eastern Conference. First place in the league.
Now first ever Coach of the Year in New York history.
"He's a normal, real guy that will put his arm around you and do everything he can for you. I sent a note around to our staff about Jesse being named Coach of the Year saying that he's a special coach and an even better human being," Curtis said. "
I think players are smart and they can see how authentic you are with him. He pays attention to all the little things and he does everything he can for his players."