HANOVER, N.J. – The last time that the New York Red Bulls as a team heard from their head coach was last Sunday, when he was seen running off the field with just moments left in a 2-0 win at the Philadelphia Union. But while his presence is missing at the team’s training this week, Marsch’s stamp is all over the gameplan for what might be one of their biggest matches of the year.
And rest assured that assistant coach Chris Armas is still having his daily, hour-long calls with Marsch on the ride in to work.
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Marsch is in Poland working on his UEFA license and is expected to return to the Red Bulls on Friday, a day before his team hosts New York City F.C. in one of MLS’ most hyped rivalries. Armas, as he had to do earlier this year under similar circumstances when Marsch was in Scotland doing coursework for the license, is running training. It may be hard to believe but it really feels like business as usual, this despite the fact that the Red Bulls head coach is in a foreign country for nearly the entire week leading up to a nationally televised game.
Speak to Armas, and he says his role is really no different. He’s just a piece to the puzzle of getting three points on Saturday.
A former star player in MLS and a stalwart with the United States national team, Armas already has a prominent role on the coaching staff. He is the one who runs the daily video session reviewing opponents and tendencies; Armas has a prominent role in the tactical application of the training sessions from film work to the field.
The transition to this more prominent role in the build-up to a derby match is no different. As Armas said this week: “Jesse has said it many times – they know if you know.”
In other words, he’s got clout in running training this week with his boss out because, over time, his knowledge and insight has won the respect of the locker room. The team knows that he knows his stuff and everything else just follows suit.
“Once again, going into this week like last time, there’s discussions with Jesse in how we want this eek to play out, what to emphasize in training and some of the messaging. I’m carrying on Jesse’s message in many ways. I feel a big part of this team here, mainly because of the voice Jesse gives me. What the reception I get from the guys, whether Jesse is here or not, it seems like a mutual respect,” Armas said.
“I think they see how much they mean to me as one of their coaches…and I think they know what they mean to me – you get the point. I think each of us knows why I’m here and what my goal is and how I try to contribute every day to get this team moving forward.”
Marsch, as he typically does every week, had the training sessions for the upcoming week laid out well before his team even stepped on the field to beat the Union. Look at Marsch’s hands following a practice and there is a laminated spreadsheet with color codes in his grip.
The sessions are painstakingly laid out, nearly to the minute. On Wednesday and Thursday, Armas held that same masterplan during small-sided games and shooting drills. It is the exact session that Marsch had finalized last weekend, the same itinerary and schedule as if he was present.
The only difference is that Armas is yelling out thoughts and perspectives while Marsch is in Poland. The week has gone according to plan, per another member of the coaching staff.
“Yea sure, definitely. Just one pair of eyes less. We work as we would if he were here. The players responded in a way, we did the video this morning in a way that is always very well done from Chris and the crew,” assistant coach Bradley Carnell said. “It’s just a normal week, we’ll give a report back to Jesse and hopefully we’ll give a good result to him when he returns back on Friday.”
The coaching staff will give a report to Marsch following practice, something he can read before what is just about bed time in Eastern Europe.
This is nothing new for Armas, who actually coached the team a week ago in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, a 1-0 win over the team that the Red Bulls ironically will host this Saturday. Marsch was suspended that game for an incident in last year’s Open Cup and he watched from the sixth floor of Red Bull Arena as Armas implemented his gameplan.
Following that match, Armas jokingly called Marsch a “Mad Man” and relayed an interesting nugget about their morning commute.
Every morning in his drive from Princeton, N.J., Marsch calls Armas who in turn is making his way to north Jersey from Long Island. It may be opposite directions but they both have a similar commute in terms of length.
Marsch and Armas, both teammates with the Chicago Fire, spend the time talking about the upcoming practice, the opponent that week and other team-related topics.
Turns out Armas can’t escape the routine, even with his boss an ocean and a continent away.
The daily commute for Armas from Long Island starts at 6:30 A.M. which just so happens to be lunch time for the UEFA license attendees. So while Marsch is scarfing down pierogis, Armas is still having conversations with the Red Bulls head coach.
An ocean away, but not really.
- Forward Mike Grella (knee) has not trained this week but left back Connor Lade was back in practice and looked very sharp.
“No updates with Mike. I know he’s been to a doctor and they’re talking about having to shut him down. I don’t know the final decision,” Armas said.
“Connor, seems like he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s one of those guys if something is bothering him and he can’t be out here, something is going on. And if he can be out here, he’s all in.”
- Arun Basuljevic played a heavy role in the Red Bulls Thursday session, the 21-year old midfielder has yet to play for the MLS side but has starred for the USL squad this year. Basuljevic lined up in the center of the midfield for what was essentially the scout team, a mixture of reserve and bench players, who scrimmaged the starters and tried to give a look into N.Y.C. F.C.’s shape and style ahead of Saturday’s match.
“When we try to draw it up, he’s one of the guys that is good on the ball. He understands what we’re trying to bring to life,” Armas said. “You look at a lot of those guys with the USL, he’s one of them. Being with the first team, it’s not the first time; he’s done well. Good to have him part of the group.”
Basuljevic is among the league leaders in the USL in passing completion percentage, an impressive stat considering this is his first year of professional soccer.