HANOVER, N.J. – It may have been a day before their Sunday evening match against the LA Galaxy, but the New York Red Bulls knew and were aware of what was going on in Germany’s top division. Despite a disheartening 5-4 loss to Bayern Munich, it was a big day for sister club Red Bull Leipzig as they clinched second place in the Bundesliga.
It has been a whirlwind season for the Bundesliga debutants.
They qualified for the UEFA Champions League a week ago and now finished in second behind the Bavarian giants, a remarkable season in and of itself.
The fact that it is their first season in Germany’s top flite makes this story a phenomenal one. German soccer has never seen anything quite like this.
Last year, Leipzig won promotion to the top-tier in Germany, using a young squad to battle through the second division. Expectations were low for this team as they often are for recently promoted clubs, and this one was filled with young players and very few, if any, big names. This year’s success wasn’t expected but their style and tempo took the league by storm.
That should sound reminiscent of the New York club and their success over the past two years, having taken consecutive Eastern Conference titles.
Head coach Jesse Marsch has utilized much of the blueprint being implemented in Leipzig as well as Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. There’s a heavy emphasis on the academy system and the reliance on young players. They used a high-press system and simply ran teams into the ground.
“I think what they’ve accomplished in their first year in the Bundesliga - their record and their amount of points are more than any team that’s been promoted. They went an eight-game stretch without a loss which is another record for a team that’s been promoted,” Marsch told Metro on Saturday. “What is even better is the way they played, the style they play and how they’ve built this from the fourth division is quite impressive to see. I’ve been lucky to be on the inside for a lot of the moments with this team.”
All of which makes Sunday’s match a most intriguing one.
In years past, the Red Bulls loved to splash the cash. The soccer team backed up by the billions from their namesake energy drink has been enamored with pursuing legends. They signed marquee names, some of which worked out like a Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry. Other purchases didn’t have a great impact (Rafa Marquez anyone?) and fizzled like taurine and carbonated water.
In the Galaxy, there is a foil opponent. While the Red Bulls have gone with a youth movement, the Galaxy is leaning on its own impressive academy, but still, are making it rain in the transfer market.
Last year they signed Giovani dos Santos from the Mexican national team to a mega deal. They also have brought in Jermaine Jones, a fixture for the United States in the last two World Cups. Inevitably, they are linked with more big signings this summer.
So while Red Bull has gone the route of eschewing big names and veterans, the Galaxy still seem enamored with bringing stars to Hollywood.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if LA makes a big splash with a signing or two this window. So I think they’re still following a lot of the model that they’ve followed for years. Clearly, there’s been a shift here the past few years to be more about the style of play and the overall group,” Marsch said. “But I still think it’s a marquee matchup in terms of two clubs who have been in the league from the beginning, the two biggest cities, the biggest media markets and there is a lot of energy. It always seems to be on national television with a big crowd and wind up being a very good match.”
-Gideon Baah continues to make progress from last year’s broken leg that ended his season last summer. On Saturday despite the rain, Baah was out doing individual work with the training staff.
While he has a season-ending designation and can’t play in MLS this year, it appears that at some point Baah might just suit up for the reserve team in the USL.
“At some point yes, we think [so],” Marsch said about Baah playing in the USL. “He’s out in some of our exercises now in training but he’s still quite a way from being 100 percent. But we’re happy with his progress and we’re excited to see it.”
-Mike Grella’s knee injury suffered in early March is progressing well. He’s seen time in recent matches and could be an option to start this Sunday as his fitness continues to improve.
“We’re going to have a final discussion today after training to stipulate how much time we think he’ll be available for,” Marsch said. “But he’s really close to being available from the start so we’re really excited for that.”
As for central defender Aurélien Collin, his recent injury is coming along. The influential centerback is “real close” to returning to the field according to Marsch.
-Right back Michael Amir Murillo has two starts in the past two games and has shown plenty of promise and upside. His trajectory has similarities to left back Kemar Lawrence, who won his starting spot two years ago rather early on in the season.
If the Red Bulls can get similar production from Murillo as from Lawrence, a Jamaican international, then they will have solidified their outside back positions with some real quality.
“When we got Amir, our thought process was ‘Can we find another guy like Kemar?’ They have different personalities but I think it’s taken Amir a little bit longer to establish himself with the group,” Marsch said. “I’m pleased with the progression that we built in for him so that when he played, he was ready to perform.”