HANOVER, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls held two meetings over the last two days, each distinctly different.
On Thursday, Jesse Marsch addressed the team he coached for the last three-and-a-half years for the last time before he left to “pursue other opportunities,” reportedly either as an interim coach or assistant at Red Bull Leipzig. Marsch fully endorsed Chris Armas as his successor in that meeting, which Red Bulls veteran players called emotional.
“Like Jesse would, he only gave the biggest hug, biggest support,” Armas said. “We were both emotional about the whole thing. It’s an incredible moment for each of us. It’s hard for me to be excited for my own thing because I’m excited for him and how he’s feeling. It’s like my brother.”
And then Friday, it was Armas’ turn to speak to the team for the first time as head coach. He told the players about paying attention to details, about how he’s worked hard and found the winner inside throughout his career — and expects the same of his team.
Red Bulls captain Luis Robles could already notice the change in Armas’ demeanor.
“Today in the classroom, it wasn’t a supporting role. It was the guy leading everything, and something about it felt organic, felt natural,” Robles said. “I know throughout the process he’s only going to get better, only going to find his way and refine his vernacular, if you will. It’s going to be great.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in our locker room, and I’m speaking as candidly as possible, that doesn’t believe Chris Armas is the right man for the job and that with our current group and the belief that we have, which is so high, it’s just another part of our story.”
Robles called the change at the helm “bittersweet,” an excitement for Marsch to pursue a dream of his to coach in Europe mixed with a sadness that his journey with the Red Bulls is over.
“When you think about what Jesse has meant to this organization and what he’s meant to me personally, it’s tough to lose a guy like that,” Robles said. “Yet, at the same time, what he’s doing is incredible for not only himself but soccer in America.”
Understandably, Robles said he’s heard the chatter about Marsch’s likely move to Leipzig, which has been rumored for months. He said at the beginning of the summer Marsch told the team there was a “99 percent chance” he’d stay with the Red Bulls.
“Yet there is a one percent chance [he’d leave], and he was very forthcoming about that, and I appreciate that as a player because he wasn’t sidestepping it at all,” Robles said, praising Marsch’s ability to compartmentalize and not allow his ambitions to distract from his job.
While the transition is relatively seamless because the Red Bulls system will not change, Marsch and Armas do have distinctly different personalities, while both being extremely competitive.
“They’re both very good, but Chris’ way is more relaxed,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “We all know Jesse. Jesse is intense, and that gets the best out of us. You know going into any match with him, it’s going to be intense. But Chris gives you the other side, where he’s relaxed. You go in feeling calm. Your job is clear, and you know what kind of man he is. That’s the effect he has on the players.”