This time the fans listened.
That was all Red Bulls management wanted in January when the decision was made to change the philosophy of the team and, subsequently, the head coach. But coming on the heels of two of the best years in the franchise’s meager history, the message was blurred by the anger of a frustrated fan base.
Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena, in the second town hall meeting with a select group of season-ticket holders, the message was repeated. Only this time it was backed up by eight months of hard work, a comprehensive long-range plan and a winning team that has invigorated those same fans.
“There’s now a body of work for them to understand that the things that we talked about we’re actually working on and putting into place,” coach Jesse Marsch said. “There’s an appreciation for that. We talked about young players, we talked about structure in the organization, we talked about there being continuity throughout, and that’s been exercised. Again, there’s so much more to go but the building blocks are starting to be put in place.
“I can imagine the frustration they’ve been through. The team’s had so many ups and downs, there’s been so many changes, people trying to put a finger on what the identity of the team and the club is, and over the years that has been hard to do. That’s the reality, and that’s why we felt that this is what we believe in general, and especially in a place like this we felt it was incredibly important to create something that had meaning and had identity and direction and cohesiveness.”
Marsch, along with general manager Marc de Grandpre, sporting director Ali Curtis and team captain Dax McCarty answered approximately 30 questions ranging from player contracts, to allocation money, to the development of academy players and the relationship of the club with other Red Bull clubs throughout the world, to fan concerns about stadium and security issues, to extending the South Ward, and kit sales.
Judging by the standing ovation the group received when they came out, to another standing cheer when the session ended, this town hall meeting was clearly more productive than the first one.
“Winning cures all ills,” said Timothy Hall, 33, a 10-year season-ticket holder from Newark. “The one thing that we’ve always said to people that were concerned with attendance issues is how do you get people in? It is more fireworks nights, is it t-shirt giveaways? It’s winning. You saw it two years ago with the Supporters’ Shield. It’s winning.
“When you get a team that goes out and beats (New York) City and beats D.C. (United), people are going to be a lot happier. You get more people here to ask more positive questions. It’s as easy as putting a win on the board.”
Well, maybe not that easy. A lot has gone on between the hiring of Curtis and Marsch and where the Red Bulls are today, second place in the Eastern Conference and in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. There was no yelling or screaming or cursing Wednesday night, and only a couple of uneasy moments that were quickly dispelled. All in all, it went as well as you could have hoped from a Red Bulls perspective.
“It was good. We were prepared for whatever they would throw at us,” de Grandpre said. “We’ve made progress, we’re not done yet, as we’ve all stated. But what I’m glad to see is the fans, the supporters, are seeing the progress, respecting it and appreciating it, and all the credit goes to Ali and Jesse and our front office for sticking to the plan and getting it done.
“As we see the season unfold it’s only going to get better. It’s about a long-term plan and being consistent. No more in and out, in and out. These guys are here and we’re going to make sure we succeed.”
And that’s all the fans wanted. It was just forgotten for a moment with all the anger of the coaching change.
“Angry people don’t like to listen to anything, so no surprise there,” said Larisa Perino, 35, a five-year season-ticket holder from Hawthorne. “At the time, everything that was being said was promises, and now everything that’s being said is ‘Look at what we did.’ That’s always going to have a different result. There’s evidence they can show all of those things they said they wanted to do they actually did follow through on to whatever extent they could. It makes a big difference.
“The programs they’ve put into place we’re really happy about, but a lot of them haven’t been flushed out yet. We want to see continued movement, not this is the best we can do.”
T.J. Peterson, 22, of Manhattan, decided to purchase season tickets this season. He had been to games in previous years and said he was impressed with the way the team played and wanted to see them every week.
“I thought a lot of the time they were forthcoming,” he said. “I was especially impressed how Jesse was able to answer all of the questions in a way that got to the meat of the question while also engaging a deeper thought he has on the subject, and you can clearly tell he has a lot of things in motion with the team. There’s things he’s working on for tomorrow and there’s things he’s working on two, three years down the road. I was really impressed with his answers.”
Curtis received much of the heat in January and he understood it, but early success, a long-range plan and a winning club has turned around much of the fan base. Still, he is happy the supporters are that passionate.
“The players have done an awesome job, Jesse’s done a really good job, the fans appreciate all the guys going out on the field and working their tails off, fighting for every ball and trying to win games, whether that’s home or away, and I think they appreciate the effort and style of play in everything we’re trying to do,” he said.
“The cool thing about this club is we’ve got a very passionate fan base. It’s awesome. It was a difficult first town hall, understandably, this one the tone was a lot different. But we’ve got great fans and we’ve had a good season so far, but there’s been a lot of other things that are really cool that have been happening that have not just been the wins and the good results with the first team.
“It’s been the USL and the academy and a lot of the things in term of the culture. The environment has been awesome, but we still have a long way to go. It’s only been since January that we started, but we’ve got to keep it going.”
This time the fans listened.