Sean McCafferty

Sean McCafferty: 'Teams Don’t Walk Out at Red Bull Arena, Players Do'

Last week, the New York Red Bulls’ Academy Director, Sean McCafferty, met with media members on a Zoom call to answer questions about the current year, and all the changes going on with the developmental side of the league. He also shared thoughts on his transition from The Barça Academy to the Red Bulls, and other interesting observations from his time with the club.   

On collapse of DA and initial steps in creation of new competition 

“Ultimately for us, we’ve tried to be as much of  an influence as possible. The news was surprising, maybe the timing, everybody thought, was surprising more than anything. Listen, the financial hardships, the things that they’re going through, so understandable in a way, maybe the girls’ academy didn’t quite go as they anticipated. But ultimately, for us we’ve been kind of trying to be as much of a part of it as we can in helping the structure, not only in the Northeast and how that would look, especially with Covid-19, restrictions on travel, it’s probably going to have a different look to what it normally would. We’ve been on countless calls with MLS, with their head people, who are structuring this league, and the Academy Directors, both MLS and non-MLS. There’s been a lot of Zoom calls, really trying to see how do we want this to look like, what does great look like and ensuring that selfishly from an MLS standpoint, that we are getting the meaningful games, the big investment that we make, we want to make sure that all the games that we’re playing are at a top level. We’re fortunate in our region; there’s a lot of great clubs that are non-MLS, so we’re fortunate in that regard, but at the same time, we want to kind of grow as an organization as well, more international competition for example. Our ‘06s played in the ICC, we got to play against Tottenham Hotspur, play against Paris Saint-Germain, and they’re just invaluable experiences, not only for us, but for the young American players, just a different feel to it. PSG have a no. 6 playing for them, who plays up a few years but had the appropriate age for this, and it was just different. You don’t see that type of player very often when you’re here, and if it was hugely advantageous for not only the players, but for the staff to say, ‘Okay, that’s what a top European pro-to-be, I would say, looks like.’” 

On key points to consider and look forward for new league 

“For a lot of us, more games. We don’t play enough games here. I was fortunate enough and the weather had a lot to do with it, but with the Barça Academy you played all year around. We played like 10 more games than on the East Coast. You get more contact time during the winter months, so this winter for example, we could have played December, January, February. I know it’s not always going to be that way, but maybe there’s some creative ways to go further south, where the weather is better. I feel one of the biggest negatives was the break in the season was far too long for our youth players. You get a rhythm going and then you stop, and then you get it going again, two, maybe, three months later in the next competitive games. Going from the DA showcase in Sarasota early December to probably early March if you're lucky for the next competitive games. For us, it’s too long of a break, and it kind of slows the development of the players when they’re probably just getting going.” 

On the transition from Barça Academy to Red Bulls  

“Ultimately, Barça had a very different methodology with the ball. I personally didn’t agree with all of it, so we’re trying to find the best of both worlds. You don’t have to look too far to see a club like Liverpool, that’s managed to have the best of both worlds. I’m biased. I’m a Liverpool fan obviously, but if you look at how they play, they can play any style at any time with whatever makes sense, but their work rate, their against the ball and their togetherness are things that Chris [Armas] preaches, all of our staff, all of our players. I don’t think there’s anything more important than that, you can complicate it as much as you want, but just the willingness to work hard, to be together, and again that selflessness, it’s massive for us.”    

On player development 

“We have so much talent here. It’s just getting the environment to a place where we can accelerate that, and again, we’re so fortunate with our facilities -- the first team, second team, everybody’s there -- there’s been multiple Academy players already training with the second team, no doubt in my mind, they would have been in some first team training sessions had we continued. We’re very lucky in that regard. We’re excited going into next season, bringing in some new talent, again a lot of addition by subtraction. We’re going smaller rosters, making sure the younger talents are all pushed up and challenged. Our job is not to win games. Winning will be a byproduct of developing the players, and I don’t say that as cliché, that’s just the fact. Our coaches are informed that, teams don’t walk out at Red Bull Arena, players do, that’s where all will enjoy a beer and celebrate when an Academy player walks out at Red Bull Arena.” 

On John Tolkin’s case  

“John Tolkin is a great example of somebody from our Academy who just signed with the first team. John is technically fantastic, he’s smooth in possession, his ability to break lines, the disguise he has on the ball. Then some of the things that John is looking to improve on is maybe on the other side, maybe it’s the aggressiveness, maybe it’s the ability to kind of be stronger in the challenge. Things like that, but he’s a young player and he’s going to evolve.”   

On Natasha Patel’s influence on the Academy   

“Natasha is fantastic. She comes from an Academy background as well, which is always good, so she doesn’t feel like I’m annoying her when I contact her. She’s been excellent in regards to just making sure we’re trickling down all the principles, making sure everyone is in the same language. Again, it takes everybody, it takes the scouting department, the first team, second team, myself and the Academy staff. The unit meetings and what we’re doing has been phenomenal, just learning little nuances of things we need to do and things we look for in certain moments. Natasha has been top class and again with her Academy background is really excited to get in and help us in any way she can. We’re also very fortunate that our coaching staff are very capable in that regard. They all have the ability to code, clip games and do all that, so they do video not only specifically for their teams, but for individual players. We have them do some philosophy clips because it’s very important that our Academy guys just don’t see first team or don’t see Premiership, La Liga, whatever, but they have to see something that’s real, that they can touch, which is a 12 seeing a 14, a 14 seeing a 17, that’s very important for us.”