Kevin Thelwell: 'It's About Building a Better Team with Better Players'

Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell laid forth his plan for the club in his first offseason at the helm of the New York Red Bulls.

Thelwell said the club is looking at all parts of the organization to improve the side, starting with the appointment of Gerhard Struber as head coach and retaining Bradley Carnell as assistant coach.

"We've had a chance to sit down and talk about what a strategic plan looks like for next season and going forward," Thelwell said. "I'm delighted to say that we've got very clear alignment on what needs to be done next season. Now, we are in the process of trying to action that plan which that's the easy bit which is the talk and the difficult bit is actually getting the work done, but that's what we're going to be trying very hard to do over the course of the offseason."

Thelwell said the club is hard at work putting together an improved roster in 2021.

"It's about building a better team with better players," Thelwell said. "Going forward is to really work hard to improve some of the areas that we think we need to, we're maybe a little bit weak, provide a bit more support to some of those stronger players that are in the group, and then hopefully become a bit more cohesive and a bit more consistent and have a much stronger identity than what we've had before." 

The Head of Sport identified that not only does the starting squad need to improve, but so does the depth and support available off the bench.

"There's all sorts of opportunities out there for us to improve the group, but without question, we recognize that we need to have a much stronger roster," Thelwell said. "We need to bring in players that are going to help us to get further in the playoffs  and that very much is going to be the focus of our work during this offseason period."

Having the club's head coach already appointed heading into the offseason has been a huge help for the team as they're able to move forward quickly.

"We've had a really good opportunity to spend some time with Gerhard and talk specifically about what a strategic plan looks like going forward in terms of team and the roster," Thelwell said. "I don't want to go into any more detail on that because we need to work hard to get some players into the group and hopefully you'll see that in due course."

Struber comes to New York after a 13-year playing career, various roles in youth development,and head coaching roles at Barnsley FC and Wolfsberger FC. 

Thelwell solidified that the quest for MLS Cup is what drives everyone at the club. The string of 11-straight playoff appearances is good, but not good enough for a big club.

"In terms of big club, as I said to the players at the end of the game, there's only one reason that we're all here, there's only one reason that we all get out of bed in the morning and that's to try and achieve something: What is on our agenda to achieve and that's to win MLS Cup," Thelwell said. "Without question, what we have to do is we have to all fall behind that vision, and that mission, and try and work as hard as we possibly can to achieve that. How can I reach out to fans and convince them that that's the case? Well ,there's only one way doing it really, and that is for us to work a way for us to produce a team that looks like it's capable of winning MLS Cup and then to actually do it."

With Thelwell in and Struber hired, the organization is looking to turn a page onto a new chapter of club history.

"I suppose the proof of the pudding will be in due course, but in the meantime, all I can say to you and to those fans is that we are going to be working as hard as we possibly can to identify players and get them into our roster to hopefully be those different makers when those key times come," Thelwell said. "I would hope me joining from the Premier League is a statement of intent. I would hope us recruiting Gerhard is a statement of intent. So going forward, we're going to be pushing as hard as we possibly can to make this club as successful as it can be."

Thelwell would not shy away from the drive for youth and development, looking to cases like Caden Clark as a player who can excel and quickly be integrated into the first team.

"We want to improve our performance and win MLS Cup as I've talked about many, many times, but it's also about pipeline," Thelwell said. "It's also about producing our own young players and giving young players, as well as international players, the opportunity -- first through USL and then if they prove themselves to be capable, then through MLS. If I'm a young player at New York Red Bulls, I don't think there's ever been a better time for them to be at our football club, because without question we're trying to create a much stronger alignment between Academy, USL and MLS. We're looking to do the most important bit, which is to create opportunity for them to train and play a very high level. If they're good enough, then they're old enough and that is very much about what we're going to be trying to do going forward."

As clubs begin to shape their 2021 rosters, the roster freeze will be lifted on Dec. 13, the day after MLS Cup, for a half-day trade window, followed by a blackout period before the 2020 MLS Expansion Draft on Dec. 15.

As for his offseason plans, Thelwell played them close to his chest, but drove home the point that they are searching far and wide for additions to the club that can immediately improve the roster. 

"Without going into the detail -- and you'll understand why -- is we still think there's a lot of areas that we need to improve," Thelwell said. "In some of those positions they would be starting positions, and in some of those areas they will be supporting positions having more strength in depth. That's going to be the end game really is taking the roster forward and making sure that when we get to our first game, whenever that may be and we cross our fingers that is in early March, we are strong as we possibly can, not only in our starting 11 but also in our supporting group to give us the very best opportunities to succeed next year."

And, with that, each day brings new challenges and opportunities.

"We've got a very clear strategic plan about how we want the whole roster to fit together, but of course that can change very, very quickly by the availability of one player or the unavailability of another," Thelwell said. "We want to build as strong of a roster as possible and if that means we have to move and shake the roster around a little bit in order to do that, and of course we'll be working on that very, very clearly. The vision is get higher level of performance achieve more consistency and achieve more control, and the only way in which you do that is by bringing in some stronger players and then also by the direction of the head coach."

Looking forward, Thelwell said the pieces are coming together for the Red Bulls.

"I'm delighted to say that I think we've got a very strong piece in Gerhard Struber. He's going to be well supported by Bernd [Eibler] and well supported by Bradley [Carnell], and the new goalkeeping coach that'll be joining us in due course," Thelwell said. "Then it's all about us working really, really hard to get some synergy with the players that we bring in, and with the players that are already in the building. And that's the tough part, because we've got a little bit of building to do to make sure that we marry those two things together to give us the very best chance possible for next season."