When MLS began in 1996, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, now the New York Red Bulls, were to be one of the league’s flagship franchises. It would be nearly 20 years before the team would win its first trophy, but today the Red Bulls are one of the most dominant organizations in the league. The club’s recent history is something Orlando City and its fans should look at and hope to emulate.
In 2006, the Austrian energy drink company Red Bull purchased the MetroStars and included them in a stable of teams the company owns, which includes Red Bull Salzberg, Red Bull Brazil, and RB Leipzig. The first move the club made was to hire Bruce Arena, who had led D.C. United to the league’s first dynasty in the 1990s. He was soon followed by Juan Carlos Osorio and Hans Backe.
After three coaching changes in six years, not including a pair of interim coaches, the club hired MetroStars legend Mike Petke in 2013. Petke joined the club in 1998 and would play seven seasons in New Jersey. Immediately following his retirement, he became an assistant under Backe. Under Petke’s leadership, the team won its first piece of silverware when it claimed the Supporters’ Shield in his first year.
In January 2015, the Red Bulls fired Petke in a move that enraged fans. The club held a town hall meeting that month in which season ticket holders were able to express their concerns to new Sporting Director Ali Curtis. At that point, many were demanding that Curtis be relieved of his duties and that Red Bull sell the team.
When Curtis took over the day-to-day operations of the club, he stated that he had a 300-page plan that would describe the direction of the club. It wasn’t the fact that he had developed a 300-page plan, which was never fully put into place, but that there was a clear direction and plan for the future. There was a vision from the first team all the way down through the academy of how the team would play and there was a plan for long-term success.
Petke was replaced by Jesse Marsch, another former U.S. international, who had one unsuccessful year as the head coach of the Montreal Impact. Fans were outraged and thought this move would take a promising future and plunge the team back into mediocrity. Instead, the opposite happened. Marsch led the team to the most successful period of its history, including another Supporters’ Shield, and to where it stands today.
Orlando City’s current situation is very different than the New York Red Bulls in 2015 as the Lions have seen far less success. However, what the club and its fans can learn from Sunday’s opponent is that having a clear plan and vision for the future is the first step to achieving success, or at least respectability.
The New York Red Bulls have a direct path from the academy to the first team. It’s not just that they possess an academy, a U-23 team, and a reserve side, but that players are advancing through those teams. First team regulars like Tyler Adams and Sean Davis made their way from the academy to the first team and are now key parts of the club’s success in MLS.
Conversely, Orlando City has only seen one player play in the academy and advance through OCB into the first team. In the two years since he signed an MLS contract, Pierre Da Silva has only played in three games and accumulated 50 minutes.
As Orlando City finishes its worst season since joining MLS in 2015, one thing everyone can agree on is that there is no direction at the club. The team has had three permanent head coaches in four seasons and experienced a continuous rotation of players coming in and out of the club. Coaches and players have been blamed, but at this point it has to be put at the feet of the front office.
Heading into the 2019 MLS season, there will be no optimism from fans as the club has continually disappointed them. To earn their trust, the club must display some form of direction for the future. In 2015, the Red Bulls were transparent with their fans and explained what the plan was going forward, even though the fans weren’t happy with what they heard. Orlando City fans have no reason to believe that there is a plan. It appears that the club makes big moves and hopes something will change.
For now, there’s no reason to believe this will happen. The club appears to have been in disarray since former General Manager Paul McDonough was pushed out following the 2015 season. It’s still unclear what will happen during this off-season and in the future, but fans can hope that their club’s front office takes notice of Sunday’s opponent.