New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlett and Head Coach Chris Armas
Hamlett: Good mornings guys. First of all, I just want to say thank you to our supporters for supporting us throughout the whole season. It’s always important that when we play at Red Bull Arena, we know that we have the best fans in the league, and they come to support us. I would also like to thank you guys, the media, for supporting us and continuing to support us. Sometimes it’s never easy, but that’s part of the job and keeps us on our toes. When I think about this season, 2019, it was a challenging season in terms of how parts of the season went. In the end, we’re disappointed because we’re not the last team standing, because were true competitors and we felt we had a team that could lift the trophy. But in saying that, I think since May we were always in contention for the playoffs, even going down to the last game we had a chance to host a home-field game. That’s a credit to our coaching staff, in terms of how they stuck together and kept challenging the group and making sure we stayed grounded and stayed focused. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no offseason. Chris and I are aligned that we have to make sure that we’re not happy with how the season went, we know we need to get better across the sporting department, and that’s something that we are going to work together on as a group. We’ll take a hard look at everything in terms of the players, in terms of the travel, given we think about now with the new playoff format, with the international break, how do we maximize when guys come back? We pick up two injuries from guys that were away during that time. So, we want to make sure we look at everything to give us our best chance to succeed come playoffs. We added three positions across the organization. We added Sean McCafferty, Academy Director, Natasha Patel, Head of Performance Analysis, and we’ll be adding a Head Scout soon in the coming weeks. With these three additions, we’re looking forward to making sure we attack from the offseason full force because we know we need to improve across all boards.
Before I pass it over to Chris, I just want to make one announcement. You guys heard about Connor Lade today with his retirement. For me, I remember seeing Connor Lade when I was with Montreal back in 2012 in the game they played against us and he was a left-winger…. And then I got the chance to coach him for two years and obviously now the last two years as Sporting Director, and what an amazing guy in terms of a competitor, a guy that on the field – the coach says play left back, left midfield, play center back, it doesn’t matter. He’s such a competitor, he just wants to do the best that he can for the club. And so for me, it was an honor watching him, he’s such a competitor, and probably my best memory of him was in the game against New England in the Open Cup in 2017 when he played center back and he played against Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury, and man, he was a man in that game. He’s such a competitor, and again, I want to wish him all the best in this next step. I know he’s going to enjoy time with Morgan and his baby daughter Avery.
Armas: To piggyback on the Connor Lade one, watching him address the team the other night after the game, it was hard for all of us and it was really hard for Connor. But in that moment, I think he showed everyone what was in his heart, which is New York Red Bulls, which is a human being that loves the team, loves team. I’ll tell you what, I think for a long time in the past now and into the future, Connor is going to be known and he set the example of what a Red Bull player is in both ways: football and culture. I’ll start with the culture piece, we use the phrase ‘All In’, which are not just words to us here and it’s not to him because that means that you show up and give everything every day. When things are good, when things are bad, when you get your number called, when you just – ‘we need more from you in training on the second team’, when he gets injured, the kid just lives and walks with optimism and energy and you can feel that. And it’s not easy, because it doesn’t just happen all the time. He naturally has this, but that’s going to be an example of culture in the way we’ll miss that part of him. But he’s not just a nice guy as Denis says, he’s a pitbull on the field, he played our style, he’s aggressive, fearless, went after games, never gave an inch, never say die, that will also be missed. But he really maximized what he was about, which is the last part. I think around here, we say, ‘Can you be the best version of yourself and can you give to the team?’ And I think we can all agree that Connor Lade understood how to give everything to the team and certainly how to get the most out of himself in a way, always asking, ‘how much can I give?’, ‘what can I do for the team?’, put others first. So, what a career, what a human being, and of course he continues it on with the husband that he is to Morgan and now to Avery a dad, it’s just, this is who he is. He’s a gem who we were lucky to have had and he’ll still be a part of who we are.
In terms of the season, I would say this, [I’m] pretty clear about how I feel. Everyone in this organization from the top: Marc, Dennis, who sells the tickets, everyone has one goal in mind, and we want to win the trophy. That’s the goal every day. What’s the goal? There’s that trophy out there, we’re going for it. And we’re all aligned, and we give everything. We haven’t been able to get it yet, and the key word is yet. We haven’t done it yet. And now, because most often you don’t win it, meaning there’s 23 teams, you’re not going to win it every time or for us yet, but now what? When you’re left standing there without the trophy, what are you staring at? And I truly can say that I’m proud of the team. The way they stuck together, the way they competed, the way they went after games, the way they stuck with the philosophy, the way we’ve evolved, the way we – even this last game, I think some might say it’s a microcosm of the season, well it us. But it also is a microcosm of the season. It’s a team that went after it, stuck to who we are, got some leads – two goal leads twice – and it wasn’t for a lack of togetherness or effort. The guys really went after it. So, when you’re left without that trophy, the ultimate goal, what are you staring at? I’m staring at a team that was a real team, and I’m proud of that.
On the lack of big signings going into the 2019 season:
Yes, we can spend money, first. Secondly, I think that we brought in Josh Sims late in the window, and the things that you guys have to understand, sometimes it’s not easy to bring players in. Again, we’re specific in terms of the type of players that we want to bring in that make sense for our organization in terms of how we play and the style of play that we have. And so, at the end we ended up getting Josh and the way it works out with the window being so late, he’s only been able to play maybe five games out of the seven. But I think you can see the quality that he brings, we were excited, unfortunately he got injured in the last game, but we think he has big potential for us. I would say, looking back, we had a very good team and we decided to bring back the majority of that team. Because we had success the prior year, we felt we were one step closer to getting that cup. And so part of the plan was to make sure we had enough belief in that group to bring them back, which we did. We made sure we got a couple players in terms of depth. I think Amro Tarek was someone we brought in thinking he wasn’t going to play much but he ended up playing a lot of games, and he was very helpful when he was on the field during the stretch when Aaron [Long] was out. And then with Mathias [Jørgensen], look, Mathias is still a young player, he’s 18, it’s a big challenge coming across, and so for us, we have to have patience. I would sort of look at how, again, you’re probably going to say because of the money that was invested, but when we brought Cristian Casseres, we signed him to the first team. He played a majority of the first year with the second team and look now what he’s been able to do. And we’ve carefully watched Mathias to make sure that – we probably put him a little too early at the beginning of the year, but we thought ‘let’s just see how he goes.’ And as the season went along, he was training, you could see he was getting confidence, he was getting better, and so we feel very confident that come next season he’s going to have a major impact. And so, that’s part of the process when you have young guys in terms of making sure that you bring them along in the right way.
On the status of the scouting department:
Hamlett: Yes, we have currently one in scouting right now, we will be getting two more to fill out the scouting. And look, I think that it’s important that when you’re making a big investment, you want to make sure that you’re doing your due diligence. In the past, we’ve made some signings where it probably didn’t work out, so we want to make sure that we do that part right. Now we have a global team that we can lean on to help us in terms of our roster building and identifying players, and so we’re going to make sure now that we take full advantage of that and make sure now that we get the right players in here to make sure now that we can get over the hump.
On the season’s performance:
Armas: Well yeah, I mean, you finish with ‘we had most of the team’, I mean, Brad [Wright-Phillips] was hurt almost the whole year, we lose Tyler Adams, it’s a couple of big pieces that you don’t have, right? It’s the first time I’ve said that even all year. I think you can start there, and you can then come up with probably 20 other things that if it comes out of my mouth, it’s excuses. But I’m still not gonna go there. But was it a bad year? I think if you talk about half the teams in the league that don’t make the playoffs, they don’t make the cut, they’re not in it to win it, they’re not on the road scoring three goals, they have no chance. Those guys had a bad year, we didn’t have a bad year. We had an off year, we didn’t achieve the goal. But why did that happen? There’s lots of reasons, there’s lots of reasons guys. And again, I’m not going to sit up here and discuss every one of them, but what I would say is that we had leads in a lot of games, we went after games, we stuck to our principles, our style of play. Some question that, are we a pressing team? Well, we can look at the TV and say, ‘well, we don’t think so, it looks different,’ but we led the league in balls won in the attacking third, right, we’re in second or third. I think LAFC was second, we were number one in the league. In the middle third, because we sat back this year at different moments to have to manage the tactics of other teams this year was to bypass our pressing, which is one of the factors that made it hard this year, we led the league in balls won in the middle third. We led the league in first passes forward. I have a lot of analytics that support us sticking to who we are, but maybe we just didn’t execute enough, all of us, right? Myself, the staff, the players, we put ourselves in games to win, had lots of leads, didn’t execute enough. Decision making, defending, whatever it is. But I would say that it wasn’t a bad year. Bad is harsh, we’re not happy with it. We’re not happy with mediocrity. 14 and 14, ‘crashing out’, I mean, you have a lot of negativity in everything you say. ‘Crashing out in the first round,’ right? You can look at all of the playoff series in the past and you might say maybe we didn’t show up. We gave up a goal eight seconds in against Columbus, you can talk about Montreal a few years ago, if not you can look at MLS Soccer, they’re reminding us today of all the past. But you say how did we feel about the way the team went after Philadelphia, the three seed. And you would say that we went after it, we really went after it. And for that, again, when you don’t win the trophy, when you look back, what are you staring at? A team that stuck together, a team that was aggressive, a team that attacked, a team that scored ninth or tenth most in the league goals, we set a record for the most amount of different goal scorers in the league. The team stuck together. So when you’re not the last team standing, you want to say you’re proud of your team, even in off years. And it was an off year, it was. We’re not happy with it. And now, we work. We crank, not to put together a roster and a team that can win, but to win decisively. That’s the goal, that’s the goal.
On how much the roster will stick together:
Hamlett: What I will tell you is that we are going to look at everything very hard to make sure now that we don’t repeat this season. That, I can assure you, and that’s something that we’ve already started on the process. And we’re gonna take our time, you know? The way it’s set up now, we have a little more time than in the past. The season always ended late and you sort of had to make decisions quickly. But now, we’re going to do our due diligence to make sure now that we have a team that when 2020 starts, we are going to be kicking on all cylinders, that I can assure you of. We’ll have some hard discussions, but we’ll be honest up front and we’ll do what we think is the best for this club moving forward. That I can assure you of that we will do together.
On Natasha Patel’s role:
Hamlett: Yeah, you know, she’s been with us now probably about three weeks now sort of observing and looking at how we do things and I think she brings a wealth of knowledge from her experience over in the EPL and I think that we’ll be able to have some time now. Her experience is going to help us in terms of how we can be different in terms of our game planning, just making little subtle differences that can help us. It’s good to have her, she’s been here for three weeks, she’s been part of it and she’s got along well with the group and so were looking forward to many more years.
On whether both Denis and Chris will be back next season:
On keeping up with the spending of others:
Hamlett: In my opinion, I think you have to have a plan in terms of making sure now that you have a good second team that you can bring players through, because if you look at this year the input of players that came from the second team in terms of minutes played, goals scored, assists was north of 40% that they contributed to the first team, so I think that’s part of the process. We did go out two years ago and got Kaku, so we’re not afraid to spend. Again, we just want to make sure now that we do our homework and bring in the right types of players that can help us. The league is shifting, and so now it is how do you set yourself up to compete with the rest of them, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you go out and you spend and that’s gonna automatically give you the chance to win, so we’ll see who’s going to win it this year. But that’s something that we have to look at to make sure now that you do bring difference-makers in, but it’s still a team game and you have to make sure now that over the 34-game season you have a team and not just rely on just a superstar. So, we have to do a very good job this offseason making sure now that we look and see what type of players we want to bring in to help us get to get over the hump.
On offseason transfers links and rumors:
Hamlett: Yeah listen, look, I think that’s something that honestly at the beginning of the year we didn’t expect to encounter, and it is a distraction. But again, what I would say is – credit to our guys – it’s always a challenge, but you look at Kaku and it took a while, but he came around, he understood that at the end of the day you’re a professional, this is the club you’re playing for. And I think once he got his mind around that, you could see the success he had out on the field. I think Aaron [Long] came off an amazing year, and you throw in the National Team, the travel, the experience, and everything that’s built up to him, so how do those players handle those moments? And each player handles that situation differently, so that’s a learning process that they have to go through. But at the end of the day, we’ve said to him, ‘look until you’re here with this club, you’ve got to make sure now that you step on that field and you represent the club in the best interest.’ And if an offer comes across that we think makes sense for the club and for the player, then we’ll look at that and make the right decision, and that’s part of football. This happens here in our league and it’s going to start happening more because there’s more investment in younger players coming across that are being developed for the next step to go to Europe. So that is something that we have to make sure now that we do a better job of managing across the board as a league.
On transfer rumors distracting the locker room:
Armas: It’s a good question, how do those rumors affect the team and yeah, it does, because a team is constantly evolving, its constantly developing. Every year, we’ll start in January, new players potentially to the roster, some guys are out injured, so it’s always a few different ingredients all the time and it always changes. Once it gets constant, then there might be an injury. Once it gets constant, there might be some rumors, you might lose a game. There’s these different phases that a team goes through and then little things that can get you off track. So we had to deal with that this year more than ever. A few of those rumors and for some of our players and for young players it’s not always easy. It doesn’t make it bad, it just makes them human. So they have to manage that and then I have to manage that, and we stick together. The most important thing is how do you come out of that? You could talk about that last stretch of games, we started getting consistent shutouts and guys like Aaron played their best that he did down the stretch even the other day. You see Kaku’s importance for the team. Sometimes Kaku might lose a ball but do you take him off? But when he’s not on the field you can’t keep the ball as much anymore, so hold the breaks on that. But he finished strong. The team finished strong, they did. And Philadelphia was another example of a real team, we just fell short, which goes that way. But there’s always this adversity, and then how do you deal with it? We’ll look back on this and say it wasn’t a great year and we’re not happy, but man, we’re proud of the way we stuck together and weathered some of those storms.
On Josh Sims and Bradley Wright-Phillips:
Hamlett: What I would say is I’m not going to get into player contracts discussions like that, but we’ll have some time in the next couple of days to sit down with both of those players and have real honest conversations and see where things make sense for us and for them. But like you said, Brad has been unbelievable, his number is retired up here and so it’s unfortunate that he’s been injured for most of the season but he still gave it his all in the last game in Philly he came on and was very close to getting that equalizer late in the game. And like I said, Josh in the short term made a big impression on us. It was a six-month loan and so now we’ll discuss with him at the end of the season to see what makes sense for us.
On whether Sims loan included an option to buy:
On Murillo’s involvement:
Armas: In that position, there became more competition than ever and we saw a young player in Kyle Duncan and Rece Buckmaster – each of those guys and Murillo have, and you can throw Connor [Lade] in there, it was competitive, but they each have different qualities that make it interesting or say, ‘Hey, let’s go with this guy.’ But I think at the end of the year in the biggest games that require the most amount of concentration and the biggest demands, it ends up not being a knock against one guy all the time, it’s who’s playing the best, who gives you the best chance to win the game, to push the game, what will those games look like tactically. So we end up going with guys that give us the best chance to win on the day, so it means that other guys are outperforming and outplaying those guys through games, through training. What I would say about Amir is that some of our best games of the year he was part of, and there was other games that that’s not the case. When the margins are thin, and in our style of play the demands are high, we have a body of work now. Sometimes you’re the guy that gets more minutes, so you have more to show, what are you showing? A week before we had the Montreal game, we had almost like the exact scenario but even potentially off the bench. Kyle Duncan got injured that game and we had a look at something that game, and it’s just information. Then you go back and you put out the starters that are the most reliable and give you the best chance to win on the day, and I think that’s pretty clear. I think everyone in this room can see and everyone on the outside, the decision was made, and we can surmise certain things. In the end, we saw a guy that was all in with the team, I’ll tell you that. Professional, in with us, us with him, and the decisions just left him out towards the end.
On whether Murillo will be back in 2020:
Hamlett: I think I told you, we’ll have discussions with the players in the next couple days. The season just ended, and we’re going to take our time to make sure that we have the right discussions and make the right decision. We’re not going to rush into anything just because a player says he wants to go to Europe. He’s under contract, so we’ll take our time and do what’s best for us. That’s the key, to make sure now that we’re not back in this position come next season.
On Bradley Wright-Phillips’ absence this season:
Hamlett: Yeah listen, amazing guy. The part that you miss even though when he wasn’t playing how an amazing teammate and how he helped the young players. And so yeah, we miss in the sense he’s not on the field scoring the goals, but man he was helping those guys make sure to help them have success. And I think that’s something that the outside doesn’t know and doesn’t see. You know, he gets a lot of credit for helping those guys and being a true teammate and a true professional in terms of helping young guys along the lines and making sure they stay grounded and just do the work. You look at what Brian [White] and you look what Tom Barlow’s come in and their ability to have an impact, you know? No one expected that on the outside. He was always Brian White’s biggest fan. He always spoke highly of him in terms of the qualities that he has and so that’s something that that’s just Brad. So for us it was, again like I said, it was sad that he wasn’t able to play because we know what he’s been able to do like you mention over the years, but man he was important for us this season.
Armas: Yeah, I think it was clear to see. And we also know, with one of the youngest teams in the league he’s that security blanket. He’s the leader up the field, he was part of the team for months straight. But when he’s out there on gameday we all know the presence that he has, more specifically his hold up play. The attention that he draws on the field, he’s always a threat to like one goal a game all the time between goals and assists he’s a constant threat, he’s always making the opposition prepare a certain way. Yeah, we were forced to find goals elsewhere. But if it’s about Brad, he was missed. Which yeah, we feel that, but mostly for Brad. He’s at his happiest and with most joy when he’s out there competing and it was hard for him to really get himself going and he was limited in certain ways, but man, he pushed hard. And if you thought that you knew him in years’ past, you really got to know him this year, because you got to see when things got hard who he was in the toughest moments how he stood tall and how much he gave to the team and played a different role, but it was massive and he taught me a lot, it taught this team a lot about what a real guy and what a real teammate is about. But he’s a club legend, and yeah we’ll talk about the future ongoing, but yeah, it’s impressive all the way through.