An open letter to Kevin Thelwell
July 27, 2020
Dear Mr. Thelwell,
We hope you've settled in. The past few months have certainly not been easy for anyone. And they certainly haven't been easy for you, having to move across the ocean to take on a new challenge among everything that's being going on. Welcome! Take a deep breath! This one will be a challenge.
We don't know if you are aware of this team's tumultuous history. It's all here on this website, which you are free to browse. But let's not talk about playoff losses, coaching ineptitude, or corporate branding; let's talk about roster building. That's what you're here to do, right?
For years, this team had one philosophy: try to sign big names to put it over the top, while jettisoning the rest of the roster. This led to a disturbing trend on giving up on players too early with them winning accolades elsewhere (the list is long, Mr. Thelwell, we won't bore you). Worse so, the continuous revolving door removed any chance for continuity, leaving the team in a constant rebuilding state. This resulted in exactly zero trophies of significance in the club's first 17 years. (Feel free to read about our triumphs of lesser significance, La Manga and Emirates Cups.)
In 2013, it finally came together. Led by the magnificent Thierry Henry and fanbase activator Tim Cahill, the team won its first Supporters Shield. Two years later, the pricey imports were gone, but another Shield was won. In 2018, the third Shield came home, this one with a league-record point total. It truly was a remarkable six-year run.
What made it even more remarkable, Mr. Thelwell, was this team's success without spending big. They were able to acquire top-level MLS players (Luis Robles, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, etc.) without breaking the bank, and those players pushed them to the top. The academy gave them a gem in Tyler Adams, and the reserve team turned Aaron Long into the best defender in the league. It was working, and it was working on the cheap! We could understand Red Bull's hesitance to spend. (And we will not talk how this lack of spending probably prevented this team from being successful in the playoffs.)
But then three things happened, Mr. Thelwell. The rest of the league took it up a notch, this team did not replace its top-level talent, and the pipeline dried out. Let's look at it in order:
#1. Over the past few seasons, numerous MLS teams have been spending big money to bring in stars, mostly from South America. When previously-cheap teams like Columbus, Minnesota, and Cincinnati are signing talent while New York is standing pat, something is wrong. This talent has proven to be a difference-maker for teams that have been successful recently.
#2. Robles is gone. Wright-Phillips is gone. So are the others. And while each departure can be justified in a vacuum, the problem is that they were not replaced. If you look at the starters from 2018 and compare to the 2020 roster, ten out of eleven are at least equal, and often much better to what we currently have.
#3. Adams was a great prospect who turned into a star, but the academy roster has dried out. The team has not been able to graduate anyone of significance in recent years. Long came out of nowhere to turn heads, but relying on the reserve team seems silly. Yes, it worked a couple of times, but you can't build your whole roster by promoting reserves. The quality is just not good enough. (See #1.)
Mr. Thelwell, we don't expect miracles. We don't expect your mere presence to open up Red Bull's (considerably large) purses. All that we ask is you do your best to correct the three points above and bring this team back to respectability. Being lapped by LAFC or Atlanta is one thing. Being lapped by Columbus, Minnesota, and Cincinnati?...