'The best decision': Ali Curtis explains departure from New York Red Bulls

After a month in limbo, the Red Bulls parted with their sporting director. In his first public comments, he tells FFT that the rift was exaggerated.

The rumblings first started to bubble at Major League Soccer’s Scouting Combine in January.

New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch was in talks to join Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. Ultimately, Marsch and the club announced he was returning to New York and the Red Bulls. What happened next, though, was surprising.

Sporting director Ali Curtis left the Combine and would soon become conspicuously absent from all things Red Bull. On Thursday, the club finally made it official: Curtis and the club had mutually agreed to part ways.

... it came to a point where I had some different views ... We spent the last three to four weeks trying to sort through those differences. At the end of the day, we felt this was the best decision.

- Ali Curtis

Curtis spoke with FourFourTwo on Thursday afternoon about his stunning departure, and he sounded optimistic about what the future holds for him.

“I don’t want to get too specific,” Curtis said. “But I will say is I think it came to a point where I had some different views, Red Bulls had some different views and it came to a point where we needed to hash those out. We spent the last three to four weeks trying to sort through those differences. At the end of the day, we felt this was the best decision. I felt it was the best decision for me and Red Bull felt this was the best decision for Red Bulls. So, we agreed to mutually part ways.”

The divorce between Curtis and the Red Bulls was stunning because of the success the club enjoyed since Curtis took the helm in Dec. 2014. It wasn’t an easy path from there. The Red Bulls opted to fire Mike Petke, a popular figure in the franchise, and Curtis brought in Marsch to take the team in a new direction. Gone were the big names and big money of the past. Under Curtis’ famous 300-page plan, the Red Bulls went younger and cheaper.

More importantly, they won.

New York captured the Supporters Shield in 2015, then finished atop the Eastern Conference again in 2016. The club made it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015 and the semifinals in 2016.

Success wasn’t reserved for the first team. The second-team, New York Red Bulls II, won the USL Championship in 2016, taking both the regular-season and playoff crowns. Meanwhile, Homegrown Players were working through the system efficiently.

That New York would want to shake things up made no sense.

Curtis didn’t shed light on what exactly led to the shakeup. Instead, he had nothing but positive things to say about his time and his memories over the past two years, even as his departure was finalized.

I feel that I was able to support the club and drive the club, at the same time I learned a lot as well. I have good memories, I have really, really good memories.

- Ali Curtis

“There are a lot of good people at the club,” Curtis said. “I enjoyed working with them. I think it’s a good club. I enjoyed my time. It was a tremendous experience. I feel that I was able to support the club and drive the club, at the same time I learned a lot as well. I have good memories, I have really, really good memories. My kids literally loved going to Red Bull Arena. I think I was able to accomplish a lot. I’ve got positive feelings and I’m looking forward to the next thing.”

Asked if there was a power struggle, Curtis declined to go into specifics about his departure. But he also shot down some of the reports that have lingered over his absence the last few weeks, some of which speculated on specific disagreements in the front office.

 “In terms of what I’ve heard in articles or rumors, or the narratives in terms of what were those differences and who are those differences with, the vast majority of what I’ve heard is false,” Curtis said. “I don’t want to get into specifics of what have I heard, but I think there’s a lot of good staff, good people at that club that I have developed a relationship with, staff and players, and I want the best for them, I really do.”

The question now is what comes next for Curtis. The landscape in MLS doesn’t seem to have many obvious openings for a technical director. LAFC, which comes into the league in 2018, has its general manager and assistant general manager in place.

Curtis could consider sitting out for some time while expansion candidates are vetted. Or he could jump back into the fray with a team right away, in a new role.

He chuckled when asked if his famous 300-page plan would come with him and said every club and entity has its own plan.It sounded like all options were on the table.

“Everything is new right now, things are a bit raw today,” Curtis said. “I think it makes most sense that I take a step back and really analyze what type of opportunity that I’m interested in, how that impacts my career, how that impacts my family and be open to having conversations and listening and learning about what’s out there. That will be my approach. But it’s exciting because there’s a lot of cool things that are happening in the soccer landscape. And I’m going to be open to having conversations with the relationships I’ve developed over the last 10-15 years and see what makes the most sense ...

“I need to start to have those conversations with people. Sometimes you settle on an opportunity really quick, like within seven days, or sometimes it takes longer, like seven months. I think what’s best is that I really dissect what’s important to me and what’s important for my family and go from there.”

Whatever the next job, Curtis sounded positive and optimistic about his future. He said he was “in a good place,” and that he loves the business and the game and is going to “attack whatever is next with a tremendous amount of energy.”

“I’m actually very, very excited and enthusiastic about what’s going to be next,” Curtis said. “I’m a high-energy, positive guy and I’m looking forward to taking everything I’ve learned and the aggregate of my experiences and putting them into what’s next. I’m looking forward, and that’s kind of my mindset right now.”

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.