The firing of Savarese, a popular player with the MetroStars and the club's all-time leading scorer, who emigrated from Venezuela to play at Long Island University in 1990, came as a surprise last March, because the Red Bulls youth program had been cited as model for other MLS clubs when the league launched its Youth Development Initiative for the 2007 season. Among the players who played for the Red Bulls Super Y-League teams was Gabriel Ferrari, now with Italian Serie A club Sampdoria.
Simoniants, 50, played and coached for professional teams in the Soviet Union from 1974 to 1984, according to his resume. He was later a player-assistant coach of the USSR Army select team in Poland and in 1992 came to the USA.
Soccer America spoke with Red Bull New York technical director Jeff Agoos about the appointment.
SOCCER AMERICA: How much responsibility do you have regarding hiring of Armen Simoniants as the New York Red Bulls Youth Academy Director and for overseeing your club's youth development program?
JEFF AGOOS: That falls under my umbrella. Myself and Marc de Grandpre, who's the Red Bull managing director, were very involved in the selection process to hire a youth academy director and we felt there were a bunch of very qualified candidates. It was very difficult to choose between a couple of them, but we felt Armen's qualifications are very good and we are very excited about having him to lead our academy.
SA: In March, the Red Bulls fired Giovanni Savarese, who was the Director of Youth Soccer and Player Development since 2005. Does the hiring of Simoniants represent the "new direction" the club is going in with its youth program?
JA: Yeah, I think we've certainly appreciated everything that Giovanni did here with Red Bull and it was very difficult in the end to part ways but we felt we needed to move in a new direction.
The direction we're moving in is to be more of an academy situation that is similar to what is being driven in Europe where the academy and the youth teams are providing players for the first team. We want to move toward that type of idea, that type of vision.
Obviously that's a number of years down the road. But that's really the idea, to bring the best kids in the New York, New Jersey, the tri-state area, and have them in our system to be developing and prepared to become professional players.
SA: How's that different than what Red Bulls/MetroStars were doing when Savarese held the position?
JA: We're going to move to a permanent facility somewhere in the New Jersey area. The complete academy will be housed in that building. We'll be running the academy out of the structure as well as all the offices for the first team. I think the goal is not on participation, it's going to be on player development. What's going to be stressed is the development of players from ages 8, 9, however young we start it, to 17 and 18.
SA: What does Armen bring that will be different from what Savarese was doing?
JA: I think Armen brings a core type of curriculum to Red Bull. He's got experience as both a player and a coach. He's served as coaching instructor for the New Jersey area in ODP. The question we'd asked him that was really influential in our decision was, "What is your goal?" He said, "To develop players for the first team." And that's really our idea as well as what we want to have happen.
The idea of providing players for [head coach] Bruce [Arena] is what the academy is going to be all about.
SA: Does Armen share the same philosophy on the game as Arena?
JA: The way Armen sees the game and Bruce sees the game are similar in some sense. But the way they go about doing things are very different.
Armen has a very Russian type of background. He's coached in Moldova. He brings a different set of assets into the equation.
SA: Russia's not especially known for its soccer success or for producing great players. In Savarese you had someone who spoke Spanish, who was in touch with the demographics of the United States. You wouldn't think of Russia as the kind of soccer country to try to emulate, would you?
JA: I don't think we're trying to emulate Russia. We're trying to emulate Red Bull. I think what Armen brings is a particular point of view, but obviously he's had a lot of experience with a bunch of different communities here in New York, New Jersey. I don't think he brings just one personality into the equation. I think he brings a plethora of different backgrounds into the mix.