Bruno Baltazar arrived in Rochester, New York this past March for the newest challenge of his managerial career to date, and despite the Portuguese head coach having to get used to a new league and a new club, it hasn’t stopped him from propelling RNY FC up the Eastern Conference standings. 

Rochester New York FC is flying high in its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season, currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference on 16 points. Baltazar, 44, has led RNY FC to a five-match unbeaten run in league play, which helped him earn MLS NEXT Pro’s Coach of the Month for May and helped RNY FC earn the Team of the Month honors. 

A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Baltazar’s playing and coaching career has taken him to nine different countries, including England, Germany, Qatar and the United States. Although Baltazar has other opportunities abroad, the veteran coach decided on RNY FC, a decision both he and the club is reaping the rewards from.

“I arrived in early March so I was still in shock, freezing cold, snow on the ground, it was tough in the beginning,” Baltazar told MLS NEXT Pro in an interview. “I lived in Qatar so the summers were tough, but it’s similar to the winters here. Now it’s beautiful, spring is here, the sun is out longer, much easier to work, especially with wins in the pocket. However, we can’t relax, even if we are winning, when you let up, that’s when things could go wrong.”

While other opportunities had plenty to offer, the opportunity of a new challenge at a club with a fresh start was appealing. Knowing that Leicester City and England forward Jaime Vardy had a stake in the ownership group added to the appeal and helped lead Baltazar to Rochester. 

“When I was at Nottingham Forest, I had offers with other leagues in Eastern Europe, even financial positions, but it wasn’t the type of challenge I wanted,” Baltazar added. “Those doors are still open if I want to try, but I wanted a different challenge. When I knew Jaime Vardy was involved with the project, and when he invited me here, I was very excited. One of my targets is to get to MLS someday. I am ambitious, but I am taking it step-by-step, just like my playing career.” 

Baltazar is 11 years into his coaching career, a spell that previously had stops in Cyprus, Portugal, and the Philippines. The former centerback enjoyed success with Cypriot side APOEL, winning the Cypriot Championship and Super Cup in 2018 before serving as an assistant coach with then-EFL Championship side Nottingham Forest, one of England’s most historic clubs in 2019-20.

“It’s not a key aspect, but it’s an important part when you are a coach and trying to teach these young men,” Baltazar said when asked about being a head coach after a playing career. “When you take a lot of the good and bad experiences that come with playing, it gives you a different view. The management of the expectations are also important. It’s very important to do my job in a good way.”

Making the move to the United States was a new challenge for Baltazar, but one that has helped him grow as a head coach and a person. RNY FC is the lone independent-based club in MLS NEXT Pro, meaning Baltazar and his coaching staff work with the same group of players for the entire season, a positive when it comes to overall chemistry within the squad. 

That chemistry has helped RNY FC earn impressive recent victories over Philadelphia Union II, Columbus Crew 2 and Inter Miami II, skyrocketing it into the current playoff places. 

Pedro Dolabella, Gibran Rayo, Jesus Batiz and Caique have all been key pieces to RNY FC’s roster this season, a quartet of players who come from different parts of the world but have the same point to prove.

“We were really worried in a good sense, we don’t want just the technical and tactical part of the players, but we also want a good person, a good mentality and mindset from them,” Baltazar said. “It was a tough few months going through the signing process and trying to find the best mixture of players.”

Starting from scratch with the roster, Baltazar and RNY FC had to look beyond just on-field contribution to help build a team that could succeed on the field, but also resonate with the club’s supporters and maintain a cohesive locker room. 

“We did reject a few great talents because of the information we were given about their personalities,” Baltazar added. “We want to create a good atmosphere here because it is the only way you can create a team. We signed 23 players so we just could not make mistakes, it was a lot of work, but we’re really happy with the group we brought to Rochester.” 

Baltazar’s impact at RNY FC has been visible over the past few weeks with the Eastern Conference club overcoming a difficult start to MLS NEXT Pro action and flexing its muscles against some of the top teams in its division. Unlike other MLS NEXT Pro clubs that could lose players each week to first team call-ups, the unity and chemistry in the RNY FC squad continues to grow with the midway point of the regular season on the horizon. 

There will still be challenges awaiting RNY FC this season as plenty of other clubs aim to knock them out of the top four in the Eastern Conference, but Baltazar and his players aren’t preparing to back down from anyone in hopes of reaching their long term goals. 

“We do have an advantage working with 23 guys because we know we will have them all for the next match,” Baltazar said about the familiarity of the squad. “It’s an advantage for us and a challenge for the opposing coaches because they don’t know what players they can count on for themselves. We are training in a college 50 miles away from Rochester meanwhile other clubs can train with MLS guys. The resources are not the same, even the human resources we struggle with. It’s more challenging, but it’s more fun because it’s rewarding to get victories with this group.”