After a disappointing inaugural season, New York City FC is watching their cross-Hudson rival Red Bulls compete in the postseason. Both teams went into the 2015 with their own approach, however only one (fairly) succeeded. But can NYCFC take anything away from the Red Bulls’ run to succeed in 2016?
By Jeff Weisinger
On Sunday, a “New York” team will try to rebound at home from a 2-0 aggregate hole for a chance to play for the MLS Cup. That team is not New York City FC.
Instead, the Red Bulls are in their second straight Eastern Conference Final, aiming for their first MLS Cup title in the club history. Meanwhile on the other side of the Hudson, New York City FC, the new, Blue kids on the (actual) New York block, are at home, training instead for their upcoming friendly against the Puerto Rican national team on December 11.
The friendly looks to be a fun getaway from the soon-to-be cold New York City winter, however most, if not all, of New York City’s supporters would rather see the team training for an MLS Cup run, rather than a friendly getaway.
NYCFC spent big money on their inaugural season – signing “legends” of the game in David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo – and in return got a 10-17-7 record for the effort, an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
In the midst of an embarrassing return on a massive investment by City Football Group, the Blues encountered an 11-match winless streak, an embarrassing nationally televised loss in Los Angeles to the Galaxy and more importantly a three-match sweep by the Red Bulls.
The team who resides in Jersey, on the other hand, has enjoyed massive success in their 20th season in Major League Soccer. They won their second Supporters’ Shield in club history, their first since 2012 and finished first in the Eastern Conference for the third time since 2010.
The difference, however, between both teams isn’t necessarily just in the success that the Red Bulls have had this year, but how they got to this point, let alone the rest of the clubs set to play in the second leg of their respective Conference Finals on Sunday.
One thing that New York City will have to do, and can actually utilize in the coming years, is to fully develop their youth academy. This part of the NYC building process isn’t as dire as some others considering the fact that the Blues are a first-year team, however as some other New York sports teams have learned, money doesn’t always buy championships. The best example of utilizing their youth is FC Dallas, one of the best teams in the Western Conference in 2015. Dallas as relied heavily, almost entirely, on their youth academy (one of which that’s been around long enough to make a total of 13 homegrown signings in its history) while signing young international players to fill out the roster, saving them money overall.
The Red Bulls have done a bit of both relying on their youth system while buying talent, although shopping smart. Even after signing Gonzalo Veron during the summer transfer window, they were at the bottom of the MLS Salary Rankings that came out in the summer, spending a total of just over $3.4 million for the 2015 campaign, the lowest in MLS. The Red Bulls found the right mix of international players in Sacha Kljestan and Felipe, along with Veron later on, going with the not-so-big named players, all of which came with much, much smaller price tags.
“The face of our club is really the club,” Red Bulls general manager Ali Curtis said to ESPN FC. “It’s everyone in all in a buying into the team aspect. Not spending was the case this year, but maybe it will be different next year or the following year. I couldn’t say at this point, but we’re committed to having a team-first environment and that’s our philosophy and that’s how we’ll build the roster.”
New York’s reckless spending this year was one of their demises. It took a while for Villa to adjust to playing in MLS, however it took longer for both Lampard and Pirlo to adjust to MLS play, let alone have chemistry, if there was any to begin with. NYCFC’s payroll was the third-highest in the league in 2015 behind the L.A. Galaxy and Toronto FC.
The Blues are already showing that they’re still in the market for big names, hiring Patrick Vieira as their new head coach after they fired Jason Kreis earlier this month. Vieira, who has no MLS experience, will have to learn about the league’s roster and salary limitations once he officially takes over the job on January 1. Who they go after player-wise and whichever other moves they make this winter should say everything to the mentality of NYCFC going into their second season in MLS. How they play against Puerto Rico in a few weeks should give us a preview of what’s ahead.
But for now, while the Blues get ready for an actual vacation, their Hudson River rivals are in the postseason, a place that NYCFC couldn’t use their legends nor money to get into in 2015.
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