In just their second year, New York City FC is set to embark on a new era of soccer at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, this time under the guidance of former World Cup winner Patrick Vieira.
By Jeff Weisinger
Maybe a 10-win season wasn’t so bad. Yeah, New York City FC didn’t make the playoffs in their inaugural season last year, and sure, NYCFC also had some terrible moments – an 11-match winless streak and a terrible, lackluster 5-1 loss at the L.A. Galaxy on national television – but that doesn’t mean that all is bad with the apparent new gem of Major League Soccer.
Goodbye Jason Kreis, hello Mr. Patrick Vieira. Because as the theory goes in socc… football, “if it’s not Euro, it’s not right.”
After Kreis was given the boot shortly after the Blues finished their inaugural season with a disappointing 10-17-7 record, NYCFC and City Football Group looked within for their next head coach, hiring Vieira to take over the Blues in early November with him officially taking over on Jan. 1, 2016 – the first time in his young managing career that he’ll take over the first team of any club. Vieira spent his post-playing career managing Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad and won a Premier League International Cup with the youth squad.
Although he original thought that his first full-time managing gig would come at a mid-table club in England or Germany, his first gig comes at a club in New York City whose home is a baseball field.
If the saying is true – the first step is small to something possibly great – then Vieira is, apparently, on the right path.
Much like Kreis did the year before NYCFC’s debut, Vieira spent time learning the ways of City Football Group, spending time in City’s different areas: management, communication, financial and commercial.
“I was able to grasp the overall size of the club,” Vieira said to SI.com back in November.
His biggest challenge now, however, will be grasping the ways of MLS: its roster rules and regulations, dealing with a salary cap and, as specific to NYCFC, learning how to manage his tactics with a narrow Yankee Stadium home pitch. But in the end, what he needs to do for the Blues is simple: he needs to win.
“We’re in the industry where results matter and results are important,” he said in his introductory press conference at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
“(Vieira) has all of the tools to succeed as a top manager,” Sporting Director Claudio Reyna mentioned.
In a league where European managers have mostly failed, Vieira’s hiring brings a different kind of light. Unlike most other managers before him, Vieira has three legends of the game as his designated players – David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard – and has roster that looks incredibly promising entering the 2016 campaign, this time led by midfielder Kwadwo Poku who came into his own last year.
The other advantage that Vieira has is that all three of his DP’s are available and ready to go when camp starts in Florida next week. They also know that, like themselves, Vieira isn’t coming here for a cup of coffee.
“With Patrick, he’ll bring his experience and know-how from working in Manchester,” Lampard mentioned. “I saw that when I was there. We’ll take in his ideas. It’s a long preseason, and we’ll try to get the team together.”
For what it’s worth, the offseason and time off of the pitch actually helped guys like Lampard and Pirlo, so didn’t have so much of a break before making their debuts last summer. Lampard claimed that “there will be no excuses” for missing the playoffs again.
Frank Lampard says Patrick Vieira is a great appointment as manager of New York City FC. WATCH: https://t.co/RwlAA9DTmz
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 19, 2016
With a fully-healthy roster, there should be no excuses for this team to make the playoffs.
The biggest question with the Blues is what Vieira plans to do with the backline.
NYCFC conceded 58 goals in 2015, tied with two others for most in MLS, and have yet to fully address the backline. NYCFC has acquired the highly-touted Costa Rican left back Ronald Matarrita earlier in the week, signed former River Plate defender Diego Martinez, and traded for center back Ethan White, however there’s still questions as to what the makeup of the backline will be – specifically with the competitions now at center back between White, Jefferson Mena and Jason Hernandez, and left back between Matarrita and Chris Wingert.
NYCFC had some success addressing its backline when they succeeded in their loan deals for Shay Facey and Angelino from Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad, a side of which was coached by Vieira, however, according to Reyna, there’s currently no update on NYCFC taking that same route again.
Vieira’s other challenge in 2016 will be finding the right combo in a now very crowded midfield.
The addition of top-overall draft pick Jack Harrison gives NYCFC one of the more talented midfields in MLS. However, when you toss in Lampard, Poku, Mix Diskerud, Mehdi Ballouchy, Tommy McNamara and now Harrison, getting everyone involved, even getting them semi-quality minutes isn’t going to be easy.
Harrison shows a lot of talent on film, but is it enough for Vieira to be willing to put him on the 18-man roster on opening day in Chicago?
With the Blues heading south for training camp this weekend, those questions will begin to be answered.
But regardless how everyone “looks,” what’s going to be just as important is getting results, something Vieira is going to have to do in his first year as the head coach of NYCFC, in his first year in MLS. NYCFC cannot afford to finish another season under the red-line. The last guy that did so got fired shortly after.
Vieira seems to have much more support than Kreis, that much is for certain. But knowing how bad NYCFC wants to win an MLS Cup, if he can’t get it done, he’ll just be another notch in CFG’s belt for their Man City USA team.
And with that said, we’re just over 40 days until the season opener.