A New Direction: What’s Next for NYCFC?

Soon after the conclusion of a very disappointing season on the pitch, City Football Group sacked New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis and fractured the opinions of those in the MLS community right down the middle.

Just about half of those keeping tabs on the ever-growing NYCFC drama condemned CFG for pulling the plug on a coach who had thrown together a group of players from scratch to field a team representing a club that he’d just help build from scratch. The other half gave themselves whiplash from looking back and forth in disbelief between the names on the roster and the team’s position in the standings and said, “Right. Well, that’s clearly not good enough. Let’s find someone who is.”

A New Direction: What’s Next for NYCFC?

And nobody’s wrong, here. It’s more than questionable to fire a head coach with plenty of Major League Soccer success on his resume after one year in a completely unique situation, especially when the club’s leadership structure arguably forced him to force Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo into the starting XI while relegating Mix Diskerud to an unnatural position and forcing Kwadwo Poku to the bench.

At the same time, it’s impossible to look at the wealth of attacking firepower Kreis had at his disposal and be satisfied with the results of New York City FC’s inaugural season. So, those who saw it fit for him to be fired were glad that City Football Group saw it their way. Their expectations were not met, and they were going to do whatever they could to increase the quality of football being displayed at Yankee Stadium. Good for CFG. Bravo.

After a brief period of speculation, Manchester City FC Elite Development Squad head coach Patrick Vieira was appointed as New York City FC’s new head coach. Once again, this decision was met by a divided fan base and beyond. On one side are those who believe in Vieira’s tremendous success as a player and as a coach with Manchester City’s reserve side, trusting that his pedigree and energy will be enough to help turn his inaugural first-team gig into a success. Across the aisle from those people are those who-aided by a dose of healthy cynicism-connected the dots and came to the conclusion that this was a hire destined to disappoint. A rookie head coach with absolutely zero experience and know-how regarding Major League Soccer hand picked by City Football Group high command being tasked with doing a better job than his predecessor-his antithesis- is a fishy situation.

Then came the dagger, slicing through the hearts of those who were already skeptics. Manchester City announced shortly after his appointment to New York City FC that Patrick Vieira’s new gig is part of the process by which City Football Group is grooming him to be the future manager of Manchester City FC.

“Hopefully, at some point, he’ll come back and manage Manchester City. That’s the ambition for him and that’s the ambition for us. But he has to go through this learning curve,” said MCFC official Brian Marwood.

Here lies the crux of the issue. The main question surrounding New York City FC from its conception to November 12th, 2015 centered around the direction City Football Group would take New York City FC. Certainly now it looks as if New York City’s newest pro sports team is a farm team.

And that just won’t do.

Believe it or not, however, there is still time for this club to change the perception of those who believe they are a joke. Unfortunately, the club and its ownership have teamed up to create a PR nightmare throughout much of the last year, so that perceptual shift will have to be brought about on the field.

On that front, the first step has already been taken. A lot of fat has been cut in the form of declined contract options, freeing up roster slots and cap space. They’ve acquired a quality defender in Ethan White from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for a 4th round SuperDraft pick. They’ve also managed to keep their core group of players together ahead of one of the most important off-seasons in Major League Soccer history.

Speaking of offseason: They’ve got money to burn.

That is a lot of funding to use, and they can use it for good instead of evil. The most important thing New York City FC can do ahead of their second season in Major League Soccer is spend wisely.

The best teams in this league play money ball. Just look at FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew SC, and the Portland Timbers. They’re downright thrifty, they develop from within, they bring in young talent from abroad, they make it deep into the playoffs, and do fun stuff like win the Shield and MLS Cup.

While I obviously don’t expect NYCFC to be pure moneyballers, there are lessons they can learn from these teams to supplement their growth and the ability they have to bring in brand-name stars like Pirlo, Lampard, and Villa. They need to use their wealth of Targeted Allocation Money to fill the needs of their team, which are largely starting-caliber defenders and wide midfielders.

While their player development situation remains unclear, the club has recently hired several coaches to fill out Vieira’s staff, including former USMNT U-18 coach Javier Perez and three others who worked with Vieira at Manchester City.

While outside perception remains negative at the moment, a closer inspection reveals that the wheels are certainly turning. Vieira may be being groomed for a larger role down the line, City Football Group are giving him resources and support that were not afforded to Jason Kreis, and though that may leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, it means that CFG realize it takes more to win than they thought.

They’re wising up, and they’ve taken some positive steps. If they can spend wisely and build up the foundation they failed to lay in their first season, New York City could be serious competitors in the near future.

And for New Yorkers, that’ll do.