New York City FC have finally clicked under new head coach, Ronny Deila. However, dig below the surface and the success was always there.
For New York City FC, it has been a difficult start to life in Major League Soccer in 2020. After Dome Torrent led them to the top of the Eastern Conference in 2019, there were high expectations for his replacement, Ronny Deila, who inherited almost all of the talent that Torrent left behind.
Deila was extremely popular at Celtic, his last managerial job. He is known for his ruthless management, somewhat effervescent, domineering touchline demeanour, and demanding coaching style. It was believed that he could inspire similar results with NYCFC in 2020, if not providing that added ruthlessness they lacked during crunch time.
Initially, though, results were poor. New York City FC lost their first four matches of the 2020 MLS season. In fact, they did not score a goal until their fourth game, and that was a long-range pot shot from Jesus Medina against Orlando City. They lost 3-1.
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The CCL did feature a two-legged victory over San Carlos, including scoring five goals in the first leg. But then they lost 1-0 to Tigres UANL in the first leg of their quarter-final. It seemed as though Deila’s tenure in New York might not ever get off the ground.
Then, suddenly, inspiration.
It started with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Inter Miami, another struggling team who had failed to earn a point before they met. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored the only goal of the game and suddenly, New York looked like a completely different team. They squeezed into the knockout stages and immediately dismantled Toronto FC in an excellent 3-1 victory, their best performance of the season. Toronto had not lost in the 2020 season before then.
More pertinently than the results, it was clear that New York City FC were beginning to play with confidence and clarity, executing precisely what Deila wanted of them. Consider how Deila spoke about Valentin Castellanos’ performance after the match:
“The difference between what Taty did now and what he did for three games ago is like, you know, he start to do his job. And that was to press the two central defenders and No. 6 player together with the other striker or No. 10 player, instead of running at fullbacks and all over the pitch. So the discipline and the organization was really, really good.”
He touches on the execution of his specific role within the collective system. The NYCFC players are beginning to understand what is being asked of them, and now that they are executing their responsibilities at a high level, the results are flowing.
But while their attacking play in the penalty area has certainly sharpened up in the past two matches, the underlying success was already there. The 1-0 defeat to Tigres in the CCL was the perfect illustration of NYCFC’s season. They entirely dominated the match, created numerous brilliant chances, and yet fell short because of a lack of cohesiveness and cutting-edge quality in the penalty area.
Despite the final result, though, and that they did not ultimately score, the underlying processes were extremely positive. Their combinations were encouraging in midfield. They looked comfortable and progressive in possession, They pressed excellently, suffocating Tigres high up the pitch, and they largely controlled the match.
New York City FC, then, are finally finding their feet under Deila. And that makes them extremely dangerous for the remainder of the 2020 season. But if you looked a little deeper, you could see that such success was always just around the corner.