New York City FC: A review of 2020 and Ronny Deila

New York City FC, Ronny Deila. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
New York City FC, Ronny Deila. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

New York City FC and Ronny Deila did not live up to expectations for 2020

The 2020 MLS season was not ideal for New York City FC.  The team still finished in 5th place and qualified for playoffs, but the Pigeons finished first in the Eastern Conference back in 2019.  They predominantly brought back the majority of the team from that successful season, and the usual choices for the Starting XI.  Hence, fans assumed 2020 would be similar to that incredible year.

However, this season was plagued with inconsistency.  Scoring goals became a challenge, and when the Pigeons found their groove, they often lost it again.  Unfortunately, this was problematic, for they went on a goal-scoring and winning trend in their final four games of the regular season.  Then, they lost their momentum in their first and only playoff game of the year, losing to Orlando City SC in penalty kicks.

Yes, 2020 was an odd and unconventional year due to the pandemic.  The physical and mental toll of resuming the shortened season impacted players, and facilitated some of the problems on the pitch.  Plus, while Héber struggled in the goal-scoring department, losing him due to injury was a tremendous loss.  Nonetheless, it is still perplexing that a talented team like NYCFC could not succeed.

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Therefore, the question has to be asked once again: Is Ronny Deila the right fit for New York City FC?  If one looks at the final four games of the season, then it might seem that way.  The team was finally clicking together and could have possibly make a run in the playoffs.

Alas, everyone who follows MLS knows what happened in the Orlando game, which led to the Pigeons once again being eliminated.  The club needs a coach that will not only get them to the playoffs but help them get over the hump of collapsing in the post-season.

Also, NYCFC finished with a 12-3-8 regular-season record, with 11 of those wins coming after the MLS is Back tournament.  In fact, their record since then was 11-3-4.  This illuminates the players were starting to get their act together and is a decent record for that period of time.  Yet, the issue at hand occurs around who they played.  Based on the final standings, NYCFC played 18 games after the tournament, and 11 of those games were against clubs that finished in the bottom half of the table.  NYCFC had an 8-2-1 record against those sides, and then a 3-1-3 against those in the top half of the table.

In other words, schedule fortune was alive and well for the Pigeons.  Playing against teams that struggled more was extremely helpful.  Yes, it is possible Deila was part of why the team had some success, especially in the latter part of the season.  Yet, he was challenged in leading them against top tier sides, and could not lead the team to be consistent.

Furthermore, in a season where rotation was necessary, the coach was reluctant to give others starting opportunities.  Jake Nisse of the NY Post said it best back in October: Deila was ‘in danger of running his squad ragged’.  Despite ending the regular season on a four-game winning streak, there were many players that seemed gassed, such as Anton Tinnerholm.  Not only did Deila resist to change his starting XI often, but he also had an issue with making substitutions in a timely manner, including when the club was losing.

According to Eliot McKinley of American Soccer Analysis, Deila waited the longest in MLS to make substitutions, at an average of around 79 minutes.  With the talent on the bench, it is flabbergasting he sometimes waited so long to make changes.  Does he not trust some of his players, even though many on the bench are capable of adding to the game?  Is he someone who is just plain stubborn, and believed his starting players could do the job, even when they could not?

Additionally, with many double game weeks, the lack of rotation and use of substitutions in a timely manner was troublesome.  New York City FC, like the rest of MLS, had to play a shortened and condensed season, and more games in a shorter period of time often lead to injuries.  It is a miracle that the club did not lose more players, and by the end of the season, they were only without starters Héber and James Sands.

This lack of rotation and time management from Deila is not something fans wanted to see, and not healthy for players to endure.  Between that, the lack of consistency, and the fall to fifth place make Deila’s appointment as head coach questionable.  His record after the MLS is Back tournament was satisfactory, but again, the schedule was friendly to the Pigeons.  So, looking at the question above, once again, is Deila a right fit for NYCFC?

A complex answer

The answer is a complex one.  On paper, and after following Patrick Vieira and Domènec Torrent, the answer would be no.  This club is too talented to finish in fifth place and struggle with scoring goals.  However, and I will admit this in public, 2020 was not a fair year.  Deila was handed over a talented team but had to manage through a pandemic.  And all over sports, fans are seeing talented teams struggle and not perform as well as they did before the pandemic.  It is not to say the pandemic caused New York City FC to not perform their best, but rather one cannot make a fair comparison because the season was so different.

So, I am willing to give Ronny Deila a chance in 2021.  Although, if he was let go after the CONCACAF Champions League, then I would not be opposed to that either.  Nevertheless, he deserves a chance in a more normal season.  And, in all honesty, the scoring difficulties might have been entirely on the players.  A coach is supposed to mold a team to be the best they can be.  Still, sometimes they can only do so much.

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In the end, 2020 was not New York City FC’s year.  The players struggled, and Ronny Deila did not live up to his predecessors.  And of course, the playoffs were once again a failure.  In the off-season, much work will be needed.  The club does not need to make too many changes player-wise, but there is no doubt the two open Designated Player spots should be used wisely.  NYCFC and Deila have an open opportunity here, and if they fix the issues that plagued their 2020 season, and make the right signings, then, on paper, 2021 should be a much better year for the Pigeons.