November 9, 2015
Patrick Vieira faces so many challenges as NYC FC coach I don't know where to start
By Michael Lewis
An intriguing pro soccer dichotomy is transpiring only 13 miles apart these days.
As the Red Bulls get a well-deserved respite from the Major League Soccer playoffs Monday, their neighbors across the Hudson River started taking their first steps toward the 2016 season.
As we all know, New York City FC, which harshly showed first-year Jason Kreis the door, named 1998 World Cup winner Patrick Vieira as coach for the 2016 season and beyond. While Vieira did sign a three-year contract, I use the world beyond quite lightly because in my gut I don't believe he will be around that long.
Vieira, who only retired in 2011 and has directed Machester City Elite Development squad since 2013. Translated: he never has coached a senior team, for better or worse. I fear the latter.
I would not be surprised if ManCity is grooming him for a bigger role across the pond and if he is successful in America, doors will open for him. If that occurs, it will only fuel the theory that NYC FC is a farm club for Manchester City.
The Red Bulls? They're not quite finished with the 2015 season as they get week off to prepare for their Eastern Conference final series with the Columbus Crew as they hope to host MLS Cup at Red Bull Arena on Dec. 6.
They will be the first ones to tell you it has been an long, arduous journey to win two of the three last Supporters Shields and transform the team into one of the league's most consistent and respectable side. They are still striving win secure their first MLS Cup, although this year's team is in great position to make his history.
NYC FC? I fear they are in a position to repeat some history. The Red Bulls, who were called the MetroStars before 2006, started an ill-advised trend by bringing in big-name coaches to the team their first four seasons. That resulted in underachieving teams in the league's biggest city. They became an embarrassment to the league and an ongoing joke in the American soccer community, culminating in that utterly forgettable 1999 season.
NYC FC owners have set the bar ridiculously high for themselves and Vieira. The powers that be in Manchester felt that three Over-33 Designated Players (David Villa is the baby at 33, followed by Andrea Pirlo at 36 and Frank Lampard at 37) should have reached the MLS playoffs this season. These guys ain't spring chickens and the last two won't beat many players in a race and as the new version of MLS has proved, star power can only take you only so far.
Whether Vieira can succeed in this league is up for serious question.
I am not questioning his football acumen or background, but rather his knowledge of Major League Soccer.
Truth be told, I have covered this league since the very first press conference that unveiled MLS to the world back in Las Vegas two days prior to the 1994 World Cup qualifying draw in December 1993.
After all these years, I have to admit I have trouble keeping up with all the rules, regulations, restrictions and limitations that coaches, general managers, sporting director and technical directors (did I forget anyone?) have to keep balanced.
I just wonder if someone with no background in MLS will be able to understand these complex rules in a short period of time.
Recently I likened MLS' confounding and confusing rules and regulations to a pair of giant quadratic equations that need to be balanced. Even the best people around who have served in high team capacities for years still have trouble balancing things out. That's why you see so many unbalanced trades and deals between teams because one team needs to get rid of a player, not due to his playing ability but because his salary (or a bonus that has kicked in) has put the team over the salary cap limit.
Beyond those rules and regs, there is the unique structure of U.S. soccer. In many European countries, a bus ride separates teams and cities. In North America, many times it is a plane ride, sometimes coast to coast. Throw in distinct weather differences from north to south and east to west and altitude in the Rocky Mountains and each game brings its own unique challenges.
Hopefully, City will find an able assistant who truly understands the hills and valleys of MLS.
If not, Vieira and City will be in for a tough time with a learning curve that already is challenging.