Manchester City's sister club are on the hunt for a new head coach after parting ways with one of the best the US game has to offer.
If you needed any indication that New York City FC’s owners are grossly ignorant about what it takes to build a successful MLS franchise, look no further than Monday’s decision to fire head coach Jason Kreis.
"Prior to the start of the season, it was agreed with the coaching team that the securing of a playoff place was an appropriate target for this year. A win rate of less than one in three games and a points tally which was the second lowest in the league is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed."
With that press release confirming Kreis’ sacking, City Football Group went some way towards highlighting its inability to shed its Eurocentric ideals and understand that it takes much more than vast resources to thrive under the various rules and regulations of MLS.
Since the Seattle Sounders in 2009, none of the following six expansion teams have made the playoffs in their first season, and while the Montreal Impact, Orlando City SC, the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps were all formed from lower league sides, NYCFC had to build things entirely from scratch.
Real Salt Lake were in their third MLS campaign when Kreis took over in May 2007, but the work their former striker did in transforming one of the league’s worst and most unglamorous teams into perennial overachievers was nothing short of miraculous.
Building a roster full of unheralded but savvy veterans like Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales and Jamison Olave, who soon became the envy of the rest of the league, Kreis not only guided RSL to the 2009 MLS Cup title against the odds but also led the club to the playoffs in six straight seasons before his departure for NYCFC in December 2013 – the longest streak in the league at the time.
Arriving in New York after narrowly missing out on another MLS Cup to Sporting Kansas City on penalties, few doubted that he was the perfect hire for Manchester City’s sister club, but many of the realists around the league also understood that he would likely not be able to turn them into title contenders overnight.
Time and patience was going to be needed, and for that reason, opinion was largely split heading into their inaugural campaign over whether NYCFC would make the playoffs, especially after Frank Lampard’s arrival was controversially delayed until the summer.
It certainly did not help that the former Chelsea midfielder eventually turned up in July unfit and injured either, and while fellow mid-season signing Andrea Pirlo was supposed to offer some timeless class to the line-up, he instead produced a string of truly pitiful performances over the second half of the campaign.
A luxury buy for all intents and purposes, Kreis himself was reportedly against the Italy legend's signing due to his surplus of midfield options, but rather than offer him the strike-partner he needed for frustrated skipper David Villa, ownership plowed ahead with the deal [h/t The Guardian].
Saddled with a player who was quite clearly a poor fit but whose star power dictated that he had to start, NYCFC unsurprisingly struggled to climb up the Eastern Conference table as the season progressed, and tensions eventually boiled over in late August following a 2-1 home defeat to Columbus Crew when Kreis called his team’s commitment into question.
“The players need to show if they want to be here and be a part of this because I know the coaching staff does,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the loss. “I know the coaching staff cares an awful lot about this club and the job we’re attempting to do. I’m not so sure all the players do.”
His criticism was entirely warranted amid a run of just one win in six games, but the likes of Lampard disagreed with his assessment.
“You’ll have to ask every individual, but I don’t feel that,” the 37-year-old added. “All I feel is something’s off on the pitch. We’re not getting the results and the consistency. But for me, it’s not for the want of trying.”
NYCFC’s form did in fact improve over the following weeks, despite the likes of US international Mix Diskerud failing to live up to their billing, but a three-game losing streak to end the season saw them finish in eighth place in the East, 12 points outside the playoffs and seven points behind fellow expansion outfit Orlando.
Nevertheless, there were certainly enough positives on display to suggest that 2016 could likely lead to better things, and aside from a small minority, very few wanted or even expected Kreis to be gone come the end of their first season.
For CFG, though, the 2009 MLS Cup-winning boss failed to win fast enough.
At any other MLS club, he almost certainly would have been given more time, but amid reports of Patrick Vieira and Fabio Capello being sounded out as potential successors [h/t Daily Mail], one of the league’s brightest young coaches was shown his marching orders due to wholly unrealistic expectations.
NYCFC’s press release recognised the challenges faced during an expansion season, yet "it was felt by the board, following a comprehensive review, that there was not enough evidence of the dynamics required to improve the performance of the team for the next season and beyond.”
In many ways, the sacking could well be a blessing in disguise for Kreis, as he will likely not be unemployed for long, but the immediate future for NYCFC does not look so prosperous.
The likes of Vieira and Capello may be big names across the Atlantic but neither has an ounce of experience working in MLS, where the rules and intricacies have proved the undoing of many European coaches in the past – Ruud Gullit being the most notable example.
If the men running Manchester City were more in tune with the US soccer landscape, they would have seen how some of the league’s top managers like Sporting KC’s Peter Vermes went on to great success after some initial struggles, but building for the future is not something they seem to be prepared to do.
Instead, the Abu Dhabi-based owners look set to continue following the Premier League model of going for a fast fix, but without the ability to spend as they please, their approach will more than likely result in little reward.