Coming Together: Vieira Molds NYCFC For 2016

NYCFC Patrick VIeira

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

New York City FC enter 2016 younger, less experienced and more hopeful than they were before starting their first season.

Will it be enough?

Well, that depends on how the players have responded to the new world of Patrick Vieira.

UNITING THE CLUB

NYCFC entered the 2015 campaign confidently stating its intent to contend for an MLS Cup. Of course, they had some reason for such bluster, particularly due to their collection of veteran stars and proven MLS coaching. Whether 2016 represents a year of progress or another year of meandering for NYCFC will largely depend on new head coach Patrick Vieira’s ability to unify NYCFC’s ensemble squad.

Those efforts begin at the meal table.

“For me, it was normal to start the meal together and finish the meal together,” Vieira told Sirius XM’s Glenn Crooks. “That means lunch, breakfast or dinner so if lunch was at 12 o’clock, everybody has to be in the room at 12 o clock and when everybody is sitting down then they can start to eat and before leaving the table everybody has to finish the lunch.”

Vieira said the idea of having the entire team sit together for meals came from Fabio Capello, his former coach at Juventus. Capello’s teachings in team building are a part of the coaching canon in European circles but they are based around simple social principles — like no phones at meals to encourage conversations between everyone at the table.

“For me it’s important to spend time together, to know each other…that will help us to be successful because in football we are going to go through a difficult period and one of the things that can help us go through those difficult periods is our togetherness,” Vieira said. “How can we know each other quite well? How can we be open to each other and tell the truth to each other? That is the way to want the team to act.”

WORKING TOGETHER – AND UNDERSTANDING THE SYSTEM

Unlike in 2015, the NYCFC squad will be together for all seven months of the regular season. All three of its designated players are signed and with the team — already an improvement over last year. In 2015, Frank Lampard delayed his NYCFC arrival until June and struggled for match fitness throughout the late summer. Lampard’s fitness struggles continued this preseason as a calf injury kept him out of the club’s matches. Meanwhile, Andrea Pirlo joined the team at midseason. As those pieces coalesced, David Villa led from the front for the entirety of the season.

Lampard’s absence this preseason has benefited midfielder Thomas McNamara who has focused on being a box-to-box midfielder in Vieira’s 4-3-3. McNamara has only played 28 competitive matches after being drafted in 2014 but has experience in both attacking and defensive roles. That fits well into Vieira’s goal of having the two more advanced midfielders join the attack — McNamara’s late goal against FC Cincinnati serves a textbook example.

The goal may be celebrated for McNamara’s finish but it is really a triumph of how positioning and anticipation can lead to chances being created.

“What is important to understand is how we play and how we organize ourselves when we have the ball,” Vieira said, “and then knowing that, you can make a quicker decision. When you can make a quicker decision on the field you are two, three seconds ahead of the opposition team and players that mark you, that will create difficulty for the opposition team and create chances for us.”

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

Vieira’s record as coach of Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad continues to look impressive as his former players have began contributing to City’s First Team. However at NYCFC, Vieira is developing players for his own use to win matches. That requires a higher intensity than what was necessary for the U21 Premier League while trying to teach a group of players a sophisticated system of high-pressing, possession football that is only beginning to be taught in American soccer circles.

It’s a complicated problem Vieira chooses to face by presenting his players with his basic expectations.

“We have to give them different scenarios and then they will have to make the decision when they are on the field because the ball moves around,” Vieira said. “You will be defending within your own half, the next minute it will be in the opposition half…I think it is really important for the players to know what they have to do regarding the position of the ball. It is why we have to keep working until everything is clear and perfect.”

NYCFC’s preseason showed there is still some work to do until things are clear and perfect. Although they retained possession well in each of their six games, they struggled to create chances from possession. Defensively, they’ve yet to fully understand their defensive positions and roles under Vieira’s high-pressing approach.

IMPORTANCE OF DEFENSE

Vieira admitted that there may be pores in the team’s defense but it comes from a proactive approach to play. If those holes get plugged, NYCFC will improve on last season’s record of 37 points with 17 losses in 34 games. That will largely depend on how the team’s new backline gels together. It is a mix of youth in left back Ronald Matarrita and center back Ethan White and experience in center back Frédéric Brillant and right back Andoni Iraola. Iraola is the lone starting holdover from last year’s starting defense that gave up a league-worst 58 goals.

Despite the poor defensive record, NYCFC finished last season with only a minus-9 goal differential. Villa scored 18 goals last year and enters this season with healthy wingers Tony Taylor and Khiry Shelton to support him. Lampard, Mix Diskerud and Kwadwo Poku are expected to create chances and get on the scoresheet more as Vieira will call on them to join the attack from midfield.

NYCFC start 2016 in the same place they spent the second half of 2015 — trying to come to grips with new tactics while playing together for the first time. Last season, their late bid for a playoff berth fell short and the team fell apart amidst rumors of dissent and disinterest.

NYCFC should be in the playoff hunt should Vieira’s tactical changes bear fruit — and if he can keep the team together for more than just their meals.