Vieira, Nearing 50th Game, Has Put His Stamp on NYCFC

Patrick Vieira NYCFC Head Coach 2017 Home Opener 1

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoThere will be a time when the development of Coach Patrick Vieira and New York City FC won’t be intertwined.

Vieira will mark his 50th game in charge of NYCFC on Sunday, having established himself as a tactician and manager who works closely with his players. Whether he can take them and himself to the highest point in Major League Soccer is a question without an answer.

Under Vieira, NYCFC employs an attacking, possession-oriented style that has been largely successful. City has won 21 of the 46 regular-season games under Vieira, giving him the fifth-best winning percentage for all coaches in MLS since the beginning of 2016. They have also scored the most goals (84) and are the only team to win 10 road games over that span. Vieira has connected with his veteran stars through his work ethic, David Villa said.

“He earned my respect with his ideologies, his methodologies he gives day by day,” Villa said. “He’s done a good job.”

Vieira would be the first to admit that things have not gone perfectly during his time at the club. He regrets the selections he made for NYCFC’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss last year, in which a heavily rotated side could not generate chances. Despite the faith in his players and in attacking soccer, he chose a defensive lineup for the playoff series against Toronto and they gave little resistance.

When it comes to making decisions in a competitive environment, faith is not the best rationale. Yet many of Vieira’s mistakes can be attributed to an excessive or lack of faith in certain players. In both the Open Cup and more recently the loss at Real Salt Lake, Vieira was convinced his reserves could be competitive only to watch them struggle. His devotion last year to Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard left him without a replacement when injuries caught up to both veterans, something that could have been avoided had he not excommunicated Mix Diskerud.

Vieira’s faith in building from the back is a signature but he is not as stubborn about it as last season. He’s encouraged his defenders to add variety into their passing, which has made the team’s overall play balanced between direct and short. Last year, the emphasis on short passing from the back made NYCFC easy prey to teams who pressed higher upfield.

Equally as important as his tactical adaptations are Vieira and the front office’s changing understanding of MLS and how to function in it. Vieira had to deal with the remnants of New York City’s attempt to build a competitive roster from Day 1 and spent much of last year re-educating veterans instead of molding young players, his specialty.

“I really love every single day when I’m with the players,” Vieira said. “I believe that I have a really good group of players to work on the field. There is a really good atmosphere around and I really enjoy it every single day. I always learn from game-to-game the way that I manage the team and try to keep everybody happy. The tactical decisions that I make and the way that I see the game and the parts that I need to improve. It’s an exciting job and I love it.”

Matt Kremkau

Vieira and Jack Harrison.

Jack Harrison and Yangel Herrera credit Vieira with teaching them how to be professionals and how to perform in a fast-paced game, traits that can go far assuming they continue their careers overseas. Mikey Lopez displayed restraint and discipline in defensive midfield during City’s win at Orlando last weekend, a far cry from an overeagerness that created more problems than intended. There were instances where Vieira inspired confidence and performance from Khiry Shelton but they’ve been fleeting of late.

NYCFC’s still developing youth infrastructure means Vieira will not be able to exclusively raise young talent. It is also true that if Vieira wants to end up on the sideline at the Etihad Stadium back in Manchester, he will need to work with a front office to identify and sign the right veteran players. The additions of Maxime Chanot, Alex Callens, Rodney Wallace and Sean Johnson are critical in evaluating Vieira’s readiness to step in at Manchester City. These are not big-name players but they are the type who contribute to winning trophies.

“When you’ve played 20 years as a professional for the best clubs in the world, you learn so much about football,” Chanot said. “This is what he tries to share with us and I just say that from a coach it’s very good and it’s really important for us players. Especially for me, since I went to New York City to improve myself and it’s been what I’m doing every day since I’ve worked with him.”

Sports requires a reduction of a coach’s impact to wins, losses and draws. Measuring an individual’s over all impact is harder. Not when there are 15-year-old academy players sharing a practice field with a World Cup winner or an unassumingly 25-year-old midfielder learning where is his best position on the field. Nor does it inform the developing culture of professionalism and a fluid, attacking style of play.

Is Vieira ready for the Premier League? There are a lot of moving parts. Pep Guardiola is discussing a contract extension at City, which could keep Vieira pursuing trophies on this side of the Atlantic. At least he has the next 50 games to look forward to.


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