Vieira takes ownership for selection mistakes, criticizes attacking players

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

Judging by the lineup selection, one would assume New York City FC were not taking the U.S. Open Cup seriously.

That is, until you saw their play and reaction after a tough 1-0 loss to the New York Cosmos.

Patrick Vieira and his players looked as frustrated and hurt as any eliminated team. Vieira fidgeted throughout his interview with reporters, his players sighed while answering questions. While NYCFC showed that they took the U.S. Open Cup seriously, Vieira admitted that he may have done so naively.

“I think if you play like the way we performed, you will lose against any team,” Vieira said. “And it’s not about the Cosmos, it’s about us and the way we perform.

“Of course as the manager, as the coach, I’m the one who made the selection and I am the first one to put my hand in the air and to say yes, I made a mistake when I made the decision to rest so many players and I am the first responsible for the performance of the players. But at the same time, I strongly believe the players didn’t perform today and that is unacceptable.”

Vieira kept all three designated players and Josh Saunders off the match day roster for Wednesday night’s match. Thomas McNamara, Andoni Iraola and R.J. Allen were unused substitutes. Vieira said Saturday afternoon’s match against the Philadelphia Union made him feel hamstrung when it came to making his lineup decisions for last night.

“I’m a little disappointed, yes, because I gave some players a chance to perform, to show me that they deserved to play more and they didn’t show it today,” Vieira said. “And that’s why I’m quite really frustrated, because the trust I had in them, they didn’t have it back.

“It’s difficult for me to accept,” he continued. “My focus was on the game, and now that the game is over we can think about Philadelphia but the performance from the team was really poor.”

Vieira clarified that it was his attacking players who disappointed him the most. He said he came into the game more concerned about his defenders. He gave Shannon Gomez his NYCFC debut at right back and goalkeeper Eirik Johansen his first start of the season. Both players were effective playing simple games and not letting bravado get in the way.

“I think in football, the most difficult thing is to keep the game simple,” Vieira said. “To allow yourself to keep the game simple, you have to be humble. I don’t think tonight we had the humility to win that game or make the right decision at the right time because sometimes we are thinking that we are better than what we are.”

NYCFC were on the front foot for most of the second half, pinning the Cosmos inside their own half for minutes on end. Yet for their possession, they could only muster six shots and force a goal-line block from Hunter Freeman. Vieira told the YES broadcast at halftime that wingers Kwadwo Poku and Khiry Shelton were not supporting forward Patrick Mullins well enough.

Mullins said after the game he felt isolated at times.

“I did feel defenders kind of creeping up a little more and then at times it felt a little 2v1,” Mullins said. “But you know, as the lone central attacker that obviously happens at points. I thought Poku had some good moments in there, really coming in and trying to settle things down and same with Khiry on the other side.

“Patrick has high standards and when you lose in this fashion, we always want more out of it, but I guess that’s just the life of a center forward.”

Vieira substituted Shelton for Tony Taylor in the 73rd minute but said he held off on making further subs because extra time was looming and both center backs were on yellow cards. Vieira was forced to introduce Jason Hernandez after Jefferson Mena pulled up injured in the 87th minute. The Cosmos scored a minute later. Jack Harrison came on as the final substitution immediately afterwards but could not alter the outcome.

While Poku looked comfortable on the ball in the midfield, Opta shows he only made four short passes in the final third and had no key passes (passes leading to chances). Poku only had two shots during the match: a header that Jimmy Maurer comfortably caught and a shot from distance that was blocked. Shelton completed four passes in the final third as well — all of them backwards. He took no shots.

Vieira said the attacking players that disappointed him must show more humility and character in the coming weeks.

“Those are the two most difficult things to do in football,” Vieira said. “It is frustrating but that is what we need to create as a football club. Humility, working hard and giving everything. I think we didn’t show it tonight, we didn’t show it the last few games we’ve played and if you don’t show it, you have to be monsieur Ronaldo to have the quality to do it. If you don’t have the quality to do it, you have to keep the game simple and be humble and work hard for the team. When we don’t do it, we don’t have any chance to win games.”