NYC FC have thrived in the face of adversity and much of that success can be traced directly back to their coach
Foreign coaches cant win in MLS, right?
New York City FC have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in their two-year history and much of that success rests on the back of one man: Patrick Vieira.
Its easy to forget that NYC FC were considered an outlier in the MLS Cup conversation leading into 2016 and with good reason. The signing of Vieira did little to inspire hope. Pundits skewered City Football Group for the appointment of an inexperienced, foreign-born coaching novice to handle its high-profile American arm, especially following the release of the decorated and respected Jason Kreis.
Furthermore, the core of last years disastrous 2015 roster was left nearly intact. Ronald Matarrita, Federico Bravo and Diego Martinez were the only real notable offseason additions, and a standout center-back remained elusive.
But like the 2015 Red Bulls, NYC FC thrived in the face of adversity and much of that success can be traced directly back to their coach.
So what made Vieira successful where Kreis fell short? For starters, he commanded the respect of every player in the locker room. That is a big deal, especially when your roster includes the likes of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. The offseason purge of MLS veterans such as Chris Wingert, Andrew Jacobson and Ned Grabavoy also gave him a clean slate to work with, offering a smoother transition to his more European minded way of managing the side.
Training became noticeably stiffer. Two-a-days became a way of life. Team dinners occurred with more frequency. And each approach led to a more unified side.
On the touchline, Vieira proved to be both stubborn and pragmatic in his coaching approach. He never compromised his desire to play out of the back, no matter how ugly some matches went (7-0 Red Bull loss anyone?). Despite that approach, he was surprisingly malleable when it came to his tactical deployment, often compensating for the teams defensive deficiencies with multiple fronts. He experimented with everything from a modified 4-3-3 to a 1920s throwback W-M formation, cobbling together three-, four- and five-man defensive lines, sometimes in a single match.
All the while, he stressed competition and a tough-love approach to his team. That quickly steeled the will of youngsters like Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton while creating the kind of team environment NYC FCs veteran foreign core was accustomed to.
The result? Victories. NYC FC finished 2015 with a league high 58 goals conceded while scoring 49. This year, they are tied for first place with the Red Bulls and Toronto, and have scored a league high 55 goals and conceded 53. Take away the 7-0 loss to the Red Bulls, and the turnaround is all the more impressive.
Yes, Villa has been instrumental in that success and Lampard, indispensable. But make no mistake were it not for Vieiras managerial brilliance, NYC FC would not be where they are today. DM
With defeat to Seattle the LA Galaxy must avoid last seasons fate
The LA Galaxy dont take defeat so well. And so with the full-time whistle still lingering at StubHub Center following their 4-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders the club enveloped itself in indignity. Captain Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were gone by the time the locker room opened to the media, while manager Bruce Arena did his best bad loser routine. Oh, God. I really have to answer that? Thats a fairly dumb question, he reacted when asked how the Galaxy can cut down on their defensive errors.
This was a damaging defeat for the Galaxy, leaving them five points adrift of FC Dallas at the top of the Western Conference and Supporters Shield standings. Damaging not because it hurts their league position particularly FC Dallas have been favourites in the West for some time now but because it could have an impact on their mentality heading into the play-offs.
Of course, LAs record has been impressive of late. This was their first defeat in seven league outings and their place in the post-season is all but assured, if not locked in. But the Galaxy found themselves in a similar situation last year, performing well until a catastrophic 5-2 home defeat to the Portland Timbers. The defeat rattled them all the way into the play-offs, where LA exited in the knockout round.
Arena must ensure the same thing doesnt happen this season following Sundays home defeat to the Sounders. The same hallmarks were there, with the Galaxy losing their grip of things just as quickly as they did against Portland the year previously. There was a certain raggedness to their performance that will surely give Arena more concern that he let on to the media after the match.
The momentum that seemed to have been gained by Landon Donovans equaliser against Sporting KC the week before has now been lost. Its something of a cliche in soccer, but Arena must make sure the defeat to Seattle is considered as nothing more than a mere blip in the locker room. Otherwise the effects could seep into their mindset at the worst possible time. Sounders 2016 mustnt become Timbers 2015. GR
The Kamaras never lie
Kei Kamaras return to Columbus was the big story going into Sunday nights primetime encounter against the Crew. However, it was the other Kamara leaving MAPFRE with all the glory.
Ola Kamara notched a brace against New England, leading the way towards an important 2-0 victory. Astonishingly, the win puts the ninth place Crew just five points behind DC United for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East with a match in hand.
Individually, the win also adds an important chapter in the ongoing, intertwined tale of Ola and Kei Kamara. No, I did not mean to say Federico Higuain. The fact is Ola Kamara has been more effected by Kei Kamaras trade than anyone on the Crew — Higuain included.
Since that fateful May day, Ola Kamara (who played just 50 minutes through the teams first nine matches) has been asked to fill the boots of the beloved Kei Kamara, and he has delivered. His first 11 matches following the trade saw Ola start 10 times, scoring 10 goals for the Crew. After a brief dip in form this summer, the Norwegian striker has once again cemented his spot in the starting XI, scoring five goals in his last three starts while leading Columbus to a pair of victories.
Kei Kamara has been another story altogether. Unlike Ola, Kei has had a difficult time moving on from his trade to New England. The 32-year-old has scored just five goals in 18 appearances with the Revolution, matching his five-goal output through nine matches with Columbus earlier this season.
And there is another dimension to Keis trade to consider: the emotional aspect. Kei Kamara was a community leader for the Crew. He loved Columbus and Columbus loved him, making the move all the harder for him to accept. Fans were divided on his trade, and that was still evident on Sunday night, with a smattering of boos and cheers following him throughout most of the match.
Ola Kamara? He has been the lone constant of hope in this unlikely Crew postseason run, making him a beloved figure with the Columbus faithful.
The funny thing is, both Kamaras now find themselves in a similar situation. New England and Columbus are searching for a postseason berth, and time is running out. Their form down the stretch may very well dictate their teams fate. And ultimately answer the question who got the better of the deal? DM
The San Jose Earthquakes will have a lot to think about this off-season
When the San Jose Earthquakes made their move for Dominic Kinnear two years ago they did so with one objective in mind: making the play-offs. After eight years with the Houston Dynamo the Scottish-born coach had earned a reputation for himself as a maximiser, making the most of what he had to ensure a certain consistency matched by very few in MLS. Having taken Houston to the play-offs in seven of his nine seasons at the club, making four MLS Cup finals, Kinnear was appointed at San Jose on the hope he would achieve similar success there. It hasnt panned out that way.
Saturdays 2-1 home defeat to Sporting KC – their first to the Kansas City franchise in 16 years – means the Quakes now sit slumped second bottom of the Western Conference, seven points short of the play-off spots with just five regular season fixtures left to play. For the fourth successive year, and the second with Kinnear in charge, San Jose look set to miss out on the post-season. Theyll once again have their face pressed against the window, watching the party from outside.
And so the Earthquakes will have some serious thinking to do this off-season. The move to the shiny new, glittery Avaya Stadium, with all its hospitality suites and pitchside bars, was supposed to signal a shift in identity and ambition at the club. Kinnears appointment symbolised that. Even if he endured something of a difficult final season at Houston, the Scot was still considered MLSs go-to-guy for overachievement.
But should San Jose finish where they currently lie in the Western Conference they will have matched their worst ever MLS finish in franchise history. Their conference title win of 2012 now seems a long time ago and the Earthquakes could now face something of an existential juncture before the start of the 2017 season.
Of course, San Jose could still make the play-offs this season. It may be an unlikely scenario, but with two games in-hand over the Portland Timbers in sixth place they could still secure a post-season spot. The Seattle Sounders have three games in-hand over the Timbers, but its not impossible that the Quakes could make a late run.
However, should the probable ultimately materialise the San Jose Earthquakes must consider whether the club is heading in the right direction. If things are getting worse rather than better could Kinnears job be under threat? What happens when the play-off man no longer makes the play-offs? GR
The picture becomes clearer
There is finally some clarity to the MLS playoff picture.
As week 31 of the MLS campaign comes to a close, four teams have booked their place in the postseason. FC Dallas led the way last week as the first and only team to qualify for the playoffs. This week, they are joined by a trio of Eastern Conference powers: New York City FC, New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC.
All three teams are tied atop the Eastern Conference with 48 points. The Red Bulls and NYC FC share identical 13-9-9 records, while Toronto FC hold a game advantage on both at 13-9-8.
New York City FC proved they were more than just the production of Frank Lampard, unleashing four goals on the Chicago Fire en route to a 4-1 victory. That win, however, was not enough to book their place in the postseason. After watching DC United destroy Jason Kreis and Orlando City 4-1, NYC FC were forced into the uncomfortable role of cheering the New York Red Bulls against the Montreal Impact.
As fate would have it, the Red Bulls 1-0 win not only booked their place in the postseason, but also pushed NYC FC and Toronto into the playoffs as well.
Despite the helping hand, each team has overcome obstacles to reach their position. For Toronto, it is the second time in team history that they have qualified for the postseason and their second consecutive postseason berth. While their roster screams contender on paper, key injuries and streaky play from the likes of Jozy Altidore, Giovinco and Michael Bradley have slowed the potential gains of an otherwise imposing roster.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have struggled to find consistent winning football. They started the year losing six of their first seven matches. They followed that run with six victories in their next eight. Currently, they are undefeated in their last 13 matches, but seven of those results were draws, with six coming after conceding two goal leads, leaving questions over their consistency.
As for NYC FC, they were never supposed to be here in the first place. A rookie, foreign coach and a near-identical roster to their poor 2015 season seemed to spell doom for the second year club. However, they have exceeded expectations and done what was once considered improbable.
Now, all eyes are on the remaining 16 teams in the chase. DM