For many soccer clubs, the way the team goes about playing the game is just as important as the final result. For some, a specific style is as important to the club’s culture as its colors and badge.
Entering its sixth season, New York City FC doesn’t quite have the storied past to say its current tactics constitute a solidified identity, but the club’s new head coach is embracing the strategies utilized by his predecessors as he prepares for his first season in Major League Soccer.
NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said Friday the club will stay with the tactics that helped it finish last regular season atop the Eastern Conference. It built offensive attacks through the back and utilized possession of the ball to control games, and now the club looks to maintain some consistency following the departures of coach Domènec Torrent and sporting director Claudio Reyna.
“I think it's important that the clubs find the coaches that can coach in the same way because it's like religions, it's a hundred different ways to get to the goal, and New York City Football Club has one direction,” Deila said. “They want to be offensive minded, they want to play from behind, they want to create overloads.”
Deila, a 44-year-old Norwegian who led Scottish powerhouse Celtic to back-to-back Scottish Premiership titles in 2015-16, joined NYCFC this offseason from Vålerenga of Norway’s top flight. He replaced Torrent, an internal hire by City Football Group from Pep Guardiola’s staff at Manchester City, who left NYCFC after leading the club to a first-round playoff bye and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League in his only full season in charge. While Deila is new to CFG, he said he’s received numerous loan players from the organization’s clubs during his coaching stops over the years and always had good experiences. He’s quickly embraced how CFG’s clubs operate on the pitch.
“I think it's important that when I coach the team now I see that we’ve worked in the same style for four years now. That's a big, big asset for the team and for me, because then you can build on what's been here before,” Deila said. “It's in the style of New York City to play from behind, create overloads, switch the play, crosses, and get the players between the lines, so, it's just to be even more clear to get overloads from behind to work with that.”
The Norwegian coach does believe there are improvements to be made, specifically on the defensive side, where he hopes the team can learn to react better in transition and become more compact after losing the ball in the final third. But with much of last year’s squad returning, he doesn’t want to change things just to change them, focusing on small fixes over wholesale moves.
“They've played together at least one year now, 90% of the players. That's a big asset in football. There's not many teams that can keep the consistency," he said. "So, for me that's work with relations so everything goes quicker, so everybody knows exactly where they are in different situations, then opponents will have big, big problems. So, for me that’s a positive that they have done a lot of things before that is also into the style I want to play with them, with things getting quicker.”
There’s been a key element missing from NYCFC’s style over the years that Deila may be able to bring to the club — a trophy.
With a disappointing exit in last season’s playoff opener lingering, Deila isn’t putting a league title up as a main goal just yet, especially with the club battling on three fronts in MLS, Champions League and the U.S. Open Cup. But an improvement over last year’s ugly playoff finish is an initial objective, as is a deep run in the continental competition, which begins with a Feb. 20 trip to A.D. San Carlos of the Costa Rican league.
“You have to have high goals. It's a tough league to win but of course you try to improve what was last year. I'm sure if you ask the players and me and everybody around me wants to do that,” Deila said. “So, it's first of all go to the playoffs and then get further than the first round and hopefully try to win it. But when it's one game it's like a cup, the small details of it will be the difference, but I think the experience the players have in these kinds of games now also can be very important.
“Also you have the Champions League you want it to be a very, very good experience. Try to get as long as you can, there's never been an American team winning before as I know, and of course we will do everything to get as far as possible there as well.”