Ronny Deila technically has coached eight regular-season matches in Major League Soccer, but after almost nine months in charge of New York City FC, he’s learned a few nuances between the league and his previous European experiences.
“I think it's a very equal league,” Deila said of MLS. “So you can lose against everybody and you can beat everybody, and that's a positive thing, I think.”
Deila learned that lesson the hard way early in his pandemic-disrupted debut season in America. His NYCFC squad, which finished first in the Eastern Conference last season under Domènec Torrent, dropped its first two league matches before the shutdown, then lost two of three regular-season matches played at the MLS is Back Tournament.
But during the slow start, Deila caught on to something else about MLS that’s working in his favor — making the playoffs, at this point, is all that matters.
“It's strange in the way that it's not about winning the league, it's about coming to the playoff and win the playoff,” Deila said. “That's very, very different from what I'm used to, you know, everything is about the league. Of course, everybody [in MLS] wants to win the league, but you can see that some teams are thinking ahead to the playoffs, and that's strange for me.”
Winning "the league" as Deila has known it -- the Supporters' Shield for most points in the MLS regular season -- likely is out of the picture for City in 2020. But despite the rough beginning to his tenure, Deila’s team isn’t far from a playoff spot entering Wednesday's match against the New England Revolution.
While Phase 1 of MLS’ full resumption of play also started poorly for NYCFC with a loss against the rival Red Bulls, two fairly convincing wins over Columbus Crew SC and Chicago Fire FC have City just one point outside the playoff positions.
“It's going to be a tough game,” Deila said. “We go away against a good team. So, we need to be at our best if we're going to have three points. It's a big test for us, and I think also, if we go away with three points in this game it's like a massive statement that we are on the right path and can start to look up on the table instead of the other way. So, I'm really looking forward to it.”
Clinging to its playoff hopes with just nine points isn’t exactly a success story for NYCFC given the club’s title expectations entering the season. But last year’s club-best 64-point finish could provide some inspiration. Under Torrent, City had just 11 points at this stage of the 2019 campaign before turning things around by summer and winning eight of its final 11 matches of the season to clinch the top spot.
Keaton Parks, whose emergence was a key part of the 2019 resurgence, said back-to-back victories have the club feeling like it turned a corner under Deila as it did under Torrent a year ago.
“We had a slow start this season, it was tough, we had two tough losses before quarantine, then of course four months off doesn't help us. So, yeah, I think we are at that point, I think we've turned it around,” Parks said. “Two good wins and the atmosphere here, the attitude here is really good right now and we're all confident and we're going to keep pushing forward.”
NOTES: NYCFC midfielder Maxi Moralez’s status in the starting lineup for Wednesday remains undetermined, Deila said. The designated player was back in action Saturday against Chicago, playing the final 45 minutes and recording an assist. Deila expects Moralez to contribute in some form against the Revs . . . Defender Sebastien Ibeagha returned to training this week after dealing with a calf injury all summer. Midfielder Gedion Zelalem remains out with a knee injury.