1) How would we rate NYCFC's integration into MLS? Has the recruitment been adequate enough to survive the first half of the season?
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being "historically awful" — think 1999 MetroStars, '05 Chivas/RSL, or '13 DC United — and 10 being the '09 Seattle Sounders, I'd put New York City at a 3 right now. Going on an 11-game winless streak, which just ended last week, doesn't help.
The team started out competitively, drawing fellow expansion club Orlando and beating New England, but quickly settled into a massive funk. Normally, you expect a team to gell as the season goes on, but not New York City. There were moments in that streak where it literally looked as if the eleven players on the field had just gotten together for a pick up game 20 minutes before. That's changed drastically in the last couple of games — a harbinger of better days to come, perhaps?
I think that comes to a few things. One, and I've said this before, this is a roster of mismatched parts — way overloaded on attacking midfielders, way short on defensive midfielders and central defenders, and lacking any offensive punch. Two, it's an expansion team put together from scratch. From the players on the field to the front office, everyone's still forging relationships and figuring out how to get things done. Guys like Jason Kreis may have experience with the expansion crucible, but it's one thing to do it in Salt Lake City and entirely a different thing to do it in New York City, under two sets of owners that are not noted at all for their patience or long-term vision.
Finally, the recruitment has to be a lot better in the second half of the season — and really, going forward. The bulk of this team was put together in the MLS Expansion Draft. Here's whom they picked up:
The majority of those players have been contributors. They traded Lovitz back to Toronto for allocation money, which they likely used to pay down Mix Diskerud's cap hit. Zizzo was traded to the Red Bulls for a one year loan of Ryan Meara, who's started one game. I'm high on McNamara — as are a lot of other folks — so it's bizarre that he's featured so little for New York City. Taylor injured himself and is out for the season. And then there's George John. The impression the vast majority of folks had was that he was on track to play this year.
George John is taking up a roster slot that could be used on a central defender. That's not to ding John; he's just emblematic of the strategy that technical director Claudio Reyna took in building this roster, which was to build it on the cheap, either by grabbing players off the discard pile or players who weren't on the MLS radar. That's how you end up signing a player like Andres Mendoza, who never played a minute for New York City, and was reportedly so dire at training that New York City literally signed someone off the street rather than play him.
Let's hope that the first half of this season has wisened Reyna up. If not, life could certainly get way bumpier for the team before it gets better.
2) What is Manchester City's impact on NYCFC sporting wise ?
Large and small. In the run up to play, a lot was made of the potential for Manchester City to loan players to New York City — whether from the team (someone like, say, Scott Sinclair) or, much more likely, from their academy. So far, we've just seen two players make that jump — Shay Facey, a defender, and Eirik Johannsson, a goalkeeper. Johannsson hasn't featured for the team, but Facey has. He had a really rough start to life here — he got the team's first-ever red card — but ever since switching to centerback, he's improved measurably.
But that's it. Maybe more players make the jump in the second half, but I doubt it; I'm skeptical that Kreis wants even more players who aren't used to MLS on his roster. So that impact has been small.
The large impact: Frank Lampard.
I'm not going to rehash the fact that everyone concerned lied about him coming to New York City. That's done and dusted, though never forgotten. The really bad part wasn't the lying; it was the fact that Lampard was considered a fundamental building block for the team. Every successful MLS team has a good-to-great spine: centerback —> midfield —> forward. It is critical for success.
For better or worse, Lampard was going to be the heart of the New York City midfield. Manchester City tore that heart out. And for what? So he could sit on the bench?
I guarantee you that New York City wouldn't have had the scoring issues they've had thus far, or played as badly as they have, had Lampard been around from the start. New York City's roster construction makes slightly more sense if you picture Lampard as the hub, with the other midfielders as spokes. To have that hub taken away from you, with no ability to replace it, is atrocious. But Lampard is just emblematic of a larger issue.
I think, at root, the problem is that they don't know what they want to do with New York City FC.
Do they want it to be an eventual sibling to Manchester City, standing on the same plane, more or less? Do they want it to be a farm club? If it's the former, great. But then they need to get someone with that kind of experience in MLS — I hear Tim Leiweke is available. He'd be a fantastic hire.
But if it's the latter — and I'm not knocking it — then MLS is about the worst place you could do that in. The roster rules are so byzantine that it makes the transfer of players from Team A to Team B well-nigh impossible. If Manchester City wanted a farm club, they would've been much better off purchasing a NASL club. NASL's free movement of players is far more suited to that than MLS'.
All that to say: I'm distinctly unimpressed with Manchester City's impact on the team. Putting together a team in MLS is extraordinarily difficult. It feels to me like for every step forward they take, it's accompanied by two or three steps back. And I think at heart, they're still not sure what they want to accomplish here. Further the Manchester City "brand"? Well, swiping one of the team's star players doesn't do great things for the brand.
3) Did Jason Kreis end up being the perfect candidate to lead NYCFC into MLS? is David Villa the perfect first star to join NYCFC to boost the club's marketing and sporting ambitions?
I think the follow up question there is: perfect in comparison to what? Meaning: if you don't hire Jason Kreis, then what were your options otherwise? If you don't sign David Villa, then what were your other options?
I think both Kreis and Villa were excellent signings. Kreis had hit a natural exit point with Real Salt Lake. I don't know what else he could've accomplished there that he hadn't, aside from winning more trophies. I'm a big believer in the idea that long coaching tenures aren't a good thing. By and large, the exceptions — Sir Alex Ferguson comes to mind, maybe Arsene Wenger — succeed because they're constantly adapting and trying new things. Bruce Arena is probably the closest comparison here in MLS.
More often, you see things go stale. It's happened in MLS; Dom Kinnear's last couple of years in Houston were grim, I think. Yallop in San Jose, Klopas, you name it. It could've easily happened to Kreis at RSL, especially after losing the Open Cup and the MLS Cup in heartbreaking fashion. So leaving for New York City was a good way to kickstart things all over again.
As for Villa — he was coming off helping lead Atlético Madrid to their first European Cup final in 40 years. He's Spain's all-time leading scorer. He, too, had come to a natural point where trying new things was good. The thing to keep in mind when it comes to player targets is that the universe of star players who are willing to come to MLS isn't particularly large yet. It's a question of age crossed with money. And Villa occupied that sweet spot, in a way that few other available players do so — a Spain star, a key component of Barcelona's teams.