The Man in Seat 9: St. Patrick’s Day

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - March 11: Patrick Vieira, head coach of New York City FC on the sideline during the New York City FC Vs Orlando City SC regular season MLS game at Yankee Stadium on March 17, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Editorial (March 18, 2018) – On St. Patrick’s Day, in New York, everyone is more than just a little bit Irish. Bagpipes are tolerated. Silly green accessories are donned. And the Man in Seat 9’s local pub opens at eight so that our first responders who are marching in the parade can raise one, or more, in memory of those they have lost before heading to the parade starting point uptown. I too have traveled, albeit a bit further north, to my seat in the Bronx — excited for the chance to support the Boys in Blue once more. The stands are a mosaic of blue and black with a smattering of green. A few kilts are spotted. Brave on a day like today. Green scarfs and corned beef are on sale. And the City-blue sky and sun, like the fourth pint of Guinness, betray the reality that it is still winter. The wind, however, does not. It is still early days in the Bronx, and in the cold, harsh light of March, the team is looking good.

The Man in Seat 9: St. Patrick’s Day

Have faith, my son, in the system, and the system will reap you the rewards.

Today, they beat Orlando City FC 2-0 without David Villa. It was an essential win if only to prove that the side is still strong without the Captain. And to be honest, they were a bit sluggish. Not quite crisp, but not sloppy either. And no one seemed to find their striker spirit — preferring to pass out to the wings for a cross into the mix rather than take the shot from the top of the box — and so the offense seemed flat and not as aggressive. The team didn’t attack the ball or close down Orlando as well as they should have. I wanted more. I expected more. Which is saying something given that the team is only in its fourth season. I am no longer content just to have a team that I have been with from the start, but I want results. I expect excellence. A large part of that expectation has been created by Patrick Vieira.

St. Patrick

Full disclosure: The Man in Seat 9 is a Spurs supporter. And as such, anything Arsenal causes a tensing of my gut. But I am also a man to give credit where I think credit is due, and Vieira has earned my respect. He will move to Europe eventually, and he will be missed, but until then he will continue to grow, in my opinion, as one of the best head coaches in MLS.

For the entire match, Vieira stood in the technical area. By contrast, our first head coach, Jason Kreis stayed near the bench. I’m not sure I saw him near the field the entire match. The difference between the coaches is stark, and the difference between the team Kreis left, and the one he faced today is similar to the difference between Swansea and Tottenham in this morning’s FA Cup match. Kreis’s coaching style with NYCFC was anemic and milquetoast. He seemed content to let the designated players run the show, never trying to exert his will. In short, I think he was intimidated having never played at their level. The team responded in kind. No defense, jamming the middle and being carried to victory on the shoulders of David Villa. Vieira took over, and the team changed. The work ethic improved. They listened and responded when the Arsenal legend admonished or challenged them to play at a different level. The French national brought proper soccer to the Bronx. He brought gravitas, respect, and class. And he brought the system. The team started playing wide. They began to play patient. And they started playing The Beautiful Game with builds from the back, one-touch passing, and a high press. And it’s worked.

Reshaping the Team

After installing the current system in his first season with the club, Vieira used last season to solidify the foundation, the ethos of the team, and style of play. With a focus in the offseason of landing players with youth and talent, the Front Office and Vieira have one thing in their sights — The MLS Cup. NYCFC has youth and a bench that now has depth, shown today with Vieria’s choice of substitutes and a different starting eleven than last week. The defense now has quality and the rock-solid anchors of Maxime Chanot and Sean Johnson. The midfield wins balls, pressures the opponents, and creates chances. And Villa now has the support he deserves inside the eighteen. In four short seasons, NYCFC has the feel of a much more mature franchise. It, like Patrick Vieira when he was on the pitch, is indeed something with which to be reckoned.

Don Garber’s Happiest Dream

As the Man in Seat 9 sits in his seat and looks towards the west, across the river, and into New Jersey, he can see the evil eye of Mordor. The Red Bull’s, too, have made the most of their offseason. Not through acquisition but through the way it should be done — the Academy system. The players that they have brought up are young, frighteningly so. And they are well versed in what it means to be a Red Bull. Ben Mires is a mere seventeen. Tyler Adams is a veteran at nineteen. And they are making their quality felt in the Concacaf Champions League. From my point of view, they look as strong as we do and it’s my prediction that this season will come down to the battle of the two systems. And I think it’s glorious. It would please the Man in Seat 9 nothing more, or Mr. Garber I’m betting, than to have the east dominated by a New York City FC / New York Red Bulls dogfight. Two opposite systems — one that is fluid and adapts to its opponent at will like mercury — and one who is trained to trust the system no matter the circumstance. This season might end up being precisely what Garber wanted when he brought NYCFC into the New York market. And NYCFC will get exactly what they wanted when they brought Patrick Vieira on staff.

Sláinte

The Man in Seat 9

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