Do you want to be the first manager of a SuperClub?
That’s the question Jason Kreis said “yes” to today when he accepted the head coaching job at New York City FC. He’s not building up a local club anymore, not playing with a limited salary budget. He’s taking the reins at a club (franchise?) that wants, and expects, and likely needs to win big from the first moment.
Just as oversized as the expectations – expectations that Kreis surely wants – are the resources:
• He will doubtless have one or two (or more) Manchester City-bred youngsters at his disposal.
• He will surely have one or two Manchester City-tested veterans at his disposal.
• He will have many, many millions to spend on big-name DPs (Would a then-29-year-old James Milner make sense if you pair him with two other, more glamorous players? And is it 12 months too early to start speculating in earnest?)
• He will have an academy in one of the most fertile, talent-rich areas of North America.
• He will have an entire year to scout the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, and if you think that’s insignificant then you didn’t see Devon Sandoval drag Portland’s central defense all over the field last month as RSL won the Western Conference Championship.
NYCFC probably won’t tolerate the “slow build” model that Sigi Schmid employed in Columbus in the middle of the last decade, or Bruce Arena put into place when he took over in LA in the middle of 2008. Schmid’s Crew teams missed the playoffs for two seasons while getting the pieces in place for the memorable 2008 MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield double, while Arena’s Galaxy scuffled along at about .500, with an insane amount of ties, for the first 12 months of his tenure before turning into a mini-dynasty.
You know who else put into place a really slow build? Jason Kreis and RSL, way back in 2007. He took over in May, and they were miserable for a solid year. They rallied to make the postseason in 2008, then scuffled along again in 2009 and were actually sub-.500 during the regular season before making the playoffs on the last matchday.
Then they won the MLS Cup. Which is a pretty solid point on the résumé.
That said: if NYCFC miss the playoffs for their first two seasons, does anyone think Kreis will still have job in the Big Apple come 2017?
Don’t bet on it. And that’s the cultural clash that makes this career decision so fascinating.
Kreis, one of the first American star players built in MLS, is, along with Dominic Kinnear, the first American star coach built in MLS. He’s become the face of what a solid section of hardcore fans want the league to be: Young, hungry, aggressive, unbowed by – driven by – years spent playing, coaching and loving a game considered by most of his countrymen to be an afterthought.
He’s also been unapologetically focused on creating a meaningful on-field aesthetic, and just as unapologetically patient in getting there. RSL are, and have been, a team that knows how they want to play, from the front of the roster to the back. They keep and value the ball like a South American team, but blend it almost seamlessly with the American ethos of “Run fast, try hard.”
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker pointed to Kreis’ squad as a model for what his own team should be doing. Thierry Henry has repeatedly, since 2010, called RSL the best team in the league, a beacon for how to build a roster that wins with style but doesn’t neglect domestic talent.
That kind of thinking will be a luxury in the Bronx, or Queens, or wherever NYCFC make their on-field debut in 2015. Kreis’ career record didn’t break .500 until nearly the end of the 2010 season, three-and-a-half years after he made his sideline debut. That’s a lot of rope.
There are plenty of other pitfalls to consider and hopefully avoid. Just look at how Chivas USA have struggled, as both the overshadowed team in Los Angeles as well as the "sister club" to Mexican giants CD Guadalajara.
No matter how many times the administration over in Manchester says that NYCFC will be on equal footing with the mothership, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the administration is, indeed, in Manchester. NYCFC certainly look like playing second fiddle at the dance.
"Kreis will first travel to associate club Manchester City to be immersed in all aspects of the club, particularly its approach to .." #MLS— Nick Sabetti (@NickSabetti) December 11, 2013
".. coaching, training, and player development, with the goal of applying similar approaches to New York City FC" #MLS— Nick Sabetti (@NickSabetti) December 11, 2013
Kreis likes a challenge – any competitor does – but that word doesn’t do NYCFC justice. A “challenge” is taking a small-market team to six straight playoff appearances; this would be taking a giant, hulking behemoth from nothingness onto the world stage in record time.
He said “yes” to that.
Let the expectations begin.