MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

NYCFC explain Ronny Deila's departure, eye "natural progression" with Nick Cushing

Ronny Deila made good on his promise on a wet, wintry day at Portland's Providence Park last December.

The charismatic manager pledged that if New York City FC were to win MLS Cup during his reign, he’d strip down to his underwear in celebration. It stemmed from Deila making a similar promise to Strømsgodset fans in his native Norway if the club could avoid relegation, against the odds.

So, there he was. Deila dropped down to do pushups in his underwear alongside his players and in front of the traveling NYCFC supporters, mere feet away from the MLS Cup 2021 trophy they had just earned on penalty kicks. It was an iconic moment to celebrate the club’s first-ever title.

In the aftermath of winning MLS Cup, Deila and the front office began talking about a contract extension. Deila’s deal was set to expire at the end of 2022. No agreement was reached and talks continued throughout the beginning of this season, while clubs in Europe identified him as a potential candidate.

For weeks, whispers grew louder that Belgian First Division A club Standard Liege wanted to make him their next manager. On Monday, Deila’s departure to Standard Liege was made official.

The former Celtic and Valerenga head coach, 46, was heading back to Europe two-and-a-half years after coming stateside.

“Ultimately, last week Standard Liege met a clause in Ronny’s contract that enabled Ronny to have a decision about whether he wanted to remain in New York or leave,” sporting director David Lee told media during a virtual press conference. “He informed us that he wanted to move to Belgium.”

NYCFC received a fee in the “low seven figures” from Standard Liege for Deila, per a source. Assistant coach Efrain Juarez has left to join Deila in Belgium as well.

“The conversations were normal; [Deila] wanted to stay and we wanted to keep him,” Lee said. “He said it was a really hard decision – speaking to him in the last couple of weeks, it was really difficult for him. We weren’t able to agree on an extension before now and when Liege met the clause, he had a decision to make. We wish Ronny and Efra all the best. They’ve been fantastic for New York and New York have been fantastic for them.”

Ronny Deila NYCFC 1
Ronny Deila had a 46W-29L-15D record across all competitions for NYCFC. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Deila led NYCFC to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in both full campaigns in charge, as well as to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League this year. He hands the keys to interim head coach Nick Cushing in a fantastic spot, sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings after 13 of 34 regular-season games, despite dealing with fixture congestion from the CCL run that typically leaves MLS teams in a hole at the beginning of the season.

“When you have the type of success we do, it attracts interest around the globe,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of eyes on New York because of how successful we’ve been.”

NYCFC are moving forward again, with high hopes for Cushing as they chase the Supporters’ Shield, US Open Cup, Campeones Cup and MLS Cup.

Cushing brings continuity

Nick Cushing has been involved in City Football Group for a long time, first as an academy coach in 2008 and then as head coach of Manchester City Women’s in 2013. He led the team over a hugely successful period and earned a strong reputation in the women’s game, staying in the role until joining NYCFC in 2020.

“One of the positives is I’ve done this role [head coach] previously,” Cushing said. “I’m comfortable in this role, I understand how this role is slightly different in responsibility and decision-making [than as an assistant]. One thing we’ve done really well over the last three years, we’ve built a great working process.”

Cushing’s familiarity with the club, the staff and playing style makes NYCFC hope a smooth transition awaits – or as smooth as possible after a midseason coaching change.

City Football Group have core playing principles across all clubs, so while Cushing will put his spin on things, it won’t be a vast shift in terms of style.

“Having a methodology in place over several years has been a real strength in our club, which has helped us be so consistent over the last six to seven years,” Lee said. “Every coach has their tweaks, but having consistency in what you do is a big part of how you create sustainable success.”

Cushing doesn’t predict many changes, either.

“We have a shared philosophy that goes across all of our teams at CFG, so it’s a natural progression for me personally,” Cushing said. “I don’t see too many changes, we all share the same way we see the game.”

While Cushing was named interim head coach, Lee said he “absolutely” is a candidate for the full-time role. The Cityzens want to do their due diligence in terms of a coaching search and not rush into a decision, but Cushing will have the chance to audition for the full-time gig.

“We thought it made sense for all parties to assess where we are, take a breath,” Lee said. “We want to look at external candidates, but we’re very fortunate to have a really strong candidate inside our own club. Nick is someone we value really highly. We’re excited to see what he can do, but we want to take our time and have a full process given how quickly this came about.”

It all starts this weekend as NYCFC host the Colorado Rapids on Sunday (5 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), kicking off a new era.

“It’s a huge privilege to lead the team,” Cushing said. “The excitement comes from looking at the players. Who wouldn’t want to work with this playing group?”