If it takes playing without fans present to get MLS back onto the field — as many have suggested — NYCFC manager Ronny Deila is all for it. But also count him among those who will be anxiously awaiting the day when those fans can come back through the turnstile.
“For me, we play football because of the fans," Deila told media on a video conference call." We love the game, but it’s something special when you have the fans there. It’ll be strange, awkward to play without them but it’ll be a new experience. Hopefully things will get much better and we can start to play with fans as quick as possible. If it doesn’t happen this year, then we have to do everything we can to give the TV viewing fans a lot of games.”
To reiterate, Deila is happy to play games behind closed doors if it means the season return sooner.
“Safety is the most important thing," Deila said. "We can talk about sports and culture, but to stay alive is most important and that people feel safe. I’d understand if that’s how it is, we’ll make the best of the situation.
“Sports are important to people," he added. "A lot of fans love football, basketball, ice hockey, whatever it is. Getting something back on television, maybe not watching it in person, can bring happiness to every supporter. To be physically active or something to watch and look forward to is very important to getting back on track again.”
In the interim, Deila has used his time productively.
When he took the NYCFC gig in the beginning of January, Deila was then manager of Norweigan side Valerenga. When he was officially unveiled by NYCFC, it was mere days before he was set to lead his new team through preseason. He didn't have much of an opportunity to personally watch all the games from last year, with training sessions to plan and a bunch of other onboarding tasks to knock out.
During isolation, Deila has watched every minute the team played last season under Dome Torrent. That team, which brought back an overwhelming majority of their core this year, finished atop the Eastern Conference with a club-record 64 points and earned their first-ever berth to the Concacaf Champions League.
“To have this opportunity is really, really good," Deila said. "I know everything about last season. It’s important to be very concrete when you talk about the team. It was very interesting to see the individuals, how they were doing, when they were out with injuries and how the team managed. I’ve never been more prepared to take over a team than right now.”
Deila said he was intrigued to learn how and why the team switched from a back four and back five, as well as taking stock of individual performances. Particularly the fluid front line that saw Taty Castellanos play wide sometimes and Maxi Moralez play a handful of positions in attacking midfield.
While he has a clear idea of how he wants to play, Deila is glad to splice in some of his takeaways to better suit some players.
“There are a lot of things that’re much clearer," Deila said. "You have a clear style yourself, but you have to adapt to the players. It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution. ... At the bottom is going to be the DNA of how I want things, but a lot of those things are similar to what they did before."