Ronny Deila: NYCFC meeting Pumas in Leagues Cup "an experience for life"

Ronny Deila has never shied away from chasing big ambitions for New York City FC, previously noting he wants to win both MLS Cup and the Concacaf Champions League.

So the Norwegian head coach sees nothing but positives from a showdown against Liga MX's Pumas UNAM in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium (8 pm ET | TUDN, ESPN+).

While others might complain about fixture congestion during the heat of summer, Deila said the experiences of playing in international competitions are only beneficial.

“To me, it's about experience. When you are in Europe and you're playing the domestic league, it is one thing, but when you play internationally you develop yourself more,” Deila said Tuesday afternoon. “That's why you want players in the national team to play at the highest level, and for us it’s to play teams now in the highest level. In Mexico, they have many really good teams. Having said that, I think now the US is coming very close to Mexico, the league. And also you see now with the national teams, it’s a very hard competition.”

Alex Callens is a prime example of that. His improved play resulted in a call-up to Peru's national team for this summer's Copa America.

“The experiences we have, they’re really great and make us more comfortable with playing under pressure,” the center back said through a translator. “The more games that you play internationally and the different situations that you have, the better you perform, and it helps us understand and perform playing under pressure. Pumas is a great team, and we have to be very careful. But we are ready to go on the field tomorrow and show the great football that we can play.”

Deila said competing in the Concacaf Champions League last year was also a valuable lesson. NYCFC handled Costa Rican side AD San Carlos in the Round of 16 before falling to eventual champion Tigres UANL in the quarterfinals.

They conceded in stoppage time to lose 1-0 in the opening leg at Red Bull Arena just before the sporting world was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When play resumed nine months later, the second leg, as well as the rest of the competition, was conducted at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.

“I think it's very, very good for the interest of football,” Deila said of the competitions between MLS and Liga MX. “It's exciting to meet the new teams. We also want to go to Mexico to play, to play in front of big crowds and feel the intensity that is down there. I’m sad that we didn’t get Tigres away last year. But as I said, these are experiences for life. And also it's even better when you win. Hopefully we can have a good experience tomorrow, with a lot of people coming to the stadium and that we show our best side and get into a semifinal.”

Deila said squad rotation is inevitable, both in the Leagues Cup and for the remainder of the season. But NYCFC, with added depth this year, are perhaps poised to deal with those challenges more than ever before. He’s also not going to switch out the entire team. The objective is to win and “to win, we need to have stability in the team so it’ll be rotation, but not unbelievable. The whole team new, that's not going to happen.”

One player who won't be in the squad is right back Anton Tinnerholm, who Deila said is being rested because of his workload. That means 18-year-old homegrown defender, and Bronx native, Tayvon Gray will get his first start for the first team on Wednesday night.

“He’s improved a lot this year, has had some really good games coming on as a sub, so finally now he gets his start and it's well deserved," Delia said. "Tayvon is looking forward to it, I could see in training today. And for me, again, he just needs experience and then he will be a top player as well.”