PURCHASE, N.Y. – New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis was unapologetic on Thursday about calling out his players following a crushing 2-1 defeat to Columbus Crew SC last weekend, a loss that severely damaged his team’s playoff chances.
“I’m a natural competitor and an emotional guy," Kreis told reporters after training. “I’m never going to apologize for that.
"Occasionally, I’m going to speak loudly about some things that I care about. I spoke loudly about the thoughts I cared about, and I didn’t apologize for those because that’s how I truly felt.”
Following the match, Kreis questioned some of his players’ desire to be a part of the project, saying:
“The players need to show if they want to be here and be a part of this, because I know the coaching staff does. I know the coaching staff cares an awful lot about this club and the job we’re attempting to do. I’m not so sure all the players do.”
It wasn’t so much the loss driving Kreis' comments, but the expansion team's reaction to adversity – or lack thereof – after Crew SC scored a late go-ahead goal.
“When you’re down 2-1 with 10 minutes left in the game, is there some belief there?" Kreis asked. "Is there a real caring about can we score another goal? What I saw was a bunch of guys who put their heads down and basically stopped.”
It’s a trend the coach has noticed in back-to-back losses, including the previous week's 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy.
“I feel that in two matches in a row there’s been an element of quit in our group, which I haven’t seen the entire season,” Kreis said. “It’s something that frankly is unacceptable to me, this club and I think the fans. I want to make sure this group has no quit no matter what happens over the next several matches as well.”
With seven games remaining, NYCFC remain level on points with the Montreal Impact, but sit in eighth place thanks to tiebreakers, a point off Orlando City FC for the sixth and final playoff spot. Chicago (9th) and Philadelphia (10th) are each one point behind NYCFC and Montreal in a rapidly narrowing race to make the playoffs.
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Kreis believes the team must play as if it believes reaching the playoffs remains possible, especially since it does.
Complicating the effort for Kreis were the arrivals of five new players during the summer transfer window, each of whom have been regular fixtures in the starting XI. Those players are still trying to jell on the field.
"We aren’t a finished product," Kreis said. “I feel very positive that we’re headed in the right direction, but as I said, effort is going to matter a lot. I truly believe that in our league the difference between the very best team in the league and the very worst team in the league often times comes down to how much they believe and want to work together.
“We have some very experienced players on this team, both on the world level and MLS level, and I believe that all of that experience has to count for something. People need to step forward and take charge a little bit more.”
Dylan Butler covers New York City FC for MLSsoccer.com.