NEW YORK—Claudio Reyna is a very happy man these days. As the Sporting Director of New York City FC, the former US international has seen his club rise above the fray and secure a playoff spot in only their second year of existence.
NYCFC did it in impressive fashion, implementing a system under head coach Patrick Vieira that allowed them to score a league-leading 62 regular-season goals in 2016. With an emphasis on playing out of the back, the team finished second in the Eastern Conference, securing a Knockout Round bye in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“It’s one thing to get result but it’s another thing to do it in a way that we believe in,” said Reyna, during an autograph session in Times Square on Tuesday. “Patrick and the coaching staff trust the team. Playing good soccer from the back shows that you trust the players and you believe they’re good.”
Still, as magical as the 2016 season has been for New York City, Reyna is aware that his team has endured some difficulties in defense, particularly giving the ball away in their own half and conceding set-pieces, issues that could haunt them in the playoffs.
“We've given up many set pieces, probably the most in the league so that's something we can work on,” Reyna said.
“We prepare to be attacking, scoring goals and creating chances. At times you open yourself up and we've given up some goals. It's something we certainly understand going into the playoffs. We have to be much tighter defensively.”
Jason Hernandez, who started 26 games on defense for NYCFC this season, said he’s aware of the dangers of playing from the back. Still, he argued against making too many adjustments during the playoffs.
“There aren't really many teams that play the way we play and therefore there are some risks involved” he said. “The reality is that's our identity, that's how we choose to play and to be second in the East, I can't argue with it.”
Reyna agreed, arguing that the players had to go through a learning process before they could play the way they were being instructed to. As the group approaches the first playoff game in franchise history, he’s confident the team has what it takes to win the MLS Cup.
“We've seen the team in so many games play very solid. It's difficult to beat, difficult to create chances against,” he said. “We all feel that that's the team that's going to enter the playoffs. We can do it.”