Dome Torrent didn’t realize his one-year anniversary of becoming New York City FC head coach passed a week ago. Instead, like any coach would do, he thought of his first game in charge — a June 24, 2018 win over Toronto FC — as the date.
“It’s good news for me. I don’t know for the fans or for the club, but for me, it’s very important because I’m very happy,” Torrent said. “I say many times the employers here are amazing, everybody is amazing here.”
There have been ups and downs, as well as some growing pains, as the Spaniard has sought to place his fingerprints on the team. One year in, NYCFC are enjoying their best form since Patrick Vieira had the Cityzens buzzing in the first half of 2018.
NYCFC have an MLS-best 10-match league unbeaten streak and, along with Supporters’ Shield runaway leaders LAFC, are the only team with just one league defeat. Last week, Torrent also guided NYCFC, despite being shorthanded, to their first-ever U.S. Open Cup victory, a convincing 4-0 win over North Carolina FC of the USL Championship.
“We play much better because we play more positional, it’s my opinion, we play one-two touches because I don’t like to play with five touches and play slowly,” Torrent said. “Everybody is better because everybody knows each other. I know much better my players and my players to me. That is the reason why.”
Last June, things were vastly different. Torrent took over midway through the season when Vieira, the wildly-popular former coach, left to lead Ligue 1 side Nice.
They started well, winning four of their first five games. Then sparked by a 2-6-4 stretch across 12 games, hopes of a Supporters’ Shield title went out the window and dreams of an MLS Cup were dashed in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to eventual champions Atlanta United.
Criticism of Torrent’s tactics came from all angles.
“I want to play in the same system the last two months [this season] and the reason why maybe we play much better is because we have more time,” Torrent said. “Every single coach, even the top coaches, need time.”
On numerous occasions a year ago, he lamented the difficulties in travel, with somewhat of an unbalanced schedule and juggling his roster when MLS played during the FIFA international window.
The most pleasant surprise for Torrent was how many teams looked to play and the level of coaching in MLS. Both have been included in many conversations with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. Torrent spent much of his career as Guardiola’s right-hand man, an assistant at mega-clubs Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
“I think American coaches have a good level to work in Europe and to get to the next level. The surprise is 80 percent of the teams want to play and make a buildup,” he said, citing Toronto FC, both LA Galaxy and LAFC and Columbus Crew SC under Gregg Berhalter as prime examples. “That is good news, for me, for the soccer. Because when you want to play, you play much better. Never forget, every single team plays for the supporters, for the fans. If you are able to play better, it is much better for the fans, for the soccer.”
Now he understands some unique aspects of the league far better. But the biggest lesson he learned perhaps came when David Villa announced he was leaving NYCFC to play one final season of his storied career in Japan.
“I learned how important it is, especially in MLS, to have the best [Designated Player] like a forward,” Torrent said. “Because everybody is able to defend well and to create, but it makes a difference when you have the right strikers, the right wingers. You have more possibilities, especially in MLS, to win something.”
Of course, replacing Villa took some convincing, especially with the club’s fanbase who saw the Spanish legend, the first player signed five years ago, as the face of the franchise.
“It’s not about, OK, we don’t have Villa, we need Chicharito,” Torrent said. “OK, maybe. But maybe it’s not easy to sign these kind of players. Maybe it’s about the salary cap. Sometimes it’s about these players decide to play in Europe. It’s many, many things about that. When that happens, you have to be able to sign the right players and that happened this year.”
Replacing Villa’s goal production, Torrent told the fans, wasn’t going to be a one-man job. Instead it’s about several players scoring. And signing impact players in Heber and Alexandru Mitrita has made all the difference in 2019.
“This year I can choose two players: Mitrita and Heber. And I choose two players because they have another quality,” Torrent said. “Maybe it’s not better than the other players, but I want to play with these kind of players. That means I have more possibilities to use my ideal system.”
Torrent is hoping to celebrate a few more anniversaries in charge of NYCFC. Before then, he enters the second half of his first full season much more comfortable and wanting to coach in MLS for the foreseeable future.
“Right now I think I adapt because I understand many things about MLS, about the United States and that is the reason why I want to work here many, many years,” Torrent said. “If it’s possible in this club. If not I have to find another solution, but I’m very happy here."