It's a question worth asking. Let's put aside incoming manager Patrick Vieira's lack of MLS experience to one side. As much as we should keep an eye on it, and as worthy of critique as it is, it's not necessarily a portent of doom. We've already seen one foreign coach win the MLS Cup - Gary Smith, with Colorado in 2010. It's entirely possible that, with the right support staff, foreign coaches can succeed.
Based on Ferrán Soriano's talk with Roger Bennett at BlazerCon, CFG sees it much the same way. Jonathan Tannenwald posted the complete transcript of Soriano's discourse recently. There's some interesting nuggets there to ponder; given the paucity of interviews that Soriano's given, and the fact that CFG tends towards relentless message discipline with respect to New York City FC, it's as good an exploration of his thinking as any.
I'm going to quote an extended passage, because when it comes to CFG -- and Soriano in particular -- we need to take their statements in context, rather than ascribe whatever meaning suits us best to them. Here, Soriano's answering a question about Vieira's lack of experience in MLS, and whether that hurts him.
I'm not worried about this. I'm not worried, because soccer is soccer everywhere. And we have been exposed to this, I think, by recent times in New York - the last two or three years. I've seen this conversation many times, where people say, "Oh, the MLS* is different. The MLS is different, the style of play is different, players are more athletic, and so and so."
The reality is, it's not true. It is not true. Maybe the MLS was different five years ago. Maybe it was. Maybe when I first came here to look at the MLS in 2005, there was a huge difference. There is no difference now in the way football is played. So somebody that knows how to play good football - sorry, good soccer - in Europe, in Spain or in England, will know how to play or how to coach good soccer in the U.S., for sure.
Now, you mentioned the other aspects that are more on the administration side. The salary cap, and so on. This is the role of the football director, not the coach that is with the team every day. And for this role, we have Claudio Reyna, who understands U.S. soccer very well, and understands the MLS very well. (emphasis added)
A quick digression, if you please. There's essentially two schools of soccer management: the "English" school and the "Continental" school. The English school, pioneered by Herbert Chapman at Arsenal in the late '20s and '30s, basically gives the manager complete power over player scouting and signings as well as on-field matters. The Continental model splits those duties into two positions: the manager still runs the team on the field, but player signings, scouting, research, and so forth falls under the control of a director of football.
Given Soriano's background, it's no surprise that CFG uses the Continental model. It makes sense, too; these days, player acquisition is extraordinarily complex, so having another person to handle that part of building a team provides another perspective on whether it makes sense to sign certain players.
For Soriano, Vieira's lack of MLS experience isn't a concern. On the field, the game is played the same way, no matter where you play. Off the field...well, that's not something that Vieira needs to worry about, because that's what CFG hired Claudio Reyna to handle.
Here's the hangup: despite what Soriano may think, Reyna does not have any deep level of understanding about MLS. In fact, the sum total of Reyna's experience with MLS amounts to 29 games with the Red Bulls, at the end of his career.
Reyna has no relationships with other MLS front office managers. He's got no deep reservoir of knowledge about the MLS player pool. Most critically, he's got no real knowledge of the MLS roster rules, or how to exploit both the rules and the loopholes within the rules in order to build a winning MLS roster.
Vieira may or may not be a good coach. We'll find out soon enough; games swiftly separate the pretenders from the contenders. But if he doesn't have someone who can get him the players he needs, Vieira could be a fantastic coach and still find himself struggling.
This isn't idle speculation. We just had a perfect example this past week of how badly New York City need someone who's conversant with MLS rules. Over the past few days, multiple sources mentioned that Manchester City defender Martín Demichelis was on the verge of being loaned to New York City.
Demichelis, 34, is in the last six months of his contract at Manchester. He's no longer the defensive force that he was for Bayern Munich, or even Manchester City. It's unclear whether he'd make an impact for the Blues, but New York City desperately needs defensive upgrades, so it makes sense they'd consider it. Since Manchester and New York City are both owned by CFG, a loan is a cinch, right?
Not so fast. Turns out that if a MLS team is owned by someone who also owns a foreign team, any loaned players between the two clubs have to be classified as designated players. Shay Facey and Angelino, being youth players, didn't meet that designation. Demichelis most certainly does. So he can't be loaned to New York City.
This isn't a new rule, either, drafted exclusively to frustrate CFG. It's been around ever since 2005, when Chivas de Guadalajara set up Chivas USA. Right now, it applies to two teams: the Colorado Rapids, and New York City (the Rapids are owned by Stan Kroenke, who's also the majority shareholder in Arsenal).
This is why you hired Reyna - to know things like this, and to be able to exploit any loopholes that may exist. He didn't. Because he didn't know the rules, he wasn't able to wave off CFG from pursuing a loan that couldn't happen. Which brings up the question: what other rules does Reyna not know? And just what was Reyna doing during 2014, when Jason Kreis was off interning in Manchester?
But here we are, with the offseason looming hard and fast, and Claudio Reyna seemingly no more informed than he was last winter. If that's the case, then New York City fans should be worried. MLS teams are deep in the process of revamping their rosters, declining contract options left and right. Two re-entry drafts will take place this month, MLS free agency will presumably kick off after the season ends, and the Super Draft is next month.
What's New York City's plan to revamp the roster, wherever possible? Is there a plan? New York City's front office only has about 90 days before next season begins. One hopes that they spend all of it looking for players they can actually sign, rather than wasting time on moves that can only happen on FIFA 16. If, as Ferrán Soriano insisted, New York City FC is "the most important project" for CFG, then the team has to be much more than a retirement home and placeholder for former Manchester City players.
It's not enough to say it is the most important project; CFG needs to actually treat it that way. That means not just hiring the best coach in the system to run the team, but giving him the best front office staff in the league. Contrary to Soriano's assertion, Reyna isn't that guy, and the sooner he realizes that, the sooner Patrick Vieira and New York City FC will be successful.