After last night's crushing loss to Columbus Crew SC, New York City head coach Jason Kreis put his team on blast, closing his post-game press conference with these remarks:
"We need to work, and we need to work really hard. The players need to show if they want to be here, and want to 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 that all the players do."
Far from concurring, Kreis' players denied any such notion. Frank Lampard responded to Kreis' remarks after the game.
"I respect the manager for saying that. Managers and players should be emotional after defeats at times," Lampard said. "From where I've been, there's a desire to be here. Every squad's the same that I've ever been. Some players that are not playing might find it difficult because players want to play. As an all around spirit in the camp I don't see a problem at all. You'll have to ask every individual, but I don't feel that. All I feel is that something is off on the pitch, that we are not getting the results, not getting the consistency. For me, it's not for trying."
For his part, Andrea Pirlo had this to say in response to Kreis.
"I would be very unhappy if that were true, because if the people that are actually playing are not having fun, and don't want to be there, I'm sure there are reserves that really would love to play instead," Pirlo said. "I think it's important when you play to have fun, to really want to be there so you can do your best and give your maximum to the team and the game."
They weren't alone. Seldom-seen forward Patrick Mullins, who's had to take a back seat despite some solid performances for the Blues, also denied players weren't trying hard. "I look around, and I see guys that want to be here," he said. "I think everyone's heart is in the right place, and I think that's just a coach that just wants more out of his players. I respect him obviously for saying that and I'm not going to back down from it."
Reading these quotes the day after, the disconnect is notable. It's especially striking given the obvious spiritlessless New York City has displayed in recent games. Last Sunday's marquee matchup against the LA Galaxy was an embarrassing capitulation, crowned by a sequence late on where Robbie Keane and Steve Gerrard toyed with New York City in a Gaston-and-Alphonse, no-please-you-score interchange that left the Blues flailing.
Against Crew SC in the second half of yesterday's game, with a desperately-needed victory well within grasp, playing towards their own supporters, the Blues were content to play at half-speed, absorbing wave after wave of pressure from Columbus. Even the additions of Tommy McNamara and Kwadwo Poku were unable to spark a jaded New York City into life. Can anyone be surprised that Columbus wound up with all three points?
I'd say the disconnect between what Kreis and his players see is astonishing, but it's not. Lest we forget, we've been here before this season. Kreis has called out his team in similar fashion — back when they were mired in an eleven-game winless streak, after losing to the New York Red Bulls in their first meeting. The team managed to recover a sense of purpose, particularly after the insertion of players like McNamara and Poku into the starting eleven.
Then the summer transfer window arrived, and the fragile, painstakingly crafted team chemistry that Kreis had managed to concoct vanished in the summer wind, with the additions of Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, not to mention Andoni Iraola as the right back. It can't help matters that players see someone like Pirlo routinely blowing defensive assignments, rarely bothering to mark players, if it can even be called that. It can't help matters that Iraola makes the kinds of crazy-making mistakes that fans would be ripping players like Jeb Brovsky and RJ Allen apart for, and continues to start games.
It really can't help that the man whose tenure with New York City has been a disaster from the very beginning, whose very presence hangs over this club like the darkest of clouds, and will until he departs, continues to elide responsibility, acting as if he's just another player, instead of what he's expected to be: a leader in the locker room. You can almost see Frank Lampard punctuating his words like this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Off in the distance, Lothar Mattäus and Rafa Márquez nod in satisfaction.
Kreis — whether with RSL or here at New York City — always advanced the ethos that the club is greater than the individual. That may be true in Salt Lake. It's most certainly not true here in New York City. That players responded to Kreis' blast with the verbal equivalent of shrugs and pursed lips tells you all you need to know about who's in charge here.
Things are different now. Kreis can't very well bench two of his designated players when they're healthy, especially when the odds are fairly high that at least one, if not both, were signed over his reservations. Even if he were to bench Iraola — which he has, for a half — it's not like Brovsky or Allen are sufficiently better that it would send the message home.
He is, therefore, hamstrung. Unable to exert his will, unable to compel his players to care, he is left to rage futilely, if at least publicly, until the night comes.