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MLS Playoff performance could be path to redemption for Domé Torrent

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The NYCFC manager has had a rough go of it since arriving in New York. But the playoffs is where he can make it right.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When Domé Torrent first arrived in the Bronx to replace the departing Patrick Vieira, things weren’t too bad. The Catalan manager earned victories of 5 of his first 6 games with New York City FC — including a scrappy 1-0 win over the rival New York Red Bulls — and seemed to be just as good, if not better than, his French predecessor at gaining results. Though City’s game plan wasn’t too different than it was under Vieira, Torrent had all of the appearances of a coach that could do some fine tuning on the fly and lead the Blues to victory, even if it wasn’t always pretty.

Many fans — myself included — were over-joyed. Though we were all quite sad (and/or angry) to see Vieira go, we all had some criticisms with how the former Arsenal legend managed the club, such as leaving talented youngsters like Jonathan Lewis on the bench — or completely omitting them — in favor of players like Rodney Wallace whose production had peaked long ago, or dropping the ball mid-game by being too passive and allowing late goals to equalize games. That’s not to say that Vieira was a bad manager; he definitely was among the better coaches in the league at the time. But it still wasn’t perfect.

In came Torrent, who had quite the impressive coaching pedigree. In addition to having some prior experience with being a head coach for a first division club — something Vieira did not have prior to taking over NYCFC — Domé served as an assistant under legendary manager Pep Guardiola for over a decade during the latter’s highly successful stints with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

And at first, everything was great.

Not only was NYCFC winning, but Torrent seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the Pigeons’ fan base and seemed to slowly give into their demands. Lewis was playing more, we shut out the Red Bulls, and we were keeping pace with Atlanta United in the race for the Supporter’s Shield. Hell, I even wrote this article praising the guy in early July.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long.

Following a 2-0 win over Orlando City on July 26, Torrent & Co. only produced 2 victories in their next 12 games and went on win-less streaks as long as 6 games. During this rough patch, NYCFC looked aimless and ugly. Nothing was working. Granted, we weren’t always the healthiest during this stretch, but that was no excuse for a team that had previously produced the goods without the services of David Villa throughout much of the spring, not to mention that Villa and second best goalscorer Ismael Tajouri-Shradi were injured for a short time following Domé’s takeover.

As the painful losses and underwhelming draws mounted, the #DomeOut train understandably gained traction as it became crystal clear that Torrent’s transition hadn’t been as smooth as we hoped. I can’t possibly begin to tell you how many drafts are currently in our editorial regarding how much we’ve come to dislike the Catalan manager.

Obviously, I’m not a head coach and, in all honesty, Domé has probably forgotten more about football than I, a mere observer, could ever hope to learn. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what’s gone wrong: Torrent has relied too much upon tinkering with this team’s established systems.

Back when he first joined the club, we published an article talking about Torrent’s keys to success with NYCFC. Rule number one was as follows:

“Do not change Vieira’s system. Refine it.”

If there is any explanation as to why Domé had so much initial success, it’s because he was still following the formula laid down by Vieira and his team. Yes, there was some tinkering. But it was hardly divergent to what was already in place. NYCFC were still using the 4-3-3, Maxi Moralez was still the attacking engine in the midfield, Alexander Ring was still being deployed as a No, 6, and so on and so forth. Torrent’s arrival was still fresh and the absolute monstrosity that is MLS scheduling didn’t permit him to begin uprooting the old ways and replacing them with his own.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and we had Maxi constantly playing out of position as a false 9 and players like Taty Castellanos and Eloi Amagat earning stars they themselves hadn’t earned. This resulted in constant disappointing performances which sent City sliding down the table and completely out of Supporter’s Shield contention. Oh, and remember that 2019 CONCACAF Champions League berth? That’s gone, too.

But, something happened this weekend against Philly: City looked like their old selves again.

The 4-3-3 was back, Yangel Herrera had returned to the fold, and NYCFC were all the better for it. From the opening whistle, City smothered the Union’s back four with quality runs and incisive passing. And within the first 10 minutes, the Blues were already up by two goals in what would ultimately become a 3-1 win. Now, was it a perfect win? No. Did NYCFC make some mistakes along the way? Yes. But it was as good a performance as we had seen in months against a team that is actually pretty good.

For all of his mistakes, Domé is still a coach that is capable of winning. He’s proven this before. And though I am still not yet sold on his ability to coach this club into the future, the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs is a perfect place to start making believers out of lifelong cynics such as myself and many fans like me.

While there is likely not a single person who hasn’t thought about what could have been had Vieira stayed with the club, we must also remember that when it came to do-or-die games like the knockout round match we have against Philly tomorrow night, the French gaffer often faltered.

In 2016, Vieira’s NYCFC flamed out against the New York Cosmos in the first game of the U,S, Open Cup. Later that year, after finishing 2nd in the Eastern Conference, Vieira’s side was absolutely demolished by Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in a two-legged series that ended in a 7-0 aggregate score. The same thing happened in 2017; NYCFC lost in the USOC, this time to the Red Bulls, and would later fall to the Columbus Crew by way of a 4-3 aggregate score, once again after finishing 2nd in the East. And finally, earlier this season, Vieira once again fell victim to the Bulls roughly a week before his departure was announced.

If Torrent can find a way to succeed where Vieira failed and make a deep run in the playoffs, then all could be forgiven; all of those disappointing games under his watch but a mild inconvenience. As hard as New York fans can be on their teams of choice, we aren’t above forgiveness and giving second chances.

Prove us wrong, Domé. Prove me wrong.