For a month, rumors of Patrick Vieira’s rumored departure to his native France flooded my Twitter feed and the various New York City FC fan groups on Facebook I’m a member of. Each whisper of the French gaffer moving to OGC Nice gradually grew into a deafening scream until it became the first topic associated with NYCFC.
Eventually, despite the multitude of denials and dismissals from the man himself, the reports turned out to be factual and on June 10, Manchester City officially announced that Vieira would be leaving his post in New York for Nice effective immediately.
A day later, NYCFC announced Domènec Torrent as the former Arsenal legend’s replacement.
Change can be a scary thing, especially when it comes to sports. We can rag on Vieira and his shortcomings in both the US Open Cup and the MLS playoffs all we want. But the fact is that Vieira took a struggling New York City and turned it into a consistent winner throughout his two and a half tenure with the club. He gave the Blues a distinct identity, something that was severely lacking under previous manager Jason Kreis. Not to mention, he also had the respect and attention of the locker room.
But one shouldn’t sleep on NYCFC’s new boss. For the better part of a decade, Domènec Torrent has served as an assistant to Pep Guardioala, arguably the best manager in football right now, during his stay at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City, all of which have won league championships and a plethora of other accolades.
With such an impressive pedigree, one can only come the the conclusion that New York City is in good hands when it comes to Torrent.
That being said, let’s break down five keys for Torrent to optimize NYCFC.
Don’t change Vieira’s system. Refine it.
If the past is anything to go by, then Torrent won’t be changing much within City’s signature 4-3-3. And that’s a good thing. This team has been built from the ground up to best suit playing from the back in a wide formation.
For Torrent to have the most success in MLS, he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he needs to develop a contingency plan on how to counter NYCFC’s biggest weakness: the high press. The rival New York Red Bulls play approach the press as a lifestyle and throughout Vieira’s tenure with the club, City seldom had an answer for it.
Find away around the high press, and you can beat almost anyone.
Play your young talent
One of the most glaring issues fans constantly had with Vieira is playing younger talent. Despite asserting himself in the tail-end of last season, Jonathan Lewis’ shifts in 2018 have been scarce. The same can be said for James Sands, who — outside of his shift during the US Open Cup match — has not seen a single minute this season.
Due to his season-ending injury, Yangel Herrera has seen the last of his time in New York. And while we love Alex Ring, it’s unknown just how long he will be residing within the five boroughs. To ensure the squad’s depth moving forward, developing your younger players is absolutely a must.
Experiment a bit
Things aren’t always as they seem. Torrent knows this better than most. Throughout his time under Pep Guardiola’s wing, the Spanish coach was constantly looked to as a guy that could think outside the box and present ideas to improving their club’s chances of success.
Perhaps the most notable of these suggestions included moving Bayern Munich fullback Phillip Lahm into a center-mid role in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup match against Chelsea.
Domènec Torrent was one of Guardiola's "idea men", advising him on tactics. At Bayern, he convinced Pep to play Philipp Lahm as a CM for 1st time in an official game.— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) June 11, 2018
Pep: "All the pieces fell together with that decision. If we win anything, it’s because of that.”#NYCFC #MLS pic.twitter.com/0R9mrwlTSU
Something like that can absolutely be done with NYCFC. As a matter of fact, we’ve already began to see such changes. In the weeks leading up to his departure, Vieira experimented with a 3-back formation that saw perennial defensive midfielder Alex Ring play the middle center back role. And though it wasn’t always used to the best of its abilities, these tactics proved effective at home against the dangerous Atlanta United. Despite only being able to take a single point in a 1-1 draw, City absolutely dominated all game and could have easily won by a definitive scoreline.
It’s that kind of experimentation that I’d love to see from Torrent, especially with players like Jesus Medina that have seem out of sorts recently.
Stay away from the guy with the beard
This suggestion could easily be called “be selective when it comes to your starters,” but that didn’t roll off the tongue as easily.
But yes, when it comes to their most recent performances, I can’t see any fathomable reason that Jo Inge Berget is still starting. He is easily the odd man out in the equation, as his stone-foot touches and puzzling runs have been a detriment to City’s counter-attack in recent weeks. I completely understand how one could like him. Don’t get me wrong, Berget looks like a relatively nice guy who wears flannel shirts and drinks some local craft beer in his free time, and is probably a joy at parties when he’s not talking about how the Grateful Dead are God’s gift to music and how he doesn’t get the hype around the Yeezy 350’s.
But that isn’t putting goals in the nets. With players like Jonathan Lewis and Jesus Medina available, I don’t see how Torrent could reasonably stick the status quo and continue to play the Norweigan moving forward.