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 Domè 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.
The challenge of Torrent stepping in and replicating that was a tough one, as it would be for anybody coming to a new league with unique rules and an affinity for competitive parity.
But the Spanish gaffer never wavered. And in his first game with NYCFC against Toronto FC on June 24, City won 2-1 in a game that was never as close as the scoreline suggested.
Since his arrival in the Bronx, Torrent has had immense success. In five competitive matches, NYCFC have won four under Torrent’s tutelage — including a 1-0 triumph against the New York Red Bulls — with the only hiccup coming by way of a 3-2 loss against the Chicago Fire. Also worth noting is that three of those four wins came within a one-week period and were all clean sheets.
When evaluating the success that Torrent has had in his short stint in the Bronx, it’s clear that tactically, the former Pep Guardiola protégé has been sound. Fearless when it comes to making on-the-fly changes if needed, Domé has been a breath of fresh air in comparison to Vieira who, despite being a good manager in his own right, often struggled with in-game management and was generally considered o be quite stubborn when it came to his ultra-specific, micromanaged system.
One need only to look at the latest edition of the Hudson River Derby for the proof.
Determined not to repeat the same mistakes as his predecessors when it came to NYCFC’s New Jersey rivals, Torrent abandoned City’s signature play-from-the-back style against the Red Bulls and settled for sending long balls up the pitch to avoid costly turnovers. This tactical change might’ve made for an ugly game, but it kept NYRB off-balance throughout the match and eventually led to them gifting the Blues a late game-winning goal.
As a matter of fact, most of Torrent’s outings thus far have relied upon tactical adjustments. Without primary goalscorers David Villa and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi at their disposal due to injury, NYCFC have struggled to immediately produce goals in the first half, often relying upon Torrent to make the necessary adjustments at the half to bolster a second half surge, which is exactly what in the 3-0 win against the Montreal Impact on July 12, as well as the 2-0 win against the Columbus Crew this past Saturday.
The emergence of supersub winger Jonathan Lewis has also been instrumental. The Akron alum and former MLS SuperDraft first-rounder struggled to find playing time under Vieira, something that fans constantly criticized. But under Torrent, Lewis has made an appearance in all five games and has accrued a goal and two assists in the process. Torrent himself has praised the 21-year-old budding star and has even teased a potential opportunity in the starting lineup should he continue to progress as a player.
It’s hard to complain about Torrent’s performance at this point. Granted, we are still early into this new era and have yet to see a significant road trip which, given the empirical evidence, is where coaches are generally pushed to their limit. But if recent performances are anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised if NYCFC are up to task even when taken out of their comfort zone.