By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (June 15, 2022) US Soccer Players – It happened again. New York City Football Club said goodbye to a head coach in the middle of the season. On Monday, Ronny Deila left defending MLS Cup champions NYCFC midway through his third season in charge to become the coach of Standard Liege in the Belgian Pro League. Assistant Nick Cushing takes over on an interim basis and will lead the team for the remainder of the 2022 season.
Standard Liege met the release clause on Deila’s contract with New York, a number reported as reaching “seven figures,” allowing Deila to return to Europe. These things happen in the soccer business, though that won’t keep it from being distressing for NYCFC fans.
“Everyone at the club would like to thank Ronny for the fantastic job he has done here,” said NYCFC sporting director David Lee. “With Ronny at the helm, we have developed an even stronger culture of winning and togetherness and have accomplished our number-one goal of bringing silverware to this club, to this city, and to our fans.”
Deila leaves New York with suitcases packed with goodwill. As the man who finally put one of the league’s more ambitious teams over the top with last year’s MLS Cup title, it will be difficult for fans to hold a grudge. NYCFC sits atop the table in the Eastern Conference on the back of some of the best soccer played anywhere in MLS this season. Deila leaves the club in a good place, primed to make another run at the championship. His successor will feel pressure to keep up the standard.
The last time this happened to NYCFC, head coach Patrick Vieira departed the club in June of 2018. Vieira left New York for Nice in a Ligue 1. The timing wasn’t ideal, but Vieira also left with fans viewing his time at Yankee Stadium favorably.
Vieira elevated NYCFC to contender status following a difficult introduction as an expansion team in 2015. During Vieira’s run as head coach, the club finished second in the Eastern Conference twice. It was more than points that marked Vieira’s tenure, however. He also pushed NYCFC to play some of the most attractive possession-based soccer in the league.
Back in 2018, NYCFC turned to a coach from another City Football Group team to pick up where Vieira left off. Manchester City assistant Domenec Torrent arrived from England well-versed in the approach Vieira had used to good effect in the Bronx.
Torrent had a pedigree that few MLS coaches could match. He was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. The hire fit with the New York club’s international outlook and brought a known quantity from inside the City Football Group family to MLS. Once again, it worked. In his only full season with the club in 2019, Torrent led NYCFC to a 1st-place finish. He left by mutual consent following that season and is currently the coach at Galatasaray.
With Cushing, NYCFC turns to another coach well-known within the City Football Group. Cushing moves up to the top job after serving as an assistant under Deila for the past two-and-a-half seasons, a job he took following seven years coaching the Manchester City Women team in the FA Women’s Super League.
“While it is never ideal to have a change of head coach mid-season, we are excited for Nick Cushing to have this opportunity and have the utmost confidence in him given his previous experience as one of the most decorated coaches in the women’s game,” Lee said in a statement.
Cushing is certainly set up to succeed. He takes over a 1st-place team with championship-caliber talent at nearly every position. The players know him, so there won’t be any difficult period of adjustment. Steeped in the NYCFC way and with the Guardiola model of the game as his guiding light, he’ll simply be asked to keep the club on its current heading.
Long-term success in MLS is most often built on stability at key positions within an organization. Teams that contend for more than two or three seasons at a time can point to continuity, often in the head coaching position.
Because of NYCFC’s connections to the game in Europe and the reach of the City Football Group operation, the club is unlikely to enjoy that sort of constant presence. Vieira and Deila both arrived in New York hoping to build on their reputations as coaches. Winning games and trophies was the goal. Success in MLS would create opportunities.
Due to the mismatched calendars, those opportunities tend to come when European clubs are in their offseason and MLS is in the middle of theirs. Vieira and Deila got jobs in Europe in the middle of the MLS season because they won with NYCFC. That speaks to the club’s ability to navigate changes with the top job on the soccer side of the organization. Despite regular head coach turnover, NYCFC has not slipped from its spot among the top contenders for MLS Cup since Vieira was in charge. That’s unique in this league.
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Logo courtesy of NYCFC