Q&A: Claudio Reyna and the challenge of building New York City FC's roster
NEW YORK – Claudio Reyna faces a challenge.
Building a roster from scratch is no easy task. Trying to recruit players now who won't be able to play for your team until March is another hurdle altogether. So while NYCFC and Reyna, the former U.S. national team captain who is the MLS expansion club's director of football operations, continue to look home and abroad for players (Spoilers: there's nothing from Reyna to report on rumored targets Xavi or Frank Lampard), the franchise's growth is in a bit of a waiting period before ramping up in a big way upon its MLS entry.
As it stands, the club has three players signed for its 2015 roster: Spain World Cup-winning forward David Villa, fourth-year MLS defender Jeb Brovsky and MLS Cup-winning goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
Reyna stopped by SI HQ last week to talk all things World Cup and spared a few moments to discuss the club, its progress and its process en route to becoming the league's 20th franchise (interview edited only for clarity and length):
SI: How difficult is it to try to build a squad now that won't play until March?
REYNA: There's one challenge we've had because of how the seasons overlap. So the transfer window now in the summer makes it difficult, because obviously they need to be playing and stay fit, so we've been fortunate with Jeb Brovsky getting a loan to Norwegian champions (Stromsgodset), with David [Villa] we're going to be able to find the right time to have him play in Melbourne for our team Melbourne City.
Each player as they come in it's a case-by-case situation. Just dealing with it is one of the things in discussions with agents and players that we have to try do to, because we want to stay sharp. The reality is most of our players, via expansion draft and re-entry and SuperDraft, the bulk of our players will come in December, January, so we'll get them into preseason, get them together with the team. So far we've been fortunate with some opportunities, we have relationships with clubs in NASL and USL and some teams in Europe. It's worked out so far.
SI: Is the expansion draft still going to be 10 rounds with both you and Orlando selecting players?
REYNA: We can select up to 10. Splitting the expansion (draft), it's something we weren't too happy about, but it is what it is, hopefully as many of those players can stay. We feel that there's enough talent that if we're really good in terms of scouting that we'll get at least five or six of those players that make the team. That's what we're aiming for.
[Head coach Jason Kreis] has a great background with the league, of the players, so we're watching the games as we always do, watching the teams. We have a general idea of the players that won't be protected, but at the same time it's going to be a crazy week once the list goes in, that's when we're really going to knuckle down. Quality of player is important, but it also could be positional needs as well, so we'll see when we get there. I'm sure it'll be a frantic week for us and Orlando. We're confident that we'll find some players.
SI: How has the time frame made it difficult to recruit talent from overseas?
REYNA: The thing with that time for European players is that any European player who is playing and doing well, that club is not going to let them go. So the players who might become available are the players who are not playing. There's many very good players who aren't playing. It could be a situation where they've fallen out with a coach, so a lot of those will come up. some potential loan players.
We also have the opportunity to bring a couple of players from [team co-owner] Manchester City, from the Under-21s, there are some very talented players. That could help us with positional needs and fill-in. With the limitations of international spots, we have to make sure that they're guys, if they're not starters, they're at least within the top 18 and fighting for starting spots. All those things we're weighing up. As we continue to grow, there's more interest in our club. It helps being in New York. There's no shortage of interest. We have a lot of planning, then we have to be very fluid as well as we move forward week by week.
There are players that could potentially come in the winter transfer window, and I don't think it's a big deal for those players. If they're interested and they want to do it, we can make it work. It's going to be another period where we can get some players from European clubs.
SI: Are there players from Manchester City's first team who are possibilities for NYCFC?
REYNA: From [Man City manager] Manuel [Pellegrini] and [Man City director of football] Txiki [Begiristain], all the players that are there and in the first-team squad, they're there for the season. It's difficult. It's impossible. Those guys are there for the Premier League. But moving forward as we roll this forward for a couple of years, there could be some players in the current squad that might want to come here in their next step of their career, and that's something that we'll gauge as we move forward. It's pretty clear that those players are there for Manuel and the first team. We would love to have many of them, but that's not going to happen.
The good part of the relationship, Jason being there, I've been at the club now for over a year since my new role, is the players really started to become more educated to now they just get it as well. Players are in their own world worrying about playing and Man City's team, but having gone over there, they're really interested. We always talk about where we're at. They like to get updates, and that's neat.
I think that was the goal of City Football Group is to make one big family. We have a very close relationship with Australia, with the sporting director there, with John van't Schip the coach, so there's a real real support that's going on from one club to the other.
It's a privilege to be part of this soccer project to be able to have at the core Manchester City, which has won two of the last three (Premier League) titles, which is continuing to expand in terms of a club, in terms of its infrastructure and training facilities being built there, and us having that access to bounce ideas off of them, for me personally to run by questions and how things are done, potential staff, support staff coming over that's worked there.
It's neat, it's really a great project. and this next year is really about getting it up and running between the three clubs, and then after that I'm sure a year from today will be that much better, so it's exciting to be working closely with them.
SI: Is it possible that the rest of the coaching staff will come from the City Football Group family?
REYNA: There's synergy between the three teams, but nothing is being forced upon us at all. There's been some staff that's been interested to come over. We're speaking to some support staff -- not coaches. I think Jason, for the most part, is focused on bringing in coaches that know the league and that he's comfortable with and that's very important. We have Miles Joseph so far, he worked at Real Salt Lake, and we'll be speaking to other potential assistants and he will for next year.
It's important always from day one, my thought, and Jason agrees, we all agree, that we need people to understand the league and MLS. Bringing people from abroad, it needs to make sense. But in terms of support staff and medical department and scouting, there's potential for Man City and City Football Group staff to come over for that.
We're waiting anyway. There's no point to bring in guys now, any more staff. With Miles and Jason and we have a head of player recruitment, we feel we got it covered well in terms of scouting players and watching games. As far as assistant coaches, the next couple of assistants will come in December-January when we're ready to play.
SI: Is Richie Williams someone you'd look at for your staff, given his knowledge of MLS, New York and your familiarity with one another?
REYNA: He'd certainly be an interesting candidate. I know Richie really well, he knows the area, he knows the league. I think Richie, probably in knowing him, would be interested in a head coaching job, but certainly is someone we would talk to. He's got a great job now with the [U.S.] Under-17s and a really talented group, so I know he's very focused with that. He knows the league, he played in it, similar to Jason. Whole career in the league, coached in the league, so they really know the nuances of it. Certainly profiles like Richie are what Jason's interested in. People that know the league and know the travel, the competition, the opposing coaches. He would be someone, those type of people, we'd be interested in.
SI: Finally, on the stadium front: Any progress to report?
REYNA: Nothing new. For now [we're playing at Yankee Stadium] this year, and most likely the following year, and then from there we'll see where we're at. We're having really good meetings with the city, continuing to to make sure we find the right place, the right location that makes sense for all parties involved. That continues. We're having very positive discussions with the city.