NEW YORK CITY — Friday was Jason Kreis’s day in Gotham, the chance for the first coach of New York City FC to be presented to the media and discuss his vision for what NYCFC can be when it makes its debut as an MLS expansion team in 2015.
With an investment of more than $500 million, including a $100 million expansion fee and what will eventually be a soccer stadium costing up to $400 million, the new club being started by the owners of Manchester City and the New York Yankees is one more sign of MLS’s progress in recent years.
On a day when Toronto FC completed a stunning week of transfers to acquire Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, and on the day we learned MLS’s next TV contract (a deal shared by ESPN and Fox Sports) would be worth around $70 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal, it was another proud moment for MLS to see a home-grown player and coach like Kreis fit in perfectly on a podium with NYC FC sporting director Claudio Reyna, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano and City director of football Txiki Begiristain.
Here were some of the things that stood out most to me:
• There are different ways for U.S. coaches to connect with Europe
Last week Bob Bradley became the first American coach to take over a European first-division team when he got the job at Norway’s Stabæk. But Kreis’s job with NYCFC provides another way to enter the European game.
For the next six months, the 41-year-old Kreis and his family will live in Manchester as he immerses in the culture of Man City and other teams in Europe. Kreis will work next to Manuel Pellegrini, City’s first-team coach, and Patrick Vieira, the under-21 team coach.
“It’s an all-encompassing thing,” Kreis said. “I’m going there to work, not just to observe. I’ll be working with Manuel and his staff and Patrick and his staff. We’ll be looking at the academy situation. I’m going to spend some days with each department: player recruitment, sport sciences, all the different sides of the club.”
Kreis will also visit other European clubs that have friendly relations with Manchester City. It’s a kind of working sabbatical from the stresses of workaday MLS coaching.
“It’s just about personal development and the opportunity this presents for me to see it a different way,” Kreis said. “And also to step away from the game on a day-to-day basis for a little bit. It’s something I’ve never been afforded in my career. I walked into the [Salt Lake] coaching job from the playing side, so I’ve never had really a month even where I wasn’t worried on a day-to-day basis about soccer, either my playing career or coaching the very next day. Everything has aligned to make this a clear-cut choice and the right decision.”
• Reyna is already pursuing Designated Players
The U.S. Hall of Famer and All-Time Best XI midfielder told me that he and other club officials have already met with “more than 10” potential big-name signings, either with their agents or the players themselves. NYCFC will use the maximum allotment of three DPs, whose salaries are not limited by the league’s salary budget cap.
“We have to be very aggressive and active in an offensive mode with player recruitment and the player search,” Reyna said. “Our approach, with Jason and I, is to go find the players we want to fit into how he wants to build the team. And not just the right people that are important on the field, but probably more important off the field. Toronto did a great job bringing Michael [Bradley] back. He’s the right guy, a top professional. Those are the kind of people we’re looking for.”
Reyna said he’s enjoying the DP search process.
“It’s a lot of fun, to be honest,” he explained. “I get to travel and watch games and meet with players and their reps. Every week there’s a new name being thrown at us.”
• The other parts of building NYCFC are moving forward
Reyna said the team hopes to have an announcement by the end of the month on the location of its training facility/team offices, which will be in New York State but not in the five boroughs of NYC. (Westchester seems a real possibility.)
What’s more, Soriano revealed a team badge is coming in the next few weeks, as is the announcement of the team’s temporary stadium host. (The odds-on favorite is Yankee Stadium.)
As for the permanent stadium the team plans to build, Soriano said NYCFC is looking at several sites in the Bronx and elsewhere in the city. The news lately on the stadium front hasn’t been great. Michael Bloomberg was a supporter of providing city support for a stadium, but that doesn’t appear to be the case so far with new NYC mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We are going to be patient,” Soriano said. “We need the community to say, ‘We want you here,’ because we’re going to be here for years and years. So if it takes more time, we’ll take more time. We’ll talk, we’ll listen. We’re looking forward to talking to new elected officials. We’re optimistic, first because we’re going to play elsewhere [temporarily], so we’re not going to rush. And secondly because we’re not going to do anything that is not perfect.”
• NYCFC is positioning itself to cater to the local soccer fans who may not have embraced MLS yet
Soriano is an intriguing guy, a former FC Barcelona executive who said he first tried to be part of an MLS startup in New York with Barça in 2005. He tried again with Barça in Miami later in the decade and, after moving to Man City, has now done the deal with NYCFC, which is his baby. Soriano has spent a lot of time in the city mingling with soccer fans and going to soccer bars.
“There are savvy fans here, more than people think,” he said. “I’ve seen it. You go to a bar, you watch a Premier League or Champions League game, and these American fans understand soccer. They understand the difference between excellent soccer, good soccer and bad soccer. They’re just waiting for somebody to offer good soccer [here]. This is what we want to do.”