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New York City FC will be on its second manager in just its second season in Major League Soccer in 2016. On Monday night, the club announced that Jason Kreis was no longer its head coach.
The terminology of it was vague. A headline on a press release said "Kreis leaves post," but in the first line of the actual release, it said Kreis and the club had "parted company." The former implies that he resigned; the latter that it was a mutual decision. It has been widely speculated, however, that Kreis would be fired.
"Prior to the start of the season, it was agreed with the coaching team that securing of a playoff place was an appropriate target for this year," the release read. "A win rate of less than one in three games and a points tally which was the second lowest in the league is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed."
With regards to that "points tally," it should be noted here that three teams had 37 points, like NYCFC, and that the Chicago Fire had just 30. Of those three with 37, NYCFC had the best goal difference, actually placing it 17th out of 20 MLS teams, rather than 19th.
Much was expected of one of North America's most respected young managers after all the success Kreis had achieved with small-market Real Salt Lake. He not only turned around that franchise but also took it to two MLS Cup finals – winning one – and made it the first MLS team to reach the final of the expanded CONCACAF Champions League.
In January 2014, he was appointed at New York's expansion franchise more than a year before it was to begin play. He would be spending the next year studying and preparing at parent club Manchester City in England. In a bombastic press conference in the ballroom of a Midtown Manhattan hotel, the club spoke of identity and continuity and having found the ideal candidate. Indeed, he seemed that.
Kreis had twice been involved with an expansion team as a player – the Dallas Burn and RSL – in his long career as an MLS striker. With his penchant for playing the attractive, attacking soccer NYCFC envisioned, they were an obvious match.
But things soon got complicated.
In Utah, Kreis had gotten into the habit of building teams with useful pieces, complemented by Designated Players who weren't big names exactly but who conspired with their lesser-paid peers to make the difference. In New York, Frank Lampard was signed and then David Villa was signed and then Andrea Pirlo was signed. Kreis and director of football operations Claudio Reyna – considered something of a dream team – reportedly didn't want any of those thirty-something European galacticos.
In their vision, the club would attract younger players on the right side of their prime who could grow into being its stars. But the parent club, Manchester City – which insists that it's merely a "sister club" when that clearly isn't so – had other ideas. So the aging big names were foisted on Kreis and he was expected to make a cohesive unit with a trio of lumbering has-beens as his foundation.
Villa was effective and turned in a strong season. But Lampard was mostly a non-factor, and Pirlo was a faint shadow of the version of himself that had taken Juventus to the Champions League final and yet another Serie A title just months earlier. And Kreis didn't have the latter two at his disposal until halfway through the season, meaning he had to fit them into a team he had only just assembled.
On top of all that, Kreis was expected to perform under the media glare of New York and in a stadium that his team never got to make its own as it crashed Yankee Stadium in ongoing anticipation of a new venue.
In Year One, New York City FC wasn't good, placing eighth in the weak Eastern Conference. But on the curve set by prior expansion teams, it wasn't particularly bad either. Kreis's team put together a 10-17-7 record, missing the playoffs and giving up a league-worst 58 goals (tied with the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC). Yet it also scored 49 goals, sixth-most among the league's 20 teams. It entertained and often put on a spectacle. The ample crowds drawn to the Bronx seldom went home feeling shortchanged.
Still, the club felt that he should have done better. "While the challenges of building and integrating a new team are recognized," said the statement, "it was felt by the board, following a comprehensive review, that there was not enough evidence of the dynamics required to improve the performance of the team for the next season and beyond."
This vague, corporate mumbo-jumbo seems to blame Kreis for the muddled roster he had to work with. And it's important to recognize that the player material he and Reyna put together had to fit around three pillars that they apparently never sought as their supporting structure.
Unlike Manchester City, Kreis and Reyna knew full well that you can't build an MLS side around your highest-paid players – especially not older DPs. They understand that you build a balanced team and only then slot your imported stars into the spots where your careful assessment of your side projects that they can put you over the top.
Telling for the parent club's misunderstanding of what its stateside affiliate is up against is the rumor that Patrick Vieira, the France and Arsenal great and sometime City youth coach-cum-executive is a favorite to take Kreis's place. Foreign managers have an exceedingly poor record in MLS, especially first-time head coaches. (Let's not pretend Vieira's management of City's "elite development squad," whatever that may be, counts as a senior-level job that would adequately prepare him.) With exceptions that can be counted on one hand, imported coaches have no working understanding of the league's convoluted roster regulations or its many other unique challenges – extensive travel, climates, lack of international breaks, altitudes.
Another report has veteran Italian manager Fabio Capello taking over. And while he certainly doesn't lack for experience, he's just as unlikely to succeed for what is doubtless a thin knowledge base of the singular circumstances of MLS.
But these are lessons NYCFC will have to learn the hard way. It made a fine start of its existence by appointing a great deal of MLS experience and savvy in Kreis and Reyna. And while the latter remains in his job – although in what role is unclear – the notion that appointing someone else as manager, someone surely brought in from abroad, will open up a shortcut to competing betrays a lack of knowhow.
Because if Kreis couldn't thrive right away, it's hard to imagine that someone else will do so more quickly.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.