Vieira leaves MLS a pioneer who transformed NYCFC and blazed a trail for foreign coaches
Patrick Vieira's long-rumored departure from New York City FC finally became official on Monday, and as short as his two-and-a-half-year tenure in New York might have seemed, it was still long enough to have an impact on Major League Soccer that will last much longer.
Vieira left NYCFC with the team regarded as one of the best in the league, known for playing some of the most attractive soccer in MLS. Perhaps it was fitting that his final match in charge saw NYCFC outplay league leaders Atlanta United in a match that would have given him the perfect send-off if not for the heroics of Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
To fully appreciate Vieira's time at NYCFC, it's important to remember that the job was Vieira's first one leading a professional team. Having impressed while in charge of Manchester City's reserve team, Vieira had established himself as a hot-shot coaching prospect and it would have been very easy for him to stay in Europe until a managerial opportunity emerged.
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Instead Vieira agreed to make the jump to MLS, taking over an NYCFC squad that was a complete mess after a disappointing first season in the league. It was very much a reclamation project and Vieira played a major part in transforming NYCFC from struggling club to powerhouse in one season.
In the process, Vieira established himself as a sharp tactician, someone who could motivate players as well as put them in positions to succeed. He embraced the quirks of the MLS system, swinging draft-day trades, including the one that landed England Under-21 midfielder Jack Harrison.
He showed an ability to manage superstars as well as fringe players, bringing them together to play some of the most attractive soccer in the league. NYCFC scored more goals during Vieira's time in charge than any other team in MLS.
"He has a humility to listen and learn and reflect after every game and the decisions that he made," NYCFC director of football operations Claudio Reyna told Goal earlier in the season. "That’s why you could see him just getting better and better. With experience and time he’s only gotten better managing situations and the day to day of a football club."
Vieira's commitment to a possession-oriented style also helped the league's improving tactical maturation. His coaching battles with the Columbus Crew's Gregg Berhalter, FC Dallas' Oscar Pareja, Atlanta United's Tata Martino and Jesse Marsch of the New York Red Bulls helped raise the bar for a league that has long carried the stigma of not boasting the highest level of coaching.
The coaching level in MLS is improving, and Vieira did his part to help that with his work with NYCFC. Even though he is gone now, Vieira has helped NYCFC establish a style of play that new manager Domenec Torrent will be able to pick up and build on.
Vieira has also blazed a trail that top foreign coaching prospects can look to follow. Before Vieira, the track record in MLS of foreign coaches with no previous experience in American soccer was filled with failures. Both he and Martino have helped show that foreign coaches can jump into MLS and succeed, though the latest crop of foreign coaches (Montreal's Remi Garde, Colorado's Anthony Hudson and San Jose's Mikael Stahre) have also reminded us just how tough the transition can be.
Another impact Vieira had in MLS was being one of the few black coaches in the league's history, and the only one in the past six seasons. He became the first black coach in MLS since Robin Fraser was fired by Chivas USA after the 2012 season. Vieira gave African-American coaches and players someone to look up to, while giving the league's owners something to think about when they consider future coaching hires in a league where coaching diversity has long been an issue.
Vieira's stint in MLS wasn't perfect. He leaves without having secured a single piece of silverware, and his woeful record against NYCFC's main rival — the New York Red Bulls — was a particularly painful scar on his resume. Vieira surely felt a desire to stay and right some of those wrongs, but he must have also felt an urge to accelerate his coaching development after having failed to be a serious candidate to replace Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager.
NYCFC announced the hiring of Torrent, Pep Guardiola's long-time assistant coach, to take charge on Monday. Torrent will inherit an NYCFC team well equipped to make a championship run this season, and set up for success beyond 2018.
That, coupled with the respect Vieira earned from his coaching peers in MLS, and the players who played for him in New York, says all there is to say about the Frenchman's time in MLS.