NYCFC must heed lessons from past

Past failures and missteps offer context for the gargantuan task ahead of New York City FC. Building a club from scratch in Major League Soccer requires a deft hand and a measured vision for the future. The absence or prevalence of those tenets determines whether opportunity transforms into wreckage over the course of a few years.

The record of successes in MLS’ modern, post-contraction era reinforces those maxims and underscores the potential route ahead for NYCFC. Montréal, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver built upon firm lower-league foundations to transition successfully. Philadelphia constructed its team on the passion of Sons of Ben and the savvy of experienced operators. Real Salt Lake relied on Dave Checketts, Garth Lagerwey, Bill Manning and Jason Kreis to chart the proper course.

In this particular instance, the struggles encountered by Chivas USA and Toronto FC prove more instructive. Both teams operate in a major market and understand the difficulties of carving out a place in such a crowded landscape. They attacked their challenges with some common bonds — Chivas USA adopted a controversial affinity for Mexican and Mexican-American players to fall in line with the parent club in Guadalajara, while Toronto FC functioned as Canada’s team until Montréal and Vancouver arrived — and watched as other teams in similar positions passed them along the way.

Toronto FC flailed around in search of stability within the club and its technical staff. Eager supporters packed BMO Field weekly to support their Reds, but the booming business heaped pressure on the team to produce on the field. The continued chopping and changing in the dugout and in the executive suites created uncertainty instead of solidity. TFC’s frustrating quest for a first playoff berth persists heading into its eighth season.

Chivas USA pursued the opposite path: the Red-and-White cobbled together playoff runs under Bob Bradley and Preki and muddled through on the business side. Both components crumbled over the past few years to the point where MLS commissioner Don Garber now fends off repeated questions about whether the league will contract the club or purchase it outright from Jorge Vergara. Garber told last week those options were not on the table for a team often derided as and treated like a poor relation in the Chivas family, but the toxic combination of meager revenue streams and poor on-field performance present a warning sign for any club trying to carve out its own path.

NYCFC enters the league in 2015 with few of those infrastructure-based headaches ahead under the combined auspices of Manchester City and the New York Yankees. The stadium concerns plaguing Chivas USA isn’t a factor with several interim venues in play and the prospect of a $400-million stadium near Yankee Stadium now in the meat grinder of the New York City political scene. The resources clearly are not an issue. And the team now has a stable technical team in place with head coach Jason Kreis and sporting director Claudio Reyna on board for 2015.

Kreis’ appointment contributes the sort of institutional knowledge required to shepherd NYCFC through the early days of its existence. He will spend much of 2014 laying the groundwork for the tribulations to come. Kreis noted his background toil includes extended spells in Manchester to “immerse myself in the football operations in Manchester observing some of the leading figures in European football,” according to the release extolling his arrival.

The balance between Manchester and New York City presents perhaps the most pressing minefield to navigate. NYCFC cannot afford to serve as an American outpost for City in order to meet its lofty objectives. It must create its own identity over the next few years and figure out a way to lean on the ample resources available to mold its ethos to the satisfaction of the investors/operators across the Atlantic and the Stateside staff charged with producing success on — and off-the-field.

The spate of informed hires — people with extensive experience in MLS and the New York City market — indicates the powerbrokers behind NYCFC acknowledge the need for a distinct operation and grasp the significant task ahead. The quiet, methodical buildup to 2015 will involve the expected flash at some point down the line, but the focus on more mundane matters and Kreis’ proficiency with cultivating a uniform philosophy and style at RSL portends well for the rigorous trail ahead.

History can inform NYCFC’s decisions at every signpost. Several of NYCFC’s future peers can attest to the difficulties of launching a club. Local rival New York Red Bulls can note their experiences about trying to obtain a modest foothold in America’s largest city. Other teams can share their best practices as NYCFC figures out how to carve out its own niche.

Any help is valuable now. NYCFC craves success. Their willingness to heed the lessons learned long ago and use their resources wisely to avoid replicating them hints they might just know how to achieve it, too.