It’s hardly surprising that owners who have won two Premier League titles in three years, ploughing close to $1 billion into two clubs on either side of the Atlantic, should demand instant success at New York City FC - but even still, the dismissal of Jason Kreis came as a jarring conclusion to club’s season.
On Monday night, the Abu Dhabi-owned franchise announced that Kreis - considered among North American soccer’s brightest young coaches - had been relieved of his duties as first team coach. "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," a statement 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." Indeed, NYC FC endured a challenging first season in Major League Soccer, with their form patchy and at times downright dismal. There is no doubt that the club endured its issues over the course of the campaign, but Kreis was not among them.
By firing Kreis, City Football Group have demonstrated a real lack of understanding for the rigours and difficulties faced by an expansion team in MLS. Not since the 2009 Seattle Sounders has an expansion side made the play-offs, and yet that was the minimum requirement asked of Kreis this season. Such objectives were unrealistic and highly flawed.
In fact, on the basis of precedent New York City FC actually overachieved in their debut MLS campaign. Excluding the Seattle side of 2009, expansion teams average 7.5 wins per season - with Kreis leading NYC FC to 10 wins. And all with a team assembled over a single off-season, largely through trades and draft picks shared with Orlando City.
The statement released upon the firing of Kreis pointed out that the club had finished 2015 with the division’s second lowest points tally - but what it failed to highlight was that three sides finished on 37 points, and of those three NYC FC had the best goal difference. Of course, that wasn’t enough to distinguish a relatively dismal season, but it at least hinted at some form of progression - with results improving in time.
But by all accounts, the Yankee Stadium club’s problems when beyond what on-the-field results reveal. There was a disconnect between NYC FC’s coaching staff and the owners, with the City Football Group often speaking of the desire to implement an identity - the City way - on the club. They failed to give Kreis the tools needed to do achieve that, though.
The club’s owners didn’t listen to Kreis. The coach’s talking down of speculation linking NYC FC with a move for veteran midfielder Xavi Hernandez was calculated, designed to communicate his lack of necessity for a player of that mould. And yet just a few weeks later Andrea Pirlo was signed.
Along with Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna, Kreis understands that successful MLS teams are not built around high-paid, high-maintenance Designed Players. Instead, it is about the squad space around them - something that made Real Salt Lake among the league’s best for so long. However, CFG never quite grasped this concept and so signed a number of players that never really suited Kreis’ ideology.
Then there was the way Kreis was seemingly left in the dark over the situation regarding Frank Lampard’s arrival in New York, leaving NYC FC without one of their two big-name, pre-season signings until midway through the campaign. Once again, the failing in that instance could be blamed on the owners, but not on the front office.
But it is Kreis who has paid for NYC FC’s teething issues with his job. The decision to fire a proven MLS coach, with expansion experience and a track record of MLS Cup success, was a short-sighted one - and one that will heap pressure on whoever takes on the mantel for 2016. It didn’t take long for New York City FC to become the most poisoned of MLS’s chalices.