No one could reasonably have known what to expect when Patrick Vieira was handed the job of coaching New York City FC ahead of the team’s second season in Major League Soccer.
For all his impressive credentials as a player, most famously with Arsenal and France, Vieira was a coaching neophyte, his only experience his time with the Manchester City youth set up.
Given that slim coaching C.V., it is difficult not to be surprised and a little bit impressed by Vieira’s tactical flexibility and boldness in the opening weeks of the season.
Vieira sent NYCFC out for its season opener in Chicago in a 4-3-3 formation, a setup that the first year coach had touted as he prepared for his senior coaching debut.
New York impressed going forward against the Fire, scoring four goals, less impressively NYC also let in three against a rebuilding Chicago side.
When New York held its media day at Yankee Stadium the Thursday before the team’s home opener on Sunday, March 13, I asked Vieira if he was tempted to tailor his tactics to the narrow confines of the club’s home field.
“No, no, no,” the coach responded that day. “We’re not going to change our philosophy or our tactics.” “We are aware of the dimensions of the pitch,” Vieira continued, “and we know what to expect.”
The same couldn’t be said for New York’s opponent that Sunday, a point Toronto coach Greg Vanney conceded after the teams played to a 2-2 tie. In the post game press conference, Vanney admitted to being surprised when New York lined out in what has variously been described as a 3-2-2-3 or a 3-4-3.
Vanney parsed it further saying, “it wasn’t just a 3-4-3, it was three and then a box in the middle of the field and then three guys.” Vanney was caught off guard by the alignment and admitted that “we needed to reorganize a bit.”
Sparked by a goal in the dying seconds of the first half Toronto went on to earn a draw but MLS coaches had been put on notice, under Patrick Vieira NYCFC was willing to shake things up.
And Vieira doesn’t sound like he is finished with his shapeshifting quite yet. Speaking with the media via conference call yesterday afternoon Vieira made it clear that he is not done with the 4-3-3, although the coach wasn’t ready to concede that the 3-2-2-3 would be his go to in the Bronx.
“I like the shape,” the coach said of the 3-2-2-3, “and I think the shape helped us to control the game a little bit more against Toronto.” But he was quick to add, “I also liked the way we played at Chicago when we played the 4-3-3.”
Perhaps it is his newness to the role but Vieira willingly shared the thinking behind his decisions, noting that the 4-3-3 “gives us a lot of options going forward.” “What is important,” Vieira said, “is to have this type of flexibility.”
So what can Orlando SC coach Adrian Heath expect to see when his team lines out against NYCFC tonight at Yankee Stadium? How about a 3-3-4? Vieira was asked about that latest possible wrinkle during Thursday’s call and the Frenchman didn’t flinch.
“Regarding the 3-3-4, this is a system that is one we’re going to use, we may use it tomorrow.” Vieira indicated that he could change the team’s shape depending on Orlando’s strategy.
Heady stuff from the Shapeshifting NYCFC boss who is giving his colleagues in the coaching community plenty to think about while they, and we, wait to see what Vieira will trot out next.
Would it be too much to hope for Vieira to turn back the clock and break out the long-dormant 2-3-5?