(CBSNewYork)- One week and a day from now, NYCFC will be back on the field kicking off the first game of their Group Stage against Philadelphia Union in Orlando. It’s been a long layoff since Ronny Deila’s squad opened the season with a pair of tough losses, but they enter next week’s MLS Is Back tournament tied for the second-best odds of taking home the trophy.
It’s easy to understand why that is. Despite the two early results, Deila’s club is stacked with returning talent bringing back the top 14 players from last year’s group that topped the Eastern Conference and made it to the conference final. Deila is new and, at the beginning of the year, was still getting to know his players and their skill sets having been working in Norway for Valerenga when he was hired by the club. According to MLSSoccer.com writer Tom Bogert, Deila’s taken the downtime caused by the pandemic to go back and watch every minute of the club’s matches from last season giving him a better feel for what can work going forward.
“He used this break he said he watched every single minute of every game from last year and said ‘I have my own idea about football and tactics but it was good to see there are specific things I can pick up from last year that maybe I haven’t seen yet,'” said Bogert. “I think the break has helped him in that way.”
That familiarity combined with Deila’s reputation for being a player’s manager should help the club in its aim to vie for the tournament title.
“I think he’s a very good manager. He’s going to be different than their last manager, Domenec Torrent, in the sense that Ronny is a very good man manager and he’s showed that already,” said Bogert pointing to an example earlier this year of Deila standing up for one of his players following a questionable tackle in CONCACAF Champions League play. “That’s just one example of the kind of edge NYCFC missed under Domenec Torrent as incredible a tactician as he was. I think Ronny has the man management side of things down. NYCFC returns their top 14 players. They were the best team in the East in the regular season last year and they should be expected to top this group.”
The club finds itself in the six-team Group A alongside the aforementioned Philadelphia Union, expansion clubs Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC along with Orlando City SC and Chicago Fire FC. They’re expected to be the favorite to emerge from the group, and the returning experience is likely to help in a scenario in which players are coming back with little training after a three month layoff.
Top scorers Heber Araujo dos Santos, Alexander Mitrita, Valentin Castellanos, Max Moralez and Ishmael Tajouri-Shradi are all back. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was stellar in net the first two matches of the year, and the defense in front of him remains strong. Point being, even with a new manager, NYCFC is well positioned to perform well in Orlando.
“It’s not like Ronny is going to have to come in and strip everything down. They could probably play a game without Ronny on the sideline and they would be fine. Just because the continuity and bringing all of these really good players back. NYCFC are well positioned based on both depth and overall talent,” said Bogert.
The first match will be interesting as they face the Union, who Bogert thinks could also make a run at he tournament, next Thursday, July 9 at 9:00 am EST. What will we learn from that game? Hard to say considering the long layoff, but it will be an early test of each side.