By Michael Lewis
Replacing a coach midway through the season isn’t anything new to sports. It happens all the time, mainly due to a losing record or an under-performing team.
But to lose a successful coach to another team across the pond in June with several months remaining in the season? Well, that certainly doesn’t happen every day.
Now, multiply that by two and you get an idea of what transpired with NYCFC and Red Bulls — Hudson River Derby rivals — only 26 days apart in June and July.
Both teams lost their coaches to what those two men thought were greater opportunities -in Europe. NYCFC’s Patrick Vieira decided to sign a multi-year contract with Nice in French Ligue 1, while the Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch, who had eyes on going overseas for years, became assistant coach with RB Leipzig, with probably promotion in the future.
At the time, both sides were flying high in the MLS Eastern Conference.
When Vieira departed on June 10, City (8-3-4, 28 points) was in second place in the conference, two points behind Atlanta United.
When Marsch left, the Red Bulls (10-4-2, 32) were in second place in the conference, five points behind Atlanta with three games in hand.
Their successors had varying degrees of success.
A combination of a new style he instituted — NYCFC played more direct under the new coach — injuries to several regulars and his unfamiliarity with a new league that had so many complicated rules did not help Torrent. City struggled down the stretch (it finished 15 points behind the first-place Red Bulls) and while it reached the postseason, the team was eliminated by Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. NYCFC went 8-7-4 under Torrent.
With Armas, who was Marsch’s assistant coach, now in full control, the Red Bulls did not lose a beat, not only going 12-3-3 the rest of the way, but capturing the club’s third Supporters Shield in the past six seasons while smashing league records for wins (22) and points (71). Little did that help the team in the playoffs as Atlanta, the eventual MLS Cup champions, bounced the Red Bulls in the conference final.
Both coaches will return in 2019. There was some speculation as to whether Torrent would be back, but with time to be able shape the team in his image and style. Armas? He has to find a way to get the Red Bulls over the hump and end the 23-season drought of no MLS Cup titles.
Friday: Story No. 3