Ronny Deila: “Now we have to be stars, not fireflies. Fireflies last for a day, stars last forever. You have to do the same things over and over again. Then, you’re going to be a top team.” ( Photo)

By Michael Lewis Editor

The transformation and turnaround have been stark and at times, head turning.

Teetering on elimination from the group stage of the MLSIsBack Tournament, New York City FC finds itself only two wins away from reaching the Aug. 11 final.

NYCFC, which takes on the Portland Timbers in a quarterfinal match Saturday at 10:30 p.m. (FS1) at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., started the tournament with two consecutive defeats before rebounding with a victory over Inter Miami CF. That start included a five-game losing streak across all competitions – one in the Concacaf Champions League and two losses to start the Major League Soccer season in March.

While two games hardly make a season, City certainly seems pointed in the right direction with a modest, but important, two-match winning streak.

With Ronny Delia taking over the head coaching helm from the departed Dome Torrent prior to the season, the team has been learning new tactics. Torrent favored improvisation, while Deila wants his players to follow his tactics, which sometimes means less creativity.

Deila used the performance of Valentin Castellanos in the 3-1 triumph over Toronto FC in the Round of 16 last Saturday as an example.

“The difference between what Taty did now and what he did for three games ago is like, you know, he started to do his job,” Deila said during a Thursday media conference call. “That was to press the two central defenders and No. 6 player together with the other striker or the No. 10 player, instead of running at fullbacks and all over the pitch., So the discipline and the organization was really, really good.”

It takes a while for any coach to instill a new system and culture in a team and NYCFC has been no exception. In fact, it has taken longer because like every MLS team, City was sidelined from training together for nearly four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I see changes in a lot of things, but culture takes time,” Deila said. “When everybody is new to each other, then we take time to get to know each other. Having said that, it’s not that black and white like you journalists often [see].”

While Deila has liked what he has seen in the past two matches, he wants to see his squad be more consistent. One-shot deals and games won’t win championships.

“Now we have to be stars, not fireflies,” he said. “Fireflies last for a day, stars last forever. You have to do the same things over and over again. Then, you’re going to be a top team.”