Ronny Deila: “We are confident and also very motivated to get started.” (John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
New York City FC’s opponent in the Round of 16 of the Concacaf Champions League doesn’t have have the storied history of such Costa Rican sides Herediano, Alajuelense and Saprissa.
Yet, head coach Ronny Deila hasn’t counted out Santos De Guapiles when the sides meet in the first leg of their series in San Jose, Costa Rica on Tuesday. (FS2, 8 p.m. ET).
“That’s going be a tough game,” he said during a media Zoom call on Monday afternoon.
NYCFC is a tough side as well. After all, City won the MLS Cup championship last year.
“We are so confident that we know that when we are in our best way, we can beat almost anybody,” Deila added.
Santos (10-6-6, 36 points) is in third place in the Costa Rican Primera behind Herediano (14-5-4, 46) and Alajuelense (12-5-5, 41) and is ahead of fourth-place Saprissa (9-6-7, 34).
Plus, the encounter will be played at Estadio Nacional, one of several intimidating Tico venues that has made life miserable for the U.S. men’s national team through the years. While NYCFC is not stocked with many Americans at regular positions, a team from the states could ignite the passions of the host team’s supporters.
In Deila’s first game as NYCFC coach in 2020, the squad defeated AD San Carlos, 5-3, in the opening leg before winning the home leg, 1-0.
But that was then, and this is now.
“This is a big game for Santos, of course, to come in so far in the Champions League and New York City is coming to visit,” he said. “We know it’s going to come with a lot of energy, so we have to be ready for that thing. Take the fight. Win challenges. Stay together and be very, very hard to play against. That was our strength last year.”
Santos likes to play direct, Deila said.
“They are good in crosses. They’re good in winning second balls,” he said. “So, we have to be disciplined, be up for the game, the fight. We have to play our style offensively, so we get them to move. We need to win the game.”
There have been reports that Santos, but Deila didn’t think that would affect the quality of the Santos side. In the MLS Cup Eastern Conference finals, the Philadelphia Union lost several starters to COVID-19. That certainly didn’t hurt the Cityzens, who went onto reach and final the MLS Cup final.
“I don’t know if it wasn’t clear that the those the players aren’t playing,” Deila said. “But again, I think I said that many times. It’s not about them. It’s about us. If we do a good performance that you’re going to be very good to have any chance to beat us. We play bad, then there’s going to be trouble.
“They play with 11 men. It’s not like they’re going to start eight. I’m sure that the ones coming in [will] fight to show that they are good enough to play in the team.”
In his two years as coach, Deila has been able to put together a championship team that he is quite comfortable with.
“I think we’re in a much better place now than we were two years ago,” he said. “We’ve been together for two years. I know the players. They know me. We had a lot of success and belief and confidence. I feel that everybody in the in the club is so eager to do something here in this tournament. We are looking forward to the game.”
Only a month after capturing MLS Cup, City returned to training a month ago.
“We feel ready,” Deila said. “We have been on a one-month break, and they come back in in the same shape that they left. That’s, of course, very good for me because we’re in a very good situation. We are confident and also very motivated to get started.”