With the man in charge alluding to a potential exit, I want to give my thoughts on Domènec Torrent’s tenure up to this point. They have surely evolved over time, but after hearing what he said after yesterday’s conference semi-final exit, somethinge we are all familiar with, I don’t know what to think anymore. Should he stay? Should he go? What is the answer?
June 24 – July 26, 2018: Domè’s first six matches (W-L-W-W-W-W)
I was mad like hell when Patrick Vieira left us the way he did. I still have yet to forgive him for that. Even though Domè had the experience working with Pep Guardiola, I still had the slightest feeling it would not be a great second half of the season. Despite that, I went to Domè’s first match.
Jo Inge Berget (you remember him?) scored a brace in a 2-1 victory against (you would not believe who) Toronto FC. Then, after the away loss to Chicago Fire by 3-2 in Domè’s second match in charge, we won the next four matches.
A Hudson River Derby won by an 85th minute goal from Maxi Moralez kicked off a week of three home games, all won with clean sheets. Nine points out of nine in seven days. Then we traveled to Orlando and win 0-2. It was early days, but everything was looking good.
The only questionable decision was the signing of a guy named Eloi Amagat. More on him later (uh oh…).
July 29 – August 22, 2018: The first rough patch (L-D-W-L-D)
Before this, Domè was still using Vieira’s system, albeit with very small changes. He was also using Vieira’s players. But here was his first real test. How can Domè manage a short rest and long journey between two matches? Going to Seattle from Orlando to play a match on turf after only two and a half to three days was tough. In fact, in MLS, it is extremely rare for a team to win both games given these circumstances (I believe the stat at that time was twice has a team won both in 32 or 34 attempts). Yes, we lost, but I really couldn’t blame anyone. But then after this, something strange happened.
We signed Valentín Castellanos on loan, and he immediately got the start in the next match. Granted, he did score. Many people thought this guy could be huge. But that was all for him, at least in 2018. He was poor for the remainder of the season, and folks like me wanted him out of the team, glad that he was only a loan player.
As for results, we did get a few good ones in this stretch, including a 2-3 away win in (here we go again!) Toronto, and a 1-1 draw (that felt so much like a win) against the Red Bulls. Amagat made his MLS debut in the latter, and, well…40 minutes into it…let’s just say he learned something that day.
September 1 – October 28, 2019: The end of the 2018 regular season (L-L-D-D-W-L-L-W)
The rest of the season was hard to watch. This stretch saw the first consecutive losses since April 2016, the second loss being the first at home all year (at least until the playoffs). The next pair of losses came soon after. The great start to Domè’s tenure was tarnished after only winning three games in thirteen. The club had derailed.
October 31, 2018: Domè’s first taste of playoff soccer
We had just played Philadelphia on Decision Day. We went and did just about the same exact thing for the knockout round game. A pair of 3-1 wins was thought to be a way to regain momentum. I remember asking David Villa (King David Villa) afterwards about the difference between having the bye and not having the bye, and he said hopefully the bye works for us as it did for a few teams in the past. But let’s be honest. A pair of dominant wins against a Philadelphia team that was pretty weak last year could not prepare us for what was to come.
November 4 – 11, 2018: The end of 2018
Atlanta stifled us in the home leg and won 0-1. Then they trampled us in their home leg 3-1. 4-1 on aggregate, and NYCFC go out of the playoffs in the Conference Semifinals for the third consecutive year. Sigh. And let’s not even mention the post-match presser…
…Okay, fine, I’ll link you.
— Andrés Emilio Soto (@TheAndresSoto) November 12, 2018
Taking all of this in, it was hard for me to believe that Domè was the man for the job. His logic sometimes didn’t line up well (see the aforementioned presser). MLS website pundits all thought he took a team that was going places and broke it. And I strongly agreed. “There’s always next season,” optimists would say. But that next season, this 2019 season, we would not have the man who scored 80 goals for us in four seasons.
David Villa would leave to play for Vissel Kobe in Japan (that reminds me, I have to edit a video of when I went to go see him…crap!).
November 12, 2018 – March 1, 2019: The off-season and the pre-season
I mentioned Jo Inge Berget before. He left too. So did key players Yangel Herrera and Tommy McNamara, the last of our pioneering roster. Other players left after the roster announcement was made, Maxime Chanot and Ebenezer Ofori re-signed, Ofori again on loan from VfB Stuttgart, and Castellanos’ option to buy was activated, which took me, and a lot of people, by surprise.
But after JIB left, there was something massively wrong with the roster. There was no striker. We lost both of them.
As for the offseason signings, hindsight says most, if not all, were hits. Alexandru Mitriță warmed up to the club and the league, Keaton Parks was above average, Tony Rocha coming from Orlando City was very questionable, mainly because he was coming from Orlando City. But he stepped up. Juan Pablo Torres only got one minute of MLS time, but was key in the US Open Cup games. But we still didn’t sign a striker. On March 1, I was still staring at my phone waiting for a notification that wouldn’t come until four matches into the regular season. At that point, I was not a fan of Claudio Reyna. And the strength of this roster without a striker would be put on display for the whole league to see.
March 2 – 29, 2019: No striker, no wins, but that will change (D-D-D-L)
Before the match started, I set a limit for Domè. Five matches. If I see nothing in five matches, I am Domè Out. The first four matches, however, were enough. Domè experimented with Castellanos, Moralez, Mitriță, and Jesus Medina all at the striker position, whether as a true number nine or a false nine. And out of the first four matches, only one of these guys would score one goal: Mitri. It was great to see him open his account, but the experimenting was hopeless.
But hope had come from Croatia in the form of a Brazilian forward, Héber Araujo dos Santos. He would play no part in these first four games as he was signed between the third and fourth, home to LAFC and away to (how many times are they going to come up?) Toronto, and was waiting for his visa paperwork to be sorted.
Nevertheless, the lost to Toronto was the last straw for me. I’d seen enough of Domè and I wanted him gone.
April 6 – 13, 2019: Here comes Héber (D-D)
Héber will make two appearances off the bench in these two games. A scoreless draw against Montreal at home pushed me further into the Domè Out camp. That was the five matches I gave him, I was done in four, and I wanted change. It will never come, though, so it was basically wishful thinking.
However, things took a turn in Minnesota. The match ended 3-3 and was absolutely wild. A Sean Johnson own goal that he rebounded from. A free kick goal from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to equalize at three. It was the first game that felt a little like a win, even though there were still quite a few missed chances.
April 21 – September 7, 2019: Fixing what he broke (15W-3D-4L)
Finally, I get to see my team play in person one last time before I move to Seoul. The team travels to Washington, DC to play DC United. I go with a brother from work, who is also an NYCFC fan living in Northern Virginia. And man, were we in luck. Mitri’s second goal of the season and Héber opening his account while the defense had shut down Wayne Rooney (bye bye) and Luciano Acosta (who could be on his way out too) sealed the 0-2 win, our first win of 2019. This was the start of something incredible.
From the Montreal match at home to the match against Seattle, the team set its undefeated streak record at 12 matches. And that’s not counting the two US Open Cup matches we won as well. Yes, we then went on to lose consecutive games, the second of which was definitely on “2018 MLS Referee of the Year” Alan Kelly. In between that we lost on penalties in the US Open Cup to Orlando City. Then we hit some turbulence with three wins and two losses. But then we won five games in a row for the first time in club history. The last of these five was the sweetest. We were behind schedule from the rest of the league. At one point we had four games in hand with Philadelphia, who were leading in points (just points). But if you look at points per game, we were close to the top, if not top of the East. The win against New England made it clear by points that we were the true leaders of the Eastern Conference. And we would never look back.
And yes, I was no longer Domè Out. He even liked a tweet of mine.
I want to see how this works in the playoffs though. I was very skeptical, but now I'm actually interested. If we end up making a good run, I'll take it.
— Roddy Russell Jr. (@rrusselljr93) September 16, 2019
September 11 – October 6, 2019: Finishing the best regular season ever for NYCFC (D-W-D-W-L-W)
Yeah, the results at the end were a bit up and down, but the team did enough to secure first in the East and a 2020 Champions League spot. Domè had went up in my books, and Nick Chavez was trying to make me drink Kool-Aid (in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, I knew it wasn’t sweet enough). I give Domè credit. He made the team his, and we looked good. We looked scary. We looked like we could compete for the MLS Cup. As I said on the NYC Football Podcast, this was the most optimistic I have ever felt about this team.
October 23, 2019: And yet another early exit
Wait, what? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to play three games. Not one, but three. This was our chance. We were second favorites to win the MLS Cup. And if LA (Carson) Galaxy beat LAFC, it would have been ours for the taking. All the hype during the buildup for this match, FiveThirtyEight saying we have a 71% chance of advancing…this was our night. On top of that, this squad was the deepest squad we’ve ever had, arguably the most talented squad we’ve ever had, the most tight-knit squad we’ve ever had. We were destined to make a lot of noise in this postseason. So what went wrong? What happened?
Not being smart. That’s what happened.
Two fatal errors. Two lapses of judgement. And it would be Alejandro Pozuelo to capitalize on both. I had a feeling he would do it again. I knew he would shoot another Panenka. And yet I still would have dived to any side just as Johnson did (as if I’ve ever played soccer, let alone be a goalkeeper) because those are the mind games.
So NYCFC go out of the playoffs in the Conference Semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
Today: Where to go from here
Where do we go from here? I don’t know. But Domè could right now be thinking about leaving. There’s something about those quotes that came out of the post-match press conference that just does not make me feel comfortable. If he does leave, forget about Champions League, we might be back at square one for MLS and US Open Cup. If Domè leaves us like this, I will find it very hard to forgive him, just like Vieira. We still have work to do. And Domè has put this team on the league’s radar again. We probably need just one or two players to make this team the best in the league. But if he leaves, 2020 might just be over for us before it even starts.
After an amazing regular season, I said I’d give Domè at least another year. I still stand by that. Also, I can’t pin this postseason failure on him at all. I’d say the players let him down on this one. And I refuse to blame the stadium situation. That’s a poor excuse. We were one of the better teams in the league on the road, if you want to consider this a road match. Yes, players have a routine for home games, but they surely have a routine for road games as well. The stadium drama is beyond pathetic right now, but in my view, it’s unacceptable to claim that as a reason we lost.
2019 is over. Our best opportunity to win silverware was squandered. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We move on to 2020 and start again.
Coach Domè, if you are reading this, it is your decision whether you stay or leave. But I would rather you stay.