Give this to nascent MLS club New York City FC: They're letting their actions do their talking. In the last day alone, the Manchester City-operated club has hired arguably the hottest American coaching commodity in Jason Kreis and is close to finalizing plans for a $400 million stadium in The Bronx. This comes on the heels of paying an unprecedented expansion fee of $100 million and then making American soccer legend Claudio Reyna the team's director of soccer operations.
Keeping in mind that they still have more than a year before they start playing any actual games, this kind of ambition has to be noticed and, probably, applauded.
In the history of MLS, there have been 15 expansion teams -- if you include Orlando City SC as well -- and none of them have looked anything like NYCFC at this stage. There are sure to be some growing pains, and I kind of expect Orlando to be better out of the gate if only because they have more of a ready-made transition, but the American Citizens seem to be doing everything possible to hit the ground running.
Kreis will be given an entire year to prepare, something completely unprecedented in MLS. He'll spend much of that time taking a crash course in all things Manchester City. He'll get an up-close-and-personal education on how the club operates and figuring out how to adapt their styles and systems to MLS.
On some level, it seems crazy. Kreis, still just 40 and coming off one of his most successful seasons, will step away from coaching for an entire year. The only thing I can compare this to is when the Arizona Diamondbacks hired Buck Showalter to be their manager a full two years before they played their first season. But at least in that case, Showalter was building a minor-league system and helping to create the foundation for a team that would eventually win 100 games in their second year of existence. Showalter also didn't step away from a very successful team that had the makings of a dynasty.
Seeing as I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of professional sports, I'll allow that maybe there's some reasonable comparison to what Kreis is doing, but I sure as heck don't recall anything quite like it before.
To make it possible, NYCFC is spending some serious money. How much, exactly, is not known, but they could be shelling out seven figures per year for Kreis alone. While that may sound like a lot of money, it's really peanuts when you consider how much they are spending and committing to spend elsewhere. When it's all said and done, they'll probably spend a half-billion dollars just for the right to have their team and a place to play. It's not hard to see them spending a few more million to get an academy up and running, either.
And if they're willing to spend that kind of money on infrastructure, it stands to reason that they are going to want to spend as much as they can on the actual players. Obviously, they'll be limited to some degree by MLS roster rules, but we can expect them to stretch those limits as much as possible. The league has so far stood firm on not adding a fourth Designated Player, but you can rest assured that NYCFC will be pushing pretty hard and regularly pointing out that they've invested quite a bit of money into this endeavor.
The biggest reason MLS wanted a team in New York City proper was for the potential TV audience. The current TV deals are up after 2014, along with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. You can be sure that NYCFC will be among the teams -- along with the LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders and, possibly, the Canadian trio -- leading the charge toward raising the salary cap significantly, or at least trying to gain more financial flexibility.
In any case, all indications are that -- whatever you may think of the club's ownership -- they're going to be doing everything they can to raise standards in MLS. Considering the 19 existing owners surely understood most of this when the franchise was granted, it's implied that they all accept that challenge. Maybe it all blows up spectacularly and this is the moment where the MLS masterplan starts to fall apart, but right now, it feels like the start of a new, even more competitive era. Consider me intrigued.