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Judgment day is upon us

Men In Blazers Jun 16, 2014
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May 22, 2013

Claudio Reyna at home in new NYC FC gig

Twenty-four hours in, and New York City FC has its employee number one. Enter Claudio Reyna, the club's freshly minted Director of Football, who was introduced this morning on stage at P.S. 72 in East Harlem.

Reyna was perched pensively at the end of a line of dignitaries that included MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner. The former US Soccer Federation youth technical director sat, hands clasped tightly together, smiling uncomfortably as event emcee Michael Kay hailed him as "Captain America."

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Soriano was more subtle in his introductions, offering a romantic recreation of the search process that culminated in Reyna's hiring. "The job is the most important person we need," he recounted telling his staff at their first meeting. "Go find me someone who is a New Yorker who has played in New York, who has played for U.S. national team and in Europe ... and my staff, they tell me this is impossible."

Reyna was one of a handful of men who would have fit the bill, but none could be more perfect. As the former captain of the U.S. national team and veteran of four World Cups, he joined Kevin Keegan's Manchester City in 2003 and spent four years in the club's midfield before returning to MLS and a stint with New York Red Bulls.

Now symbolically clad in a fresh-looking sky blue tie, Reyna stepped up to the podium. A modest figure, the new executive grew in confidence with every sentence of his opening remarks. "I can't think of a more tailor-made opportunity," he admitted. "In Manchester I experienced what this club is about -- a club whose heart and pulse is about the community. Now it's key we bring that over to New York from Manchester."

I caught up with Reyna on his first day in the job, as he began to oversee the club's launch in 2015. Our conversation contained a number of fascinating hints about the strategies he will use to build New York City FC. But first, I asked if the former player had ever dreamed as a kid growing up in Livingston, New Jersey, that one day he would become the executive of a New York professional soccer team co-owned by two powerhouse sporting brands.

A chuckling Reyna admitted, "Not in my wildest dreams. This is the area I grew up in but when I take a step back and remember where the sport was when I came of age when, frankly, it was not relevant at any level, and look where it is now -- big youth to pros for men and women -- I realize New York City FC is going to add one huge level onto all the work done by so many people over the past four decades."

Reyna was first approached about the job in January. "Ferran Soriano and (fellow executive) Brian Marwood told me about their plans and I had been clear with the US Soccer Federation that I was looking for further opportunities." Reyna had interviewed for a managerial position with team rival New York Red Bulls, but could not turn down the chance to become New York City FC's first employee. "The combination of the Man City connection and New York and the opportunity to be part of something from scratch made it a very easy decision."

The jump from being a creative midfielder for Manchester City to helping them build a club from scratch is a huge one that Reyna admits is "daunting."

"Though I am the first employee, I won't be the last," he promised. The first task is to bring in some hard-working, motivated people that love the game in the same way as Man City's leadership group do all the way from the top down. It may just be me today but we will be a big family before long with our big brother Manchester City over the water to help us."

Reyna's learning curve has been jump-started by the convenient presence of the entire Manchester City operation in New York City this week. "It is a great advantage for me to start with them here," the executive admits. "I can develop relationships with the first team and the backroom staff whose structure we will replicate over here and work out how we will fall into the global scouting department, the performance analysis team, and the academy piece."

I asked Reyna to compare his launch strategy with Manchester City's, a club which was re-energized with a massive cash infusion -- a strategy that will not fly in the single-entity salary cap, three "designated players" MLS. "We have to become creative as we need to play, and will play within the leagues rules. We will tap into the DPs and the young designated player rules." Reyna then hints at what he hopes may be some of New York FC's perceived advantages. "Every player I ever met during my career loves New York City. We hope we can attract non-Designated Players of quality who want to spend time in the city and in MLS and experience the growth of our club."

New York City FC's synergy offers it another, more technical advantage -- Manchester City's global scouting network, which dwarfs that of most of their MLS competitors. "That is one advantage which is within the rules for us to use," Reyna admits. "Getting to know the scouting network is a priority for me. I will be down in Brazil at the Confederations Cup and look forward to meeting the South American and Central America contingents."

Once I asked Reyna about his vision for the role of American players at the club, the former U.S. international almost becomes overwhelmed by enthusiasm. "The (board) clearly want this to be a destination for U.S. players. I am American and I know what this country gave me and I want this to be a place where American players succeed as players and experience success as a team." Then perhaps revealing another page from the club's playbook, he adds, "We will look at Americans playing abroad and see if they want to come back and play in New York City."

Before I could move on, Reyna took us back to the issue of setting out a bold vision as he sets out to build a powerhouse United States soccer club. "Let me make this clear," he declared. "We want our team to have players coming through to the U.S. national team, and we want to field the best American players in every position."

I asked Reyna whether he had any American soccer teams to support when he was a teen. "I did not," he admitted. "I had to look abroad and because my parents are Argentine I was a big River Plate fan, and due to Maradona, I followed Napoli too. Because of that, I want to build a team here in America that fans love. I want 5-year-olds wearing our jerseys with the players' names on them just like Manchester City fans have Kun Aguero on theirs. To me, that challenge is as exciting as building the first team."

Listing the tasks Reyna has covered -- hiring a staff, building a team, engaging a fan base -- I wonder if the club's launch date of 2015 seems close or far away. "It feels both close and far away," he replies. "I keep telling myself it is far away just so I can relax."