NYCFC's next manager after Torrent: Giovanni van Bronckhorst the favorite, but who else is in the mix?
The Domenec Torrent era at New York City FC came to an end following the 2019 season, after two playoff appearances during his 14 months in MLS. Now, the club faces a struggle to replace the affable Torrent, a disciple of Pep Guardiola who was part of the famous manager's staff at previous stops such as Bayern Munich and Manchester City. While Torrent was unpopular at the start of his time in New York, replacing Patrick Vieira in the summer of 2018, he ended up being a stable and competent hand and this unflappability proved useful as the team transitioned from the David Villa era.
Torrent's background in youth development was especially noticeable as the club went younger in its roster construction. Yet his decision to walk after losing in the postseason, 2-1 to eventual runner-up Toronto FC, means NYCFC must replace him after their best-ever season in Major League Soccer, with a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a remarkable 63 goals scored in 34 games.
Like Torrent, whomever NYCFC hire will need to understand youth development but also have a grasp that this team and league is unique. Torrent was frustrated by MLS, the myriad of rules for player acquisition and of course, the travel, to say nothing of how his side frequently played though the international break. But he adjusted overall quite well and his replacement will need a similar level of flexibility in order to be a success.
There are candidates, both domestic and international, who could be a good fit for NYCFC. So who is in the mix?
Giovanni van Bronckhorst: Sources tell ESPN FC that the former Dutch international could well be the favorite to become the next head coach at NYCFC. He's been spotted at the team's training facility in New York several times this fall, with sources saying he has taken in first-team training sessions as well as academy practices and matches. The former gaffer at Dutch club Feyenoord would favor a similar system to what City Football Group prefers: a possession-based style that builds out of the back.
In talking to sources, it seems that Van Bronckhorst and the club have had discussions on a role, presumably to replace Torrent.
Carl Robinson: He may not be as big of a name as Van Bronckhorst, but Robinson could be an intriguing fit. First, the former Vancouver Whitecaps head coach knows and understands MLS, something a foreign manager might struggle with, at least initially. He's played in the league and coached at this level with success in MLS as well as the CONCACAF Champions League, which NYCFC will participate in for the first time this year.
Robinson also has a track record when it comes to developing young players (Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich for a record transfer fee is a strong selling point). Plus, as a former Welsh international, he can navigate the European culture of the team's ownership group in Manchester. He played in New York for the crosstown Red Bulls, meaning he understands the market and the dynamics as well as the media.
Juan Carlos Osorio: The Colombian is in his homeland coaching Atletico Nacional, but before he made a splash with the Mexican national team at the 2018 World Cup, Osorio had spent time managing the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls in MLS. And before that, he spent time at Manchester City as a physio, giving him a connection to NYCFC's management group (although City was under a different ownership group during his time there).
Osorio wanted the U.S. men's national team job, so this could get him back in the United States with a high-profile club. And he'd love to win an MLS Cup before the Red Bulls lift the trophy, given that New York's other club fired Osorio in 2009 during one of the club's worst ever seasons.
This one could be Osorio betting on himself that he can help NYCFC take the next step and perhaps be in line to take over the U.S. job at some point.
David Villa: Yes, he's under contract in Japan, but Villa could be lured back to MLS to take over his old club after he retires from his playing career in January. He loved his time in MLS and in New York City, making this a good fit. Villa also is the club's first true legend, which makes him an exciting prospect. It also makes him a risky hire, however, as a poor start would tarnish his reputation in the Bronx.
In the past, Villa has stated that he would like to get into coaching and in many ways, he was an assistant on the field during his time with NYCFC. There's a risk that he isn't ready to be a head coach but his stature, tactical acumen and knowledge of MLS make him a name to consider.
Omid Namazi: Like Villa, this pick would be unconventional. Just hired as an assistant coach on Tab Ramos' staff at the Houston Dynamo, Namazi is due for an opportunity as a head coach in MLS. He's paid his dues as a highly successful head coach of the United States youth national teams, as well as overseas. Furthermore, he understands the domestic game but also has strong contacts overseas. His experience with the youth national teams would be a major plus for a team that is trying to make Homegrown Players part of their spine.
Alan Pardew: This one might get some eyerolls but Pardew is deeply respected in England despite a couple of difficult stints at West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. He has interest in coming to MLS and has the connections in England and Europe to make him an interesting candidate. His style, a bit pragmatic and cynical, might not flow with the type of soccer that City Football Group wants to employ but his pedigree might make him an effective head coach in MLS.
David Martinez: A former assistant at Villarreal, Martinez has had his eye on the American market for quite some time, sources tell ESPN FC. He's known as a developer of youth and while his acclimation to the league might be better in an assistant coach role, the trilingual Martinez (who speaks Spanish, English and Arabic) could be a good fit for NYCFC as they further integrate their academy with their first team.
Curt Onalfo: While he didn't have an easy end to his time as head coach of the LA Galaxy a couple of years ago, Onalfo is rehabbing that image. Now technical director of the New England Revolution, Onalfo does have a strong resume. He likes to play a technical, possession-based game and his time as a head coach in MLS, including stops with the Galaxy, D.C. United and Kansas City, means he has a strong knowledge base of the league.
Spending time with Bruce Arena on the technical side will help his candidacy to return to the sidelines as a head coach someday.
Mike Sorber: The former United States international has never been a head coach, but Sorber is a thoughtful and patient assistant coach who could be set for a leading management gig sooner rather than later. on staff as Director of Soccer Operations at LAFC, Sorber doesn't grab the headlines but he knows and understands MLS as a former player and now assistant.
While there are other, bigger names out there, NYCFC could certainly do worse than tab a Bob Bradley protégé. Equally, his time at other stops in MLS at the Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact give him a good foundational understanding of the league and the Eastern Conference.
Kerry Zavagnin: One of the best assistants in MLS, the longtime apprentice to Peter Vermes at Sporting Kansas City has a great foundation to work from. A former MLS standout and capped 21 times by the U.S., Zavagnin understands the league. He doesn't get the respect he deserves around MLS as a future head coach, probably because of Vermes' pedigree, but he deserves a team of his own and that timeline should be soon.
David Moyes: Like Pardew, this one likely won't happen, but MLS could and would be a fantastic spot for Moyes to rebuild his image. After a terrible stint at Manchester United in 2013-14, Moyes has bounced around England, never finding the sustained success that his decade-plus at Everton produced. Could NYCFC, with their global scouting network and financial capabilities, be a spot where Moyes finds some solid footing and can rebrand? He's had interest in the U.S. and MLS in the past, so it isn't too far-fetched, but it's doubtful that NYCFC would reciprocate that.