“Yeah I’m happy, I’m really happy.”
Ronny Deila looks relaxed as he catches up with the YES Network’s Ian Joy over a beer for Pints Before Playoffs, an in-depth MLS Cup Playoffs preview airing on NYCFC’s official YouTube channel soon.
While the Norwegian appears a picture of contentment on the surface, he remains a ball of focus underneath. The Head Coach of New York City FC has his attention aimed at Sunday’s meeting with Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium. Deila enters the game, arguably the club’s most important of the year, with confidence in his players.
“I know what we are,” Deila said. “I know we are an honest team. I know that the starting 11 on the pitch know what they're going to do in their role and they're going to do it 100%. We have a really good togetherness in the group - you can see they love to be together and love to play together. That is the reason why we have conceded only 36 goals this year. That's the best in the history of the club.”
That trust was fostered during a rollercoaster regular season for both coach and team. At their best, NYCFC played arguably some of the most attractive soccer in MLS, and introduced several exciting young players in the process. If flair and entertainment have been the aspirations of this group, it has demanded hard work on the other end of the scale.
“Because of our discipline and our togetherness and honest work, it gives us a very good defensive structure that’s also a good foundation to build on in the attack,” the 46-year-old explained.
Using that structure as the foundation Deila hopes to build a successful run towards MLS Cup success. The last time his side met Atlanta United a fantastic freekick by Gudi Thórarinsson helped NYCFC secure a valuable road point. That moment, one in which the team dug deep to recover from a losing position, not only represented the group’s growth as people, but also the team’s improvement from a dead ball.
“We almost didn't score a goal in 2019 from a corner kick,” Deila explained. “Now we're the best in the league. Some huge credit must go to Rob Vartughian and also the players - it's 33% of every goal. These things give me confidence.”
While talk of facts and figures paint a picture of this team’s development, Deila hasn’t lost sight of the game’s intangibles. Yankee Stadium has been a stronghold for his team, and he will seek to lean on that again this Sunday.
“I see togetherness,” Deila said of the home supporters. “When we went 1-0 down and 10 men [against Philadelphia Union] I see how they also raised the whole team in the second half of how we played there. It’s like the 12th man. I really feel it when we’re in Yankee Stadium, and it’s why we’re so successful there.”
Despite that strong record, Deila won’t be taking anything for granted. Atlanta Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda has done well to turn things around after taking charge in August, and that means NYCFC will need to be at their best to emerge victorious.
“If we get carried away about the location you'll lose your focus and your foundation,” Deila explained. “Keep an eye on the ball. Keep your head and your thoughts on preparation and do your task. Do that well, and we know what we can do.”
While Deila knows what his team and staff can do, he also knows what the 12th man can do. Everyone has a role to play on Sunday in his eyes, and that allows him to profess a simple message to the supporters for what promises to be a memorable afternoon in the Bronx.
“Just keep on standing behind the team and supporting and do your job to cheer on the players,” he said. “Whatever the result, as long as the game is going, it is possible to change it. Give the love and trust and support to the players. They feel it and that gets the best out of them. That’s the magic of Yankee Stadium.”
You can watch the full interview with Ronny Deila over on the Club’s official YouTube channel here.