Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Win!

If you think New York is a challenging city for athletes to play in, try coaching here. Just ask Jason Kreis about coaching the inaugural 2015 season of New York City Football Club (FC). As a joint-venture launched by the New York Yankees and Manchester City, the new team was not fielded to just play hard and feel good about themselves. The pressure is on right from the start for Kreis and team director Claudio Reyna. Justin Webster chronicles the formation of the team and the shifting fortunes of their first season in Win! (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

As a melting pot city, there are plenty of New Yorkers who know soccer/football. As the home of the 1970s-era New York Cosmos, there are also plenty of New Yorkers who remember championship soccer. Unfortunately, despite their deep pocket owners, NYCFC have to operate within the constraints of a salary cap, unlike the high-flying Cosmos, who were able to shovel money at Pelé and anyone else they wanted.

According to league rules, NYCFC can start with a few big-ticket “designated players,” like team captain David Villa and Frank Lampard. However, they will have to fill most roster slots through the expansion draft, which is rather confusing to watch without any explanatory context. Regardless, Kreis has reason to feel optimistic, until the team falls victim to its parent organization’s success. In a strange twist of fate, Lampard plays so well during his warm-up stint with Manchester City, the City Football Group decides to keep him there for the team’s championship drive.

Without that big piece of the puzzle, the NYCFC struggles in the early going. Kreis and Villa, who seem to have similar temperaments, take the team’s slow start particularly hard. At least Villa knew he would return the next season. For Kreis, that is never certain, even when Lampard finally arrives and the team starts a come-from-behind playoff push of its own.

Throughout Win!, Webster opts for a you-are-there observational approach, but the lack of supplementary background will frustrate viewers who do not already follow MLS soccer. For instance, the film never even acknowledges New York, already had one MLS team, the New York Red Bulls, who play in a New Jersey Arena.

Frankly, the emotional reserve and self-critical nature of Kreis and Villa gives Win! an unusually neurotic vibe for a sports documentary. Considering all that we see them go through during the film, developments in post-season definitely come as a disappointing letdown. As a result, Webster’s documentary might not drum up fan enthusiasm in the way the City Football Group had hoped. Still, it offers in interested glimpse into the increasingly global business of sport, but given its New Yorkness, it might not travel so widely on the festival circuit. Recommended for New York FC fans, Win! screens again today (4/24), as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.