April 3, 2017
Yankee Stadium broke out into loud applause when the referee blew his whistle to signal full time. New York City FC had taken a 2-1 victory after being down 1-0 in the first 7 minutes. When the whistle blew, none of NYCFC’s three Designated Players were on the pitch and none had scored a goal. Goals from Jack Harrison and Thomas McNamara pushed Patrick Vieira’s side over the top.
For only the third time in the team’s three seasons of existence, NYCFC had won a game where none of their designated players scored a goal. All three of those games shared a common goal scorer.
Sunday, June 7th 2015, a 2-1 NYCFC win in Philadelphia with goals from Tommy McNamara and Patrick Mullins.
Sunday, March 6, 2016, a 4-3 NYCFC win in Chicago with goals from Tommy McNamara, Tony Taylor, Khiry Shelton and Mix Diskerud.
As in those two previous games, Tommy McNamara put the ball into the back of the net once again this past weekend. Almost immediately the question thrown around the press box was “I wonder how many McNamara needs to be starting” articles we’d see in the coming days.
Vieira seemed to know they’d be coming as well, as he laughed at the post match press conference when a reporter asked what he didn’t see from Pirlo, leading him to be substituted out, and why McNamara had such a strong impact.
“You guys are just seeing the fact that Tommy put the ball in the back of the net. But on my side, I see the build-up of that. The touch of David [Villa], I see the collective games of [Ronald Matarrita] and then Tommy was at the right place at the right time and with his quality and strength he just put in in the back of the net.”
Vieira said the decision to take off Andrea Pirlo wasn’t due to the fact that he was having a bad game. “I think he was playing quite well,” he said. Vieira went on to say that the decision to remove Pirlo was because he wanted to change the team’s strategy: “In the first half he was managing to get on the ball and to dictate our game, I just wanted something a little bit different, which is why I changed Andrea for Tommy, and it went in the right way”. Many will disagree with Vieira’s assessment that Pirlo was playing well. Up until that point Pirlo had been effectively neutralized by San Jose’s high pressure.
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 1, 2017
Pirlo had only managed 47 passes by the 62nd minute. It was the same high pressure that led to an errant pass early on which San Jose capitalized on to score their only goal. When asked what he made of Pirlo’s errant pass to Johnson, Vieira chalked it up to the risk he takes with playing out of the back.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 1, 2017
The two other players involved in the play, Sean Johnson and Alexander Callens, were quick to shift blame away from any one person. “In the end if someone loses the ball we all lose it. If [Pirlo] loses it, I’m behind him, Maxime is behind him, lots of other things have to happen on a goal,” said Callens about the play.
Sean Johnson echoed those sentiments saying one always has to look at themselves first. “The ball comes in, it could be a better ball, it can always be a better ball. I can take a better touch, a better clearance, we switch off defensively. There’s plenty of things that go wrong on a play. What’s important is we have guys that can take responsibility for that. Andrea, myself, Alex [Callens], whoever it is that’s involved in the play, we’re collectively involved in the goal. It’s not just one player, it’s the team.”
There is clearly cohesion not just on the pitch, but in the clubhouse as the players understand and trust not just each other, but the system Vieira has asked them to use as well. The feeling is clearly mutual as Vieira has fielded the same lineup for the third consecutive game and his team has hardly looked outclassed in any game. Despite calls from the media and fans for Tommy McNamara to be starting, the case for changing the lineup isn’t a particularly strong one.
The team has only conceded 3 goals through the first 4 games, a mark only surpassed by Toronto FC (2 goals in 4 games). NYCFC’s 7 goals scored so far this season is behind only Atlanta and Columbus with 11 and 9 goals respectively. Vieira’s perpetually uttered motto of “we will score more than we concede” has been spot on. NYCFC is creating many more scoring opportunities than they’re conceded even with the less than spry 37-year-old Andrea Pirlo in midfield. This team is doing well, there’s no need to tinker.
Last year’s starters are this years backups
Even in a team that wins every game, not everyone will be happy. Professional athletes don’t reach the highest levels of any sport by being comfortable sitting on the bench or being substituted out early. Vieira was asked specifically how Tommy McNamara has handled the lack of starting minutes after his performance last season, one which was rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason.
“I had a conversation with him because of the way he played last year, the same way I had a conversation with R.J. and the same way I’ve had a conversation with Fred [Brillant] because they deserve it and this is the respect I have to build with those players because they’ve given everything for the football club.”
Both Frederic Brillant and R.J. Allen have seen their minutes disappear almost completely after being a crucial part of the team in 2016. The pair have combined for a total of 82 minutes played this season despite the two combining for over 4,500 total minutes last year.
David Villa pulled due to lack of effort in final minutes
Khiry Shelton was the final substitute for NYCFC, coming on for David Villa in the 89th minute. According to a source who asked not to be named, Khiry Shelton was initially set to come on for Jack Harrison, however Vieira decided to pull Villa instead of Harrison after it appeared Villa didn’t pressure the ball in the final minutes.
While many fans would question the rationale behind pulling a star player Patrick Vieira did not hesitate to pull not just one but all three of them. By pulling the players who aren’t having a good game, or not performing how Vieira wants at that moment in time regardless of name and salary, he enables his team to perform to the best of their abilities.
No one will say Villa had a poor game as he had crucial passes that led to both goals, but Villa was noticeably irritated towards the end of the game.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 1, 2017
In a game where most players would be happy with two world class assists, David Villa was upset that he wasn’t able to find the back of the net; it’s that drive that has made him a World Cup winner and last year’s MLS MVP. Despite that passion, Vieira won’t allow him or anyone else to drop their head and sulk leading to the substitution for the Spaniard. Villa left the locker-room shortly after full time and did not talk to the media after the match.
July 6th, 2016 was the last time David Villa played a game for NYCFC which they won without a goal from him.