The stars were out on a sunny afternoon in the Bronx last Saturday when the visiting Montreal Impact topped New York City FC 3-2 in a match rife with playoff implications.
The match featured the long anticipated debut of Frank Lampard, following by one week Andrea Pirlo’s bow in City’s light blue.
Lampard entered in the game’s 69th minute to a sustained ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd, immediately after a David Villa pk had cut the home team’s deficit to 2-1.
Speaking to the media after the match Chelsea’s all-time leading goal scorer acknowledged that the fans reaction inspired him.
“Sure of course it does,” Lampard admitted. “Every club I’ve been at, every player, if they’re honest with themselves, would like to hear the crowd supporting them.”
As pleased as Lampard was at his reception, it must be noted that it fell far short of the near hysteria which greeted Italian star Pirlo’s introduction the previous weekend.
Fan reaction to Lampard was no doubt tempered by the drawn-out saga that saw the midfielder’s debut so long delayed, while Pirlo seemed to appear almost magically, as if parachuted directly from Juventus’ Champions League Final loss to Barcelona into the center of Yankee Stadium’s narrow soccer pitch.
Lampard and Pirlo share a European pedigree with NYC’s first ever signing David Villa, but unlike Spain’s all-time leader in international goals, the duo are joining the team in the middle of something called a playoff race.
After lamenting his new team’s habit of conceding too many goals Lampard changed course. “I don’t want to sound too downbeat,” Lampard said. “Andrea Pirlo’s just turned up and trained for two weeks, which isn’t a long time, David Villa is scoring goals; I think,” Lampard concluded, “the team is starting to come together.”
Coming together when games have to be won is no small feat, and leaving aside the chicanery that saw Lampard’s arrival delayed from last January to last week, this expansion team is clearly a work in progress.
After the loss, Pirlo stood before a swarm of reporters in the NYC dressing room and through his interpreter stressed that a winning team, much like Rome, is not put together in a day.
Commenting on the loss to Montreal, Pirlo was succinct. “It wasn’t a great game, but as I said, it takes time to build a team, so these things, ( a poor performance) can happen.”
Pirlo continued on that theme. “It takes time to create that closeness, to find the right mechanism as a team, together.”
Even when asked about the small Yankee Stadium playing surface Pirlo came back the topic at hand, time. “The size of the field is not a problem,” Pirlo stated, “it’s just a matter of time.” “As time goes by,” the midfield general said simply, “we’ll do better and better together.”
With time of the essence, Pirlo and Lampard will need to quickly settle into this team. And with just 12 of the team’s 34 games remaining, this loss to Montreal was a big one for NYCFC.
Having played just 19 games, the least in the league, the Impact used this away win to climb into the sixth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference with New York City FC falling to eighth place. New York trail fellow newcomers Orlando by three points, with the Lions seventh on goal differential behind Montreal.
Lampard noted that “we’re conceding goals at three’s and four’s at home and it’s going to be hard to win as many games as we want.”
But Lampard feels that team can fix its problems on the training ground and “that with small tweaks we can make this a real strong team.”
Like his new teammate Pirlo, Lampard believes that the answer is time. He calls playing with his fellow DP’s “a pleasure,” adding that, “time will make us even better.”
“It will be great,” Lampard feels, “to have a full week of training together and then we can hopefully start getting the linkups between us.”
So can the elements to come together in time for this club, a team that seems to be in the midst of a rebuild two-thirds of the way through its inaugural season?
“Yeah, they certainly can,” the debutant answered. Although he made no guarantees, Lampard sounded confident in saying, “I know the tools are there.”
Though he may be new to the playing fields of Major League Soccer, the 37 year old showed himself to be a quick study on how things work in his new league, saying that “we can win a few games back to back and then we’ll have a real shot at getting to the playoffs.”