For two hours on Wednesday, we got to watch how the soccer is made.
New York City FC jogged laps, played tiki-taka, took shots on goal, and scrimmaged through a few game scenarios on a breezy day in the Bronx. The coaching staff blared the occasional whistle. Goalkeepers Josh Saunders and Akira Fitzgerald -- who knows a bit of Spanish, apparently -- barked orders to their battery-mates in live action.
The loudest noise I heard, depressingly, was the unmistakable clang of the Eagles' greatest hits compilation exploding from just about every PA speaker in the entire stadium.
No explanation was given.
The open portion of training was structured thus:
- At 11:00 AM, one group played at a one-touch passing and heading drill while another group took shots on goal over about twenty minutes.
- These two groups lined up opposite one another and jogged laps back and fourth across the "outfield." It can only be assumed that, just in case he sent a spy, this was done to make Jurgen Klinsmann proud.
- By 11:30, a short scrimmage pitted the first-choice team against the reserves for about twenty minutes.
- More outfield laps.
- Fifteen more minutes of scrimmage.
In the final half-hour, Patrick Mullins ripped a rising effort into the back of the net for the reserve team before Mix Diskerud answered at the other end for the top squad. Both players stayed behind, along with defenders Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert, to speak with the media after training wrapped at 12:30.
Diskerud, who's been settling into a new apartment with roommate Khiry Shelton, announced his excitement over the number of New Yorkers he has seen wearing NYCFC gear and giving him the best of their love around town.
Indeed, the energy and buzz that emanated from March 15th's home opener was still palpable, and the players felt it most of all: there was quite a bit of enthusiastic grinning going on, and I would wager that it had nothing to do with the Eagles.
Mullins, who flew onto the score sheet in the 84th minute of the famous home opener, remarked that the much-maligned playing surface felt better than it did on opening day. Unless I have lyin' eyes, the field just looked greener. (That's a technical term.)
If the team hopes to earn a result this Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, however, it will need more than just a supple surface. The striker noted the need to work harder to facilitate star man David Villa, who had trouble finding space and linking up with the midfield in New York City's draws on the road against Orlando City and Colorado.
While he acknowledged the challenge of last week's 5,200 foot altitude just outside Denver, the greater issue is the execution of a more consistent style of play. Mullins said that he considers it a directive for himself, Adam Nemec, and Khiry Shelton to make smarter runs to free up the captain in the eighteen-yard box.
For the record, both Nemec and Shelton are away this weekend on international duty with Slovakia and the U.S. Under-23's, respectively. Will Mullins slide into the sky-blue Starting XI this Saturday for the first time?
At 1:00 PM, the conservatively-produced, tightly-harmonized American soft-rock ceased long enough to allow club communications director Martin von Wuthenau and media relations rep Sam Cooke to herd all the scribes and shutterbugs into the press room. David Villa, with an interpreter as his winger, was first in line to hold court.
Let's run through the highlights of Villa's remarks--
On Spain manager Vicente del Bosque's suggestion that the NYC man could make an unlikely return to the national squad:
"I'd be delighted to have the opportunity. It would be an honor."
On rumors that Frank Lampard could be coming to New York ahead of schedule:
"We are happy that Frank is going to visit us during the international break and see us play."
On the occasional rumblings that Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez is a transfer target for New York City this summer [EDITOR'S NOTE: looks like Xavi will end up in Qatar]:
"I've talked to him, but I think he has another year on his contract, so I don't ask him about it."
On the historic nature of his opening goal against New England, NYC's first-ever at home:
"[It was] one of the most important goals of my career."
Manager Jason Kreis, who has yet to preside over a losing effort this season, appeared next.
Our best bits--
On the health of fullback Josh Williams, who was a late scratch last week over blood clot concerns:
"It's concerning and serious. We have to be very patient. He's doubtful for this weekend."
On the potential Frank Lampard visit:
"I haven't spoken to Lampard about coming here this weekend, but I'm hoping to have some time with him."
On Sebastian Velasquez, who made his first start in week two against New England:
"He pulled his groin, so he's probably out for this weekend."
On rookie attacker Khiry Shelton, who received a call-up for the United States Under-23 national team:
"He's special, and it's great to see others recognize that. He deserves it, [but he's] far from the finished product."
On picking his squad amid injuries and international duties:
"With every injury and every call-up, it's a big opportunity." [Kreis succeeded to name Tony Taylor, Javier Calle, and Tom McNamara in particular]
Overall, the mood around New York City FC is far more "Life in the Fast Lane" than "Take it Easy." In any case, atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings sits the "New Kid in Town."
With Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, and a potent Sporting KC side coming to the Bronx this weekend, an inevitably rotated squad -- with starters Williams, Velasquez, and Nemec "Already Gone" from the right half -- will have to "Take it to the Limit" if it hopes to fend off "Heartache Tonight."
And if Frank Lampard really does fly into town on a gold-plated "Sheikh Edition" Etihad mega-jet, will we look back singing "Pleasant Easy Feeling?"
For some reason, I'm still stuck on "Witchy Woman."