It took nearly no time at all for Andrea Pirlo to intoxicate Sunday's 5-3 barn-burner with his bewitching touch.
Though Pirlo wasn't credited with an assist on either finish, it was impossible to miss the penetrating punch enabled by his sheer awareness.
Welcome to the Pirlo Effect.
Let's not take a single thing away from Villa's class or Poku's run. But the field spacing that enabled them?
Once again, a tremendous run by Poku. But right on cue, it's Pirlo that opens up the attacking channels with patient precision. How often do New York City's finishers find themselves wide open on the left, where opponents have long anticipated their attacks to develop?
What's striking is how reliably New York City was suddenly able to shuttle the ball forward using the whole field despite having so much trouble doing so through twenty games: especially at home, we've seen the Bronx Blues creating chances almost exclusively through Villa's preferred half. On Sunday, the situation was dynamic and tougher to predict. It ought to be noted that 82% of New York City's shots came from up the middle for a change. For his part, Tommy McNamara, who is usually relied upon down the left behind Villa, was finally free to roam, joining forces with Poku in the right-center area of the pitch.
- Pirlo served up 35 passes in 34 minutes of play. His rate of just over a pass per minute dwarfs that of the next highest player, Jefferson Mena, who averaged 0.65 passes per minute from the back.
- He produced 38 touches in those 34 minutes. At 1.1 touches per minute, his ball-control was stunningly consistent. Second on the team in touches per minute on Sunday? Late sub Mix Diskerud at 0.78.
Forced to man the base of the midfield despite lacking the proper vision to reliably orchestrate the Blues' buildup, Andrew Jacobson spent his first twenty games of the season winning the ball and patrolling the middle without the ability to turn possession into scoring chances.
On Sunday, the heart of the New York City midfield witnessed a revolution of creative intent.
After the match, Diskerud marveled that Pirlo was calling for the ball from goalkeeper Josh Saunders despite routinely having two or three purple shirts stuck to him like flypaper. "He doesn't lose the ball," Diskerud beamed. "He doesn't get stressed. That's not normal!"
Added David Villa: "There aren't very many players in history that can play at that kind of level. Everybody is going to be better playing next to Pirlo."
Such is the condition of NYCFC 2.0.
Viva l'effetto di Pirlo.