Against a backdrop of insular MLS orthodoxy, Patrick Vieira is an iconoclast.
The patented 3-2-2-3, a.k.a. the"W-M?" You know, the formation so archaic that it died from the consumption back when doctors could still chain-smoke reds while they checked you for lumps? Vieira loves it.
"We started working on it when I was coaching the EDS (Elite Development Squad/Under-21's) in Manchester," the NYCFC gaffer said on today's media conference call, adding that his players trained in the formation during preseason camp in Florida.
But what about something truly paranormal, like a front four? He's open to it, as he noted after a training session earlier in the week.
Seriously, this is like The X-Files.
"Regarding the 3-3-4, this is a system that is one we're going to use," the head coach said, noting that he "might" use it Friday night against Orlando City. He added that however his team lines up under the Yankee Stadium lights, the ultimate goal is to control the game.
Luckily for the Bronx Blues, a number of old faces are set to make their 2016 debuts just in time for Friday night's Eastern Conference bloodbath at Yankee Stadium. Fullback Andoni Iraola is back at full-go, marking the first time since the start of the season that a single right back has been healthy, and quick-footed center-half Jefferson Mena didn't miss any training this week, either.
With Orlando City center forward Cyle Larin posing a constant doomsday-level threat on opposing defenses, the returns of Iraola and Mena are timely. But fans shouldn't hold their breaths waiting to see Frank Lampard lining up in one of Vieira's funky formations Friday night.
"[H]e's getting better and better, but he's not gonna be ready for the game tomorrow," he said.
With the possibly glorious, definitely bizarre 3-3-4 idea in mind, I asked the head coach if the shape presents a clearer opportunity for two goal-scorers still awaiting their 2016 debuts, Patrick Mullins and Kwadwo Poku.
PLEASE CAN WE DO THIS AHHHHHHH MAN
"What is important for me is that I'm really pleased with the way those guys that you just mentioned work in training, and I think what has happened is that they make it really difficult for me to choose the Starting XI," Vieira said. Repeating his go-to phrase -- that Poku and Mullins have "a big part to play" over the course of the 2016 campaign -- his response doesn't do much to clarify the roles of these two players. But another young attacker in this New York City side is looking more and more like Austin Powers' favorite movie: Stiven Mendoza is In Like Flint.
"He will be a part of the squad tomorrow," Vieira said of the Corinthians loanee, NYCFC's newest arrival. "I was really pleased with the way he played his 15 minutes against Toronto."
If the gaffer's views are any indication, it may not be long before the "We Want Poku" chant infamous in the Yankee Stadium bleachers gives way to screaming demands for a wide man so fast-acting that he ought to be called NoDoz.
- Vieira on Cyle Larin: "He's a really strong player. He's young. He's powerful, and he can score goals as well, so he will be a different challenge from [Sebastian] Giovinco. But he will be as dangerous as Giovinco.
- On whether he ever played in a 3-2-2-3 shape himself: "No, no, I never played in that shape as a player, no. Never."
- More praise for Mikey Lopez: "To be honest, I didn't know a lot about Mikey [before]. He was a young player with a big potential. I was really pleased with his hard work, with his energy he's putting into the game and into training... I think he'll learn a lot from [Andrea Pirlo]. He's getting better and better with the ball at his feet. I'm really pleased because he's a really dynamic player, full of energy, and not scared of going for challenges."