Patrick Vieira's NYCFC side exited preseason play with five wins and just one loss. But none of those results matters a lick. The only thing that matters? Sunday, March 6th in Chicago.
"I think the first game will be a really good test for us, to see where we are," the head coach said Thursday, "because we are going to be playing against a well-organized team that's got some really good players."
Of course, Vieira was quick to volunteer that he's got some quality on his own roster as well.
When asked about what to expect from his midfield rotation, for instance -- in which Andrea Pirlo is the only lock to start, with Frank Lampard nursing an injury -- Vieira beamed that he has seven players to choose from, and they all have something big to offer.
"It is very good that I have so many different types of players in the midfield, some of them with experience, some of them with good a physical side, some of them comfortable with the ball, some of them clever technically," he said. "When you look at the way Poku played last year, he did really well. Mix [Diskerud] is a really talented player. Tommy McNamara is a player that I really like, because he's really clever, he's really smart when he's on the field. He's always [making] the right movement. You have Mikey [Lopez], who's a really young player, full of energy. We have Federico Bravo from Argentina, who's got really good experience. "
Well, then. Could it perhaps be a problem to have so many useful talents in the middle of the pitch?
"Of course, the selection will be difficult," he conceded. It might even require playing out of the unorthodox 3-2-2-3 formation, as we often saw if preseason: "[W]e played three at the back, and we had two holding midfielders, and we had to players in front of them, too. I didn't make a decision yet of which system we will use in the first game on Sunday, but there is the possibility that we will play three at the back [Sunday] as well."
Selection issues aside, Thursday's media call was just as concerned with two players who aren't available on Sunday at all: veteran ace Frank Lampard and teenage scion Jack Harrison, both of whom will miss opening day due to injuries. While Vieira praised Lampard's work ethic and determination to get back onto the field and help his teammates, the subject of Harrison caused more of a stir.
When asked about a recent rumor suggesting that Harrison's hip ailment might be worse than advertised -- so much that he could miss the entire 2016 season -- Vieira was unequivocal in his refutation.
"No, no, no, no. That was the wrong information you had," the manager replied.
"We knew what to expect with Jack. We knew it would be an injury [for which] we would have to be patient. We are really pleased because we drafted one of – if not the best – young players. And Jack will have a massive part to play this year. He's feeling much better," adding that the Wake Forest University star is set to return "much earlier than you think."
With a number of international journalists on Thursday's call, Vieira was asked from multiple angles about the challenges MLS imposes on overseas talent, whether players or coaches. The gaffer was bullish about the present and future of the North American league.
"The MLS, I think, is going up really well. When you look at the MLS, where it was ten years ago and where it is now, it is going up really fast, and I think it is going up in the right way," he said, comparing the current state of the league to that of England's Premier League a decade ago: before it achieved hegemonic dominance worldwide, the English top flight often missed out on top players who opted for the glory of Italy or Spain.
Unfortunately, Vieira fully understands that, unlike the English game, MLS's shortcomings are the product of self-imposed restrictions.
"One of the problems, I believe, in the league, is, of course, the salary cap," noting that the recent spike in top overseas talent moving to China is a product of that league's complete lack of reservation about spending big on player salaries.
But don't think these challenges have soured Vieira's outlook on 2016 in the least.
"We had a really good preseason training camp," he said. "I'm really pleased, I'm really happy."
On Sunday in Chicago, you've got to think that New York City's head coach plans to let the good times roll.
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