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Patrick Vieira and NYCFC's stars play it cool, confident at Hudson River Derby Media Day

My, how the tables have turned.

Woke up like this.
Woke up like this.
Hudson River Blue

"What surprises me most about the MLS?" the gaffer pondered. "When the coaches have to wear the microphone."

Indeed, the Heineken-Industrial Complex that begat Thursday's Hudson River Derby Media Day in Chelsea must have had Patrick Vieira feeling like a stranger in a strange mass media land. The crass tabloid tomfoolery of the United Kingdom was nowhere to be found, replaced instead with junkets stacked on top of junkets, the kind of media cattle-call that sneering ESPN executives refer to as the "car wash."

As if that weren't horrible enough, the manager, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Mix Diskerud, and Andoni Iraola were forced to bounce around the seemingly endless press scrum having come straight from the airport-- they arrived from Wednesday's away date at Toronto earlier that same morning. A pit stop at home be damned!


Major League Soccer took over the slick techno-swank trappings of Twitter headquarters on West 17th Street in Manhattan for the joint event, in which Jesse Marsch and a smattering of Red Bulls matched wits with Vieira and the Blues. Moods were quite the opposite of last year's Heineken Rivalry Week proceedings in the Five Boroughs-- this time, the New Jersey Reds found themselves looking up at the first-place New York Blues.
"We've been really clear since the beginning of the season how we want to play," Vieira said, exuding the kind of confident, Zen-like calm that tends to radiate just the same whether coming off a smashing victory or baffling defeat. He noted that NYCFC had been "making mistakes earlier in the season that we aren't making now." Vieira pointed to the continued emergence of Tommy McNamara and the decision to move Andrea Pirlo from the deep midfield to a more advanced position as principal reasons for the Blues' recent run of form, during which they've gone five games without a loss for the first time in the team's brief history.

In terms of big chances, the Red Bulls of New Jersey have allowed a few too many of them to pass by this year. The 2015 Supporters' Shield winners sit fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but really, it's more like sixth: DC United are right behind, tied on points but with a game in hand. With that sad fact staring them in the face, there wasn't much room to talk greasy about the Boys in Blue ahead of Saturday's Bronx clash.
"NYCFC work their asses off, especially off the ball," Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. He proceeded to note that the visitors will have very little margin for error at Yankee Stadium given their particular struggles away from Red Bull Arena: they haven't won a single road match in 2016, having gathered just a solitary point in Orlando on May 6th.
"I think on the road, we've been terrible," McCarty lamented. "That's just the reality of the situation. Can't really figure out too much of a factor of why that is other than that we've just been struggling."
I wondered out loud if the funky dimensions and "distinctive grass" atop the Yankee Stadium infield would be, of all places, the one in which the Red Bulls could snap their nagging road woes.
"It depends on which part you're attacking," midfielder Felipe Martins admitted with a chuckle. "The one side where they put the turf is a little weird. It's softer."
"For sure, that part is tough," forward Mike Grella said, thinking back to last year's 3-1 Red Bulls victory in the Bronx. "I felt like, being on the wing, at times, trying to not run offside is weird because I'm looking down the line at the defenders, but the stadium is shaped in a different way. It really gives you a false sense of where you're standing on the field at certain times. It's awkward."
One man who wasn't feeling the least bit awkward was David Villa, whose English continues to level-up handsomely.
"I'm good," the NYCFC captain said of a week of travel that saw his team running ragged in Portland less than four whole days earlier, plus the Toronto date the previous night.
Villa was never going to let the threat of heavy legs dull the jubilation of another Derby. "It's great for the soccer, it's great for the team, it's great for the MLS, it's great for all," the captain said. Derby days "are like a party for the city. The ninety minutes is the most important [part] of the day, but all the day the people take their jerseys, go to the street, go to their friends, say, hey, today we'll win. It's good for us all."
"Saturday, we play for the same points as [Wednesday]. It's three points. But this game is very important for the fans; it's more important for the fans than other games," Villa said. "The people need a present. And we hope to have a very good game, for [giving] a victory to our fans."
We discovered a different flavor of confidence from the immaculate lips of Andrea Pirlo, who responded to questions in Italian, but didn't require any media questions to be translated for him.
"When we have our idea of the game and it comes into play on the field, we're very satisfied. We play hard, we work hard, and we're seeing the results," il Maestro said, dropping measured praise on the performance of the heavily-rotated squad that snatched a point on Wednesday as the Italian watched from the bench.
On that account, put another feather in Patrick Vieira's already-formidable cap.
"He's worked very hard with us," Pirlo said of the gaffer, "and it's all to his merit that we're finding ourselves among the top teams."
Despite the fact that ousted head coach Jason Kreis's name was never mentioned over the course of the afternoon's proceedings, one thing rang true among the NYCFC crew: Vieira has brought with him a sense of coherence, developmental organization, and even-keeled confidence that just wasn't there last year. Perhaps that's simply the product of the very passing of time. Another year gone. But one gets the feeling that Vieira's aura is just something else entirely, especially when placed in juxtaposition with Jason Kreis's steely stare, the kind that always made it look like he had just seen a ghost.
Does this bottle opener really need to exist?
"His style of play, the way he wants to play, for me, I think has been pretty good since the beginning of the preseason," Mix Diskerud said of Vieira. "I feel like we've been playing pretty good soccer, to be honest, from the beginning, the whole season. It's just [that] now we're starting to get those points."
"It's a style of play I enjoy-- start up from the back with Josh [Saunders] playing out to the center backs, and we go from there."
"I think we've been playing with the same idea since the beginning of the season," Andoni Iraola added, sitting alongside Mix. "I think the most important thing is the team. We have to think collectively. If you play five minutes, you have to win each minute, whatever your role is. That's what we're trained to do."
It's not a secret. There's no voodoo at play. New York City's place all alone at the top of the Eastern Conference table was wrought by more hard work and a sense of belief in Vieira's system (and all its tactical and formational idiosyncrasies). That's it. It's not more complicated than that.
Mix noted, however, that there might be another reason that 2016 feels different from the previous year that nobody had yet mentioned:
"Well, Andoni is one year older, so there's that."
Haw haw.

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All images in this article are properties of Hudson River Blue.