We hardly got a whiff of it last year due to injuries and late arrivals, but when we did, our reaction was always the same:
There is no way in hell NYCFC can get away with playing a midfield that includes Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo together, because defending.
Last year, when New York City had no true-blue #6 midfielder to play behind those midfield star-men-of-a-certain-age, as well as the fact that Jason Kreis's ever-shifting back four couldn't stop a celibate monk from scoring, it just felt like the team couldn't afford the luxury of starting both midfield DPs beside one another. In the offseason, we asked Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl about precisely this:
Of course, Grant was talking about Vieira the Midfielder, not Vieira the Rookie Head Coach.
He went on to suggest signing an Ozzie Alonso-type guy as the answer at the base of the midfield, and NYCFC went on to sign a guy who very much fits that description in Federico Bravo. But the recent summertime rise of Lamps & the Maestro side-by-side in the middle has come about while Bravo has nursed a calf injury.
Crazily enough, the solution at the #6 position -- the Lebowskian rug to tie the midfield group together -- is a guy that's been on the team for a year now: 34-year-old Andoni Iraola, whose six recoveries of possession Saturday at Seattle tied him with RJ Allen for the most among NYCFC outfield players:
It's fascinating: Lampard is 38, Pirlo is 37, and Iraola just turned 34. While plenty of four-man midfields might add up to 109 years of age, Patrick Vieira and NYCFC have reached that mark with three guys. And it's working. The Blues have won back-to-back games, one home, one away, with the 109ers.
(For reference, FC Dallas's five-man midfield of Carlos Gruezo, Kellyn Acosta, Michael Barrios, Mauro Diaz, and Fabian Castillo is a combined 115 years of age.)
As to how this was able to happen for the Blues, perhaps Nas would say that it ain't hard to tell:
New York City 3, Philadelphia Union 2 (Yankee Stadium, 6/18)
- NYCFC were effective at maximizing chances compared to their possession, as well as springing counter-attacks
- The threat of the 109ers freed up the younger, more athletic wide guys -- RJ Allen, Jack Harrison, Tommy McNamara, Ronald Matarrita -- to wreak havoc and stretch the field.
- You know what happened: Lampard and Pirlo both scored and earned WhoScored match ratings of 7.6, Iraola led all non-center backs in clearances, and the good guys won.
- On a far larger pitch, the Blues controlled proceedings with short passing up the middle and killer runs/passes in from the wide areas of the attacking third.
- With the 109-ers eating up space centrally, Allen (assist) and Matarrita (goal) had the room to play starring roles at fullback.
- Once again, Iraola led all non-center backs in clearances, and was tied for the NYCFC lead in interceptions. Lampard and Pirlo both posted WhoScored match ratings of 7.4.
- The good guys won it in one of the toughest road environments in the western hemisphere with Jefferson Mena and Frederic Brillant starting at center back.