Barely a full year ago, Rodney Wallace bagged the winning goal for his Portland Timbers, who went on to win all the marbles. This year, Wallace thinks his new team has a real shot at MLS glory. And he would know.
“It didn’t take long from when the team contacted me, and it was a mutual interest,” New York City FC’s newest winger said on Thursday’s media conference call. “When the opportunity came along, I didn’t want to pass it up, especially with the quality of the players and the staff. So for me, it was a no-brainer.”
“I knew I wanted a challenge, and I wanted to be a part of a team that wants to win championships and is ambitious.”
Ambitious is the right word— a signing season that was slow to start eventually gave way to an explosion of new talent coming to the Five Boroughs, and Wallace ranks among the most consequential. And even though the Costa Rica international hasn’t yet had a chance to hit the field this preseason, he’s already had time enough to envision how he fits in with manager Patrick Vieira’s system.
“[Vieira] wants to defend from the front, and that’s one of my strongest qualities,” he said. “I’m very organized, and I know when it’s time to press and make the opposition feel uncomfortable so we can get the ball back and start the attack.”
‘Defending from the front’ is growing into a hot topic in NYCFC circles, what with the club’s monumental struggles in goal, along the back four, and in the defensive midfield over its first two years. Knowing the very real defensive limitations of fellow left-sided players like Ronald Matarrita, Tommy McNamara, and Jack Harrison, Wallace figures to bring a sprinkle of something different based on his ability to break up play and keep proper positioning in anticipation of counter-attacks.
So, what does the player think his team is really capable of this year?
“Winning a championship is never easy, but if you look around at the players that we have here, its something that’s achievable,” he said. “The quality’s there. Its just about putting the pieces together.”
Despite a late arrival — Wallace’s signing from Brazil’s Sport Recife was announced just nine days ago — New York City fans can expect a player who can bring some much-needed boom-bap funk from day one. Forget the platitudes about how “he knows how to win.” That doesn’t even get at the thing itself. What we ought to focus on is the fact that Rodney Wallace left Major League Soccer in early 2016 for Portugal, a WAY bigger, WAY better league. He transferred to the Brazilian first tier two months later, the biggest and baddest league in the western hemisphere. It was going to take a lot to get the man back to MLS, full stop.
And now he’s back, ready to don the famous Etihad shirt under the lights at Yankee Stadium.
“We all want to compete. We’re all hungry,” he said Thursday.
Well, my man, it’s almost time to go eat.