New York City FC traveled to RFK Stadium today looking for their third straight win. Instead, they return to the five boroughs tonight hanging their heads after losing to DC United 2-1.
The Blues had their chances. Oh, so many chances. At first, it looked like New York City was reprising their game plan from the teams’ first meeting at Yankee Stadium. That game resulted in a rollicking 4-0 demolition.
Patrick Vieira is one of the league’s outstanding game managers. He’s quickly earning a reputation for tactical sharpness that’s on a different level from most MLS managers. That said, as the game wore on, it became clearer that DC manager Ben Olsen had planned just as deftly.
DC, it turned out, was happy to concede all the possession, and most of the early offensive production, to New York City. In return, Olsen reckoned that his defense would prove able to withstand the pressure, then hit on the counterattack. His offensive weapon would be midfielder Luciano Acosta.
Basically, it worked like this. NYCFC use midfielder Alex Ring to shield Andrea Pirlo, who’s [insert keyboard shortcut here] always been a defensive liability. Ring is a Finnish shield wall, but he’s only human, and he’s only one man. The man can only do so much.
Once the wall is breached, the counterattack is available. And that’s exactly what happened. The game was scoreless at halftime, and the Blues were dominating, but it was a fragile sort of domination. It was, in fact, much like the first game of the season, when Orlando nicked an early goal, then held off a ton of offensive pressure.
DC took the lead early in the second half, on a series of comedic defensive mistakes by Frederic Brillant and Maxime Chanot, who combined on a howler of a turnover. Lloyd Sam, late of the Red Bulls of New York/New Jersey* (I swear this isn’t a dig! See below for details), took advantage to pounce on the ball, then prowl past a desperately diving Johnson to score.
Then in the 73rd minute, Acosta and Sam combined to put DC up 2-0.
Vieira made his subs, but they were desperate-seeming subs, a man clutching at tactical straws while casting madly in the soccer I Ching. It didn’t work. First came Tommy McNamara for Rodney Wallace, because McNamara is essentially a field manager for Vieira. Then came Khiry Shelton for a wan Pirlo in the 73rd, seconds after Acosta shoved and burned him to score the second goal. Finally, Miguel Camargo for Ronald Matarrita in the 80th.
You don’t need me to tell you what happened next.
Within seconds of Pirlo’s substitution, the team’s energy level and passing activity went to another level. And in the 83rd minute, the Blues clawed a goal back. Villa scored to make it 2-1, from — what else? — a Tommy McNamara assist.
NYCFC had a few more chances to score, but that’s how the game ended.
Look, you don’t need me, or Sam, to reiterate that playing Pirlo is just Not A Good Thing™ for New York City as things stand. Let me repeat: as things stand.
From the start, I’ve said two things: you can either build a team around Pirlo, which sets him and the team up for success, or you can have a team with Pirlo, which leads to what we’re seeing right now. And what we’re seeing right now can’t be making anybody happy.
It can’t be making CFG or Vieira happy, because they want a winning team, and I’m pretty sure you don’t get that with Pirlo in this current iteration of NYCFC. You get this frustrating mishegas instead.
It can’t be making fans happy, because you’re watching Pirlo sleepwalk through games, while Villa busts his culo up and down the bloody field. Watching the dedication of these two legendary players is literally night and day. Villa has learned how to speak English; as far as I’m aware of, Pirlo hasn’t made a similar effort. And look, I gave Frank Lampard a ton of static. In fact, I famously called him a liar. And he made up for it, both on and off the field. Pirlo hasn’t made a similar effort — certainly on the field, and as far as I’m aware of, off the field in the community. Has anyone seen Pirlo in Arthur Avenue, where there’s still a legit Italian community? I’m serious. Has anyone seen him? Because it just looks like he’s just here to cash a check.
Most of all, it can’t make him, Andrea Pirlo, happy. Because if, in fact, he’s just here to cash a check — and hell, I can respect that, everyone’s got to pay the bills, even Andrea Pirlo, Ufficiale OMRI — then why don’t we just find the Chinese equivalent of the New York Cosmos and sell them his rights?
That way, everyone wins. CFG and Vieira can finally get on with building the team they want to craft, fans will get to see a legitimately exciting and, frankly, terrifying attacking team, and Andrea Pirlo can spend his twilight days sipping wine, selling it to the Chinese, and playing easy, easy games in the Chinese Super League.
Which everyone really knows is the evolutionary version of the 1970’s NASL, and whom are we really kidding here?
drops mic, walks away.
— 30 —
* It’s not a dig. Waaaaay back in the primordial mists of MLS 0.25, I guess?, the Red Bulls weren’t just the MetroStars. They were the Empire Soccer Club, which is why their largest supporter group is the Empire Supporters Club (makes sense, right? Also, respect to di originale di originale, okay? Anyway). But the original owners, John Kluge and Stu Subotnick, weren’t exactly cool with that. Also, it didn’t fit in quite with the eventual 1.0 vibe (Clash! Wiz! Burn! Yeah, real winners, guys). They owned a media company called Metromedia. Hence: MetroStars. And not just MetroStars, but New York/New Jersey MetroStars. But obviously, that was a mouthful, so the NY/NJ got dropped, since they were the NY team, and it wasn’t obvious that there’d be a NY2.
And if you don’t know, now you know.