NYCFC’s Mena, Iraola adjusting to MLS, look towards postseason

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Staff Writer

It’s not easy adjusting to Major League Soccer. Just ask New York City FC newcomers Jefferson Mena and Andoni Iraola.

Mena’s first two appearances as a New York City FC player have not gone well.  The newly acquired center back has played 166 minutes in defense for NYCFC over two games. In that span, NYCFC have conceded six goals. Speaking to EoS after Thursday’s practice, Mena said he has had to quickly adapt to the style of play in MLS.

Everyone runs a lot and the ball is in the air more,” Mena said. “It’s a beautiful way to play as well and I’ve felt welcomed. I have to adapt to the attacking and recovery intensity but I’m doing fine.”

Mena admitted that it has been difficult for him to settle into a squad that has been together since January and that the overall style of play in MLS is much different than what he was used to playing in Colombia. Another defender that has had to adjust to the style of play in MLS is right back Iraola. Away from citing physicality as most do, Iraola emphasizes the league’s pace of play as faster than La Liga.

“The difference is at a practical level there are more attacks and counterattacks which makes the game more exciting to the spectators,” Iraola said. “La Liga is more tactical, the play is in smaller spaces, the teams are more compact and many times there are games with less chances to score a goal.”

Iraola has started each of the four games he has been available for as an NYCFC player. NYCFC have only won one of those games and have conceded eleven goals. Seven of those eleven goals conceded were in matches played at Yankee Stadium. Although NYCFC have scored nine goals in those matches, Iraola said they were taking too many risks going forward.

It is clear that the dimensions [at Yankee Stadium] are different to what we are used to and what other teams have, but we have to adapt and make those peculiarities an advantage to us,” Iraola said. “Also the fields here are not that fast. They are a little slower which makes it more difficult to play in a faster way…you have to get used to it.”

Both Mena and Iraola said they have felt welcomed by their teammates. Iraola added that New York Cosmos midfielder Raul has been at NYCFC games and spoke to him about life in New York.

As each player continues to settle into New York, their focus can shift to the playoff drive which is now starting in earnest. Iraola said that the four-point gap between NYCFC and the last playoff team, currently the Montreal Impact, leaves the team at a disadvantage.

“It’s clear that the teams that are in the playoff positions have a good advantage,” Iraola said. “It’s not going to be easy to catch up with them but we have to go for it. That’s our objective.

“Nevertheless, we don’t have an easy schedule since we have games with teams in higher positions that are good and strong. If we want to move up in positions, we have to confront them.”


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