NYCFC’s midfield trio developing chemistry as season winds down

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

Coming into Wednesday’s match, New York City FC only collected four out of a possible 21 points since Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo shared the field for the first time on Aug. 1. The two DPs shared the blame for the team’s dropped points and have seen every aspect of their time with the club scrutinized.

Last night, they reversed the trend and drove NYCFC to an important win to remain in the playoff race.

Lampard scored his first goal in MLS in the 20th minute and linked the midfield to the attack with several forward passes and runs into the Toronto FC penalty area. Pirlo recorded two assists, led all field players with 94 touches and 77 completed passes.

NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said Pirlo played his best game in an NYCFC uniform.

“I think that Andrea is a natural-born competitor who doesn’t take to losing well,” Kreis said. “And I think that he’s been in many situations like this before that require a massive effort. I think, really, in the last two games he’s really worked extremely hard and played quite well.”

There were still moments of disjointed play within the NYCFC midfield. Pirlo is still not yet fully in sync with his teammates and that results in passes sometimes appearing to be intended for no one. Lampard occasionally got in the way of his teammates while running off the ball and Andrew Jacobson was forced to cover Michael Bradley on his own far too often. That, however, is part and parcel to life alongside linemate Pirlo.

“When he’s open, it’s go get the ball to him,” Jacobson said. “He can open up the game and then it’s up to other guys to get open so he can get the ball to them.”

Pirlo had been substituted twice in the previous three matches raising questions about his fitness and motivation. He played the full 90 minutes last night and will likely start again on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes. Though Kreis said he played his best match of the season, Pirlo praised his team’s cohesiveness in victory.

“We played well together,” Pirlo said through a translator. “It was a good result for the team. I don’t like to talk about individuals. I think it went very well for the entire team. We were more compact, we played a good offense, a good defense.”

Although Pirlo is match fit, Lampard is still not fully fit by his own admission. He has been substituted after 65 minutes in each of the past two matches. In both cases, Kwadwo Poku replaced him and injected energy to the NYCFC midfield playing a similar role. Lampard said the substitutions are part of a plan with Kreis to get him fit in a tight schedule.

“I’ve been injured,” Lampard said. “I came back in against the Red Bulls, played 85 minutes and got injured in the last second of the game. It makes sense to try and keep my legs. I’m almost two-or-three weeks into preseason and generally in preseason you don’t play full games so the quicker I can play 90 minutes the better for me and the team.”

After Saturday’s match, NYCFC will have at least five days between its remaining matches until the end of the regular season. The extended rest should allow for there to be less of a limit on Lampard’s minutes going forward. The more playing time also allows for the midfield and team to continue to gel while it fights to stay in the playoff picture.

“I think today was more of a team performance,” Lampard said. “From Josh in goal who was absolutely fantastic right through – the work rate and desire to get the win was brilliant and that is what we need to get wins here at the end of the season.”