NYCFC Notebook: Vieira on Villa; Look In on Atlanta United

Matt Kremkau

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

imagesORANGEBURG, N.Y. — Patrick Vieira minced his words when it came to David Villa‘s opening pitch.

“It made the plate, so that was good,” Vieira said.

Joking aside, Vieira was happy Villa signed a one-year contract extension with New York City FC (4-3-1, 13 points) and with how well received Villa has been. Villa ran the media gauntlet on Wednesday to mark the occasion and was training in full on Thursday. He will be healthy for Sunday’s game against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium in the city he has embraced.

“When you come to a new country, you need to adapt to the culture of the country you are going to,” Vieira said. “You can see with David, the way that he learned the language, the way that he lives life in the U.S. here with his family. They all enjoy it, they’re going to school here, you can see that there is a love for the city as well. That is good because as a football club, you want to bring people who buy into the project and to the lifestyle of the country where you are. I think David is a really good player who come from abroad and adapted really well.”

Atlanta United Off and Running

Patrick Vieira lauded Coach Gerardo Martino‘s work with Atlanta, which has collected 11 points through eight games in its inaugural season. Atlanta (3-3-2, 11 points) has scored 18 goals this season, the second-most in Major League Soccer. Martino’s experience and the club’s efforts at building a squad with talented attacking players stood out to Vieira as reasons the team has had a successful start.

Atlanta is quickly earning a reputation for starting games fast and putting their opponents under pressure. That pressure has led to goals coming within the first 15 minutes in four of the eight games this season, including in each of their wins. Vieira said for NYCFC to not concede in that time, it will take the right mental approach.

“The way they are aggressive in the first 15 minutes, if we are not matching them in the desire and the competitiveness from the start, if they manage to score first, then it will be really difficult for us,” Vieira said. “I believe as well that they are a counterattacking team. They gamble a lot going forward and that’s why it will be important for us to not concede the first goal.”

Shelton and Matarrita Recovering

Khiry Shelton and Ronald Matarrita each did some light individual training this week as they recover from injuries. Shelton is further along in his recovery from a strained hamstring and spent much of Thursday working on lateral movement and finishing. Matarrita stayed inside on Thursday, but Vieira said he was expected him to do some running on Friday.

Vieira Praises First Start by Sweat and Okoli

Ben Sweat and Ugo Okoli made the most of their first starts Patrick Vieira said. Sweat overcame a shaky start to assist on the game-tying goal while Okoli also had some anxious moments,but put in a hard-working shift that occupied Columbus’ defense throughout the game. Vieira said Okoli has had his ups and downs this season but he was happy to see him turn it around and make the most of the opportunity to start.

Matt Kremkau

Ugo Okoli

“He worked his socks off,” Vieira said. “Ugo did really well. You could see that he was anxious, nervous at the same time but that is a good sign because that shows that he was focused and concentrated on what he had to do. … It’s not easy and I think that game he showed a lot of confidence in himself, he showed a lot of character and now I think he has to keep going. You see today that he stayed in training to do some extra work. He’s in a really good place and that’s really good for us.”

Sweat seems to have done enough to get a second start at left back for City with Matarrita still sidelined. Vieira said that Sweat had a difficult first five minutes where he was out of position and nearly allowed his man in behind for a chance. Instead Sweat pulled him back and earned a yellow card that actually helped him calm down.

“He showed that he’s good enough to play in the position,” Vieira said. “I was really pleased with the game that he had against Columbus. I think he was really brave. The first five minutes gave him time to get some positions right but after that, he was really good. Defensively, he worked really well because he’s a really smart player. Technically, he’s really good on the ball. That is why we wanted to keep him because he fits well with the way we want to play. He can play as a left back, he can play as a center back as well. He’s a good catch for us.”

Academy Expands Talent Search

After hosting a girls academy trial day last month, NYCFC’s academy will be hosting a series of boys talent searches in May and June. The first session will be in Queens on May 12 for boys born in 2006 and 2005 with the U12 session beginning at 6:30 p.m and the U13 at 8 p.m. U14 and U15 age groups will have a session on May 15, U17 and U19 age groups will be on May 19. The final session of the month will be on the May 26 for U12 and U13 children. Register here.