NYCFC Notebook: Villa Is Ill; Pirlo’s Play Is ‘Normal’

Matt Kremkau

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

imagesDavid Villa missed Wednesday’s training session with a minor illness. There is no word on his status for Saturday’s match against Columbus Crew. Ugo Okoli would be the lone option at center forward if Villa is unable to start.

Villa has started each game this season and has five goals. The last time he missed a game for New York City FC was last July 30 against the Colorado Rapids, because of a suspension. He started the May 18 game on the bench against Toronto last year, but played the final 18 minutes.

Pirlo and Normalcy

Andrea Pirlo took part in his first media scrum. Speaking English and removed from his Juventus days of exclusive, sit-down interviews and hasty mixed zones, Pirlo held court after practice with gathered reporters like any other Major League Soccer player. Though his vocabulary is still developing, he was able to clearly address his performances for NYCFC this season.

“I am playing normal,” Pirlo said. “Some games good, some normal but it is important that I feel good. That is important for me. The rest of the season will be much better.”

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Pirlo said he is fine with Coach Patrick Vieira‘s decision to substitute him in each of the past five games.

“I am here to play but I don’t decide,” Pirlo said. “There is a coach who decides. It is his decision and it is no problem for me. If he decides for me to play, I play. If he decides for me to not play, I go out. I am one of the 18 players, just like the others.”

He said that his improving English enables him to communicate with his teammates and be a better mentor. That is normal, he said.

“When we talk about real champions it’s not just about what they do on the field but how they conduct themselves as a person,” Vieira said, referring to Pirlo’s comments about being substituted. “They know that a coach makes a decision for the good of the team and rightly or wrongly.”

Vieira added that Pirlo is still the team’s conductor on the field. Although this season’s orchestra is more talented, the team still needs someone in the middle dictating tempo — Pirlo’s specialty, even now.

“I always like to say that our game is a dark room and then Andrea switches on the light and our game starts to be more clear,” Vieira said. “That is what he brings us. I don’t expect Andrea to run like Alex Ring but I don’t expect Alex Ring to play like Andrea because they are different. I think the relationship between the three is really good because they are different.”

Vieira has been shielding Pirlo from growing criticism. Pirlo’s physical limitations are evident and Vieira will have to account for them as the season progresses. While Vieira has tried to clear the air about the disagreement between him and EoS concerning the team’s ability to create chances (everything’s fine, no worries), a critique by ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle, who called Pirlo a “luxury player”rubbed Vieira the wrong way.

“I don’t want to criticize the media because they talk about what they see and what they know but they don’t know everything,” he said. “I see Andrea every single day, I see how he works in training and that’s why I don’t have any doubts about who he is as a player and as a person. I think that we can all give our opinions but I think that we can do it with more respect and with more respect with what he’s achieved in the game. We can all give our opinion but I think we can do better.”

Ring Remains Confident

As Alex Ring finished speaking with the media, Vieira came in joking about how Ring is never at a loss for words. With three months as evidence, that is basically true. Ring is outspoken, but thoughtful. That makes him and his refreshing candor a reporter’s best friend.

“I think we are on the right path,” Ring said. “The games we lost, I feel like we would have deserved to win or at least a draw. We’ve been a sloppy in the situations where we concede and we have to be even more convincing and more focused in those situations to beat our opponents. We dominate the game, we play well but it’s not always enough to win.”

Ring has played all but six minutes of the season in midfield providing strength and industry to match the artisans with whom he shares the field. The Crew are artisans as well so Saturday’s game will involve more technical play and smarter tactical positioning than stronger challenges and faster running. But there will be teams like Orlando City and soon, the New York Red Bulls, that will prefer the latter to the former.

“They played very physically, they play aggressively,” Ring said. “I think we should take it as a compliment because they know that it’s their only chance to stay in the game. I know that we also have to answer in physicality and aggressiveness. With the ball, I’m not concerned. We’ve shown in every game that we can dominate our opponent but still you also have to run and fight and stay in the game and show the opponent that it’s not going to be easy.”

The physical issue will linger throughout the year given NYCFC’s struggles. It would be counterproductive for Vieira to sacrifice technical quality and tactical knowledge for strength and stamina. the better solution for City score early — something the team has done in each of their three wins.

“First of all, positively we’re having chances,” Ring said. “If we weren’t having chances then something would be wrong. It’s just a matter of putting them away. It’s a bit of luck and focus and we have to keep working on that. It’s early stage of the season and I think we’re on the right track. Now it’s our job to keep pushing and leave the mistakes and score a couple of more goals.”


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