NYCFC’s Iraola comfortable, familiar in defensive midfield

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by Christian Araos

Andoni Iraola‘s career has gone full circle.

With R.J. Allen fully fit and Ronald Matarrita almost certain to not miss any league games, Iraola is no longer needed as a fullback. His passing and defensive abilities have made him an ideal fit in defensive midfield where he’s played the 90 minutes in each of the last two matches.

Turns out his new position is the one he started his career at 13 years ago while with Athletic Bilbao.

“I feel quite comfortable there, I’ve played there before,” Iraola said. “Obviously, what I want is to play games, it doesn’t matter what position, whatever chance I have. I have to try to perform well.”

Iraola moved into the defensive midfield role for New York City FC‘s match against Orlando City SC after injury and suspension sidelined Federico Bravo and Mikey Lopez. In Iraola’s last two starts, he has completed 86% of his passes and only made three mistakes (failed clearances/tackles), according to figures attained from Opta.

“I think the team deserved more in the last two games,” Iraola said. “The first game was more of us not closing the game well. Second game, we had a lot of chances, especially in the first half, that we didn’t score and we lost because of that.”

Iraola said he is comfortable moving around the field. While at NYCFC, he has played at right fullback as well as right center back when head coach Patrick Vieira used a three-man defense. He fell out of the starting lineup after City’s match against the Philadelphia Union April 23 but has filled the opening at defensive midfield well.

“I think Andoni has slotted in there really well and did a good job the past two matches,” R.J. Allen said. “I think he’s done a really good job and hopefully it continues. He gives us that option on the ball, he’s very calm and collected on the ball. He gives us that ability to play out of tight spots.”

Iraola is likely to start at least one of next week’s games at defensive midfield. Bravo did light conditioning training Friday but is unlikely to recover from a strained quadricep in time. Lopez served his suspension and is healthy which could allow for him and Iraola to split time between the Open Cup and league match.

Iraola said both matches present a chance for the team to make a strong start to the second half of the season.

“We know that when we play at home, there are a lot of goals scored,” Iraola said. “We score goals, the opposing team score goals. That’s a challenge. We have to be focused for 90 minutes, no mistakes. It’s easy to say, not so easy to do it on the field but it’s what we have to do and what we have to improve.”