by Christian Araos
The sting of how the 2016 season ended could still be heard when Patrick Vieira discussed the end of the preseason on Thursday. A New York City FC team that blossomed as the regular season progressed, wilted in the playoffs against a Toronto team that knew from experience what the MLS Cup playoffs are about. Learning from its miscalculations, City has added MLS experience in goalkeeper Sean Johnson and midfielder Rodney Wallace.
“The reason we brought [Wallace] here is that he won the championship already so he knows how to win the league,” Vieira said. “His work ethic is really good, he will give everything for the 90, 95 minutes. He can defend, he can attack, he can run in behind. …We are really pleased to have him with us because he will be a really important player for us and for what we want to achieve this season.”
Similar to the acquisition of Johnson, NYCFC is pleased with the signing of Wallace. He had been mired in a dispute with his former club, Sport Recife in Brazil, and did not report to preseason training. Reports from local media said that he and his wife had been unable to settle down and were homesick. The Portland Timbers had been open to the idea of re-signing him but City swooped in, paying Portland $75,000 of general allocation money and $50,000 of targeted allocation money for his right of first refusal.
“It didn’t take long from when the team contacted me,” Wallace said. “There was a mutual interest and for me it seemed like a very good opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I knew I wanted a challenge. I wanted to be a part of a team that wants to win championships and is ambitious. Last year, New York had a very good season and I watched them a lot. The opportunity to play with them came along and I didn’t want to pass it up, especially with the quality of the players and the staff. For me, it was a no-brainer.”
Wallace, 28, is a Costa Rican international and naturalized United States citizen, can play anywhere on the left side. Vieira said Wallace could play on the left wing in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3. His best season with the Timbers was 2013 when he scored 7 goals and had 6 assists. He started all five games in Portland’s run to the MLS Cup title in 2015 scoring twice and recording an assist. Though he can be a productive attacker, Wallace said defense is his strong suit.
“Our organization is good and what Patrick wants is to defend from the front and that’s one one of my strongest qualities,” Wallace said. “They’re organized and I know when it’s time to press and make the opposition feel uncomfortable so we can get the ball back and start the attack.”
Wallace is now one of several options Vieira has at left wing. He is not a direct runner like Jonathan Lewis or Khiry Shelton and he does not cut inside like Jack Harrison or Thomas McNamara. Wallace is similar to Miguel Camargo — an industrious player who will work hard in defense. Vieira said it will take hard work to improve City’s defense front to back if his team is to improve on last year. Wallace said he’s seen the talent at NYCFC and believes winning an MLS Cup is achievable.
“That’s a reflection of the group,” he said. “We all want to compete, we’re all hungry. Like I said, the quality is there it’s just about putting the pieces together. The season is long but we have to take it game-by-game. As long as we stay together and we believe in each other and we get results, which is important as well, good things will come our way. “