When New York City Football Club signed three of the best European soccer players ever – Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Andrea Pirlo – they dreamed of days like Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
It is a rare case that all three stars were in the starting lineup and the day had a freshness to it, as they were taking on the Philadelphia Union in their first MLS action in two weeks. (They played the NASL’s New York Cosmos in a US Open Cup game Wednesday and lost 1-0.)
There was Lampard pouncing on a deflected shot and drilling it into the net to make it 1-0 NYC FC in the 8th minute, ironic considering he wears Number 8.
In a sign of goodwill, the same NYC FC fans that booed him a month ago when he made his season debut cheered “Lampard!” after the PA announcer left a nice pause after “Frank.”
About four minutes later, Villa shot one from midfield, as the Philadelphia goalie roamed away from his net. It would have been a goal…had it not hit the crossbar.
Villa would not be denied, as he scored in the 21st minute to make it 2-0 NYC FC.
In the second half, Pirlo, known as The Maestro, showed why he has that nickname.
In the 50th minute, he took a free kick from just outside the box and lofted it over everyone, including a frozen Philadelphia goalie, and made it 3-0 NYC FC.
“It was a real team effort. You win or lose as a group, but I think we’re all very determined characters, no matter what we’ve done elsewhere in our careers,” Lampard said of the Euro Big Three all scoring in this one. “I think you have a clean slate when you come to a club here, and we’re all trying to prove. I think when we can make a difference, like we did today with our goals, we can win a game and be happy personally, but first and foremost, as a group we can be really happy today.”
As it seems in every NYC FC game, they gave up two late goals to make it too close for comfort, and held on for a 3-2 victory.
“This is what you expect from your leaders,” NYC FC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said of the response from his Big Three. “I was very pleased but I was looking for more of a team reaction. Everybody was very concerned about losing to the club, and I was looking for the team reaction. I got that reaction from those three players. We have to keep in mind the team performance, especially in the first half and then when we went through a difficult period with 10 men, how we stick together, it was pretty difficult and taking the three points was really important for us.”
Days like this show that as much as NYC FC has to get contributions from Tommy McNamara or Jack Harrison or Khiry Shelton, it is the European veterans that drive the team.
Villa, who now has 11 goals on the season, has been the most successful European import. He was a scoring machine when he starred in World Cups for Europe and for his domestic club, Barcelona.
Pirlo has been good here in New York since he arrived last July shortly after taking Juventus to the UEFA Champions League Final
Compared to Villa, Pirlo has had a harder time getting used to the more physical nature of the American game compared to Italy.
When Pirlo gets room to opetate and can get the right hook on his free kicks, it’s like the 2006 World Cup all over again.
Then there’s Lampard and what he has faced since arriving in New York.
One of the most accomplished players ever for Chelsea in the English Premier League, Lampard was the first-ever player to sign with NYC FC in the summer of 2014.
To stay fresh ahead of NYC FC’s debut in March 2015, he went to play for their parent club, Manchester City for the 2014-15 campaign.
This angered NYC FC fans, as it meant he would not be in New York for the opener. It didn’t dissipate when Lampard’s debut was delayed until late July of last year due to injuries, which made him a shell of himself.
When Lampard got it going in September, though it wasn’t enough to get them in the playoffs, New York fans got to see the old Super Frank in action.
There was excitement that Villa, Lampard, and Pirlo (who signed in July 2015), would start this season together.
Injuries once again reared their ugly head and kept Lampard out until May 21st, a day that will live in infamy for NYC FC, as they lost 7-0 to the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium.
With this win over Philadelphia, their record is now 5 wins-5 losses- 6 ties, 22 points, just one point behind the Union for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
When Villa, Pirlo, and Lampard are out there, it is pure magic, and their teammates realize how special it is.
“It’s a true blessing, NYC FC defender Ronald Matarrita said of playing with the Euro Big three. “I worked really hard for this and giving my maximum effort to be able to meet the expectations of the team and those players. For me this is a dream and I hope to be able to learn from them not just on how to be a great player but also how to be a man. I am surrounded by great players and coaches that have a lot of football knowledge.”
This was just their second win of the season at Yankee Stadium, and with the Big Three on board, they should expect that number to increase.
Their next test at Yankee Stadium? A date with revenge against the Red Bulls on July 3 at high noon.