Patrick Vieira has promised attacking soccer under his reign at New York City FC from day one. Ninety minutes in: so far, so good.
NYCFC did more than find the back of the net in its 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire on Sunday — Vieira's side did it in style and, more importantly, did it without relying on big names.
Yes, David Villa put in a strong shift up top and Andrea Pirlo brought calm to the midfield. But it was Thomas McNamara, Mix Diskerud and Khiry Shelton each notching a goal and an assist, with Tony Taylor also on the score sheet. And Frank Lampard was nowhere to be found, sidelined by a calf strain.
The golazo that put up 1-0 March 6, 2016
"We stuck to our philosophy, the way we want to play football," Vieira said postgame . "At times, we played some really good football, our buildup from the back was really good, we created a lot of chances and this is the way that we want to play this year."
Going forward, it's hard to imagine where Lampard will fit into Vieira's attack-minded 4-3-3 formation.
Stranded on the wing in Jason Kreis' 4-2-3-1 last season, Diskerud looked reinvigorated by his central role in front of Pirlo and alongside McNamara. The passing range and underestimated defensive work have always been there, but Diskerud also had a killer instinct in the final third. The U.S. international set up Shelton's tally with a brilliant ball over the top, hit the chip that led to Taylor's strike and slammed home a goal of his own on the volley.
McNamara, meanwhile, has the look of a revelation. While his rookie season with Chivas USA was cut short by a knee injury and stiff competition limited him to 15 starts last season, Year 3 could be the charm. Looking beyond his stunning opener from distance and inch-perfect cross to Diskerud, and you'll see a player who consistently offered attacking mobility and efficiency on the ball.
Sure, McNamara could move out wide to accommodate Lampard, where he played much of last season, but Taylor and Shelton give this NYCFC side a vertical threat that creates space for the midfield trio to operate. From a defensive perspective, does NYCFC want Lampard's 37-year-old legs tasked with protecting Pirlo? Because the Italian maestro is at his best when he has two hardworking midfielders to do the dirty work in front of him.
Heck, even substitute specialist Kwadwo Poku is a more natural option than Lampard if NYCFC needs an attacking spark off the bench. At the moment, the former Chelsea star feels like an injury-prone, $6 million luxury player.
Diskerud gets into the Mix with an assist from . 4-2 over the March 6, 2016
And that's not necessarily an awful thing — not if Vieira sticks to his guns and only plays Lampard if he earns it. Although NYCFC was wrong to oust Kreis after just one season, the club's inaugural coach did fall into the trap of trying too hard to accommodate his big names. In doing so, he hampered Diskerud and squeezed out the likes of McNamara and Shelton.
To be fair, this could be an overeager analysis of NYCFC's win. The result, after all, came against a haphazard Fire team featuring newcomers across the back line and in goal. Before we give Vieira too much credit, let's note that NYCFC's back line still needs a lot of work. (Although fullbacks Ethan White and Ronald Matarrita excelled, Jason Hernandez and Frederic Brillant were less inspiring in the middle.)
But from an attacking standpoint, that victory looks like the start of an exciting era for NYCFC. The eventual integration of No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Harrison, currently sidelined by a pelvic injury, would offer another enticing option. Too old last season, NYCFC now boasts a well-struck balance between youthful exuberance and veteran savvy.
Now it's up to Vieira to make sure no one — no matter the name — throws it off.
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