The Man In Seat 9: Yes Pirlo, Yes Party!
Andrea Pirlo in play with New York City FC. Photo courtesy of NYCFC.COM

There was a very large party at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, as New York City FC beat the Orlando City SC, 5-3. Say what you will about the addition of one man changing the dimension of a team, but when that man is Andrea Pirlo, there just is no other option. Sometimes it’s the smallest catalyst that pushes something to a tipping point, and other times it’s a world class legend.

The atmosphere at the stadium was one of guarded anticipation as the crowd filled their seats during the pre-game wondering if Pirlo would make his MLS debut. When he walked out onto the home pitch for the first time, those in the stands knew that this day could become something very special. The team did not let them down. It became one of those “I was there” moments that the young fans will talk about for years.

Early in the match, occasional chants of “we want Pirlo” echoed in the stadium. The first time it was quickly quieted by an Orlando attack that would have put them on the board first if not for an offside call. The non-goal looked dangerous as the NYCFC defense broke down and the crowd became pensive as the match became a balanced probing of each team’s back lines. David Villa drew first blood with a vengeance after he had his arm stepped on without penalty and NYCFC entered the locker room with a one goal lead. The stadium began to buzz again. The thought on everyone’s minds now was whether or not Jason Kries would start Pirlo at the top of the half. He didn’t, but they didn’t have to wait long.

When Pirlo did come on in the 57th minute for Mehdi Ballouchy, the stadium erupted in a welcome that sounded louder than the 32,041 fans on hand. Pirlo ran onto the pitch with ice-crystals trailing behind and, with two defenders on him, went directly to Josh Saunders and asked for the ball. If he touched the ball at all, for any reason, the crowd cheered. It actually became a bit comical. Pirlo taps a pass back to Saunders, the crowd cheers. Pirlo intercepts and dumps the ball to Angelino, the crowd cheers. Pirlo could have done anything and the crowd would have cheered. But it was because they were sensing something that the rest of the team discovered earlier this week. The man is a master. He had some miss-cues, but the on-point passes that he made were of a quality rarely seen in the MLS.

And there is a calmness about him that just radiates out to the team. With Pirlo behind them, the team pressed forward and took advantage of opportunities that lead to some very fine finishes, something that has been lacking.

From what I saw right away is our team opening up and really using every ounce of space out there because they felt like he could find them, Kries said after the match. Pirlo even gave Josh Saunders a hand by pointing, behind his back, where KAKA was going to place his penalty kick.

Photo via @gdimascio714

Kries also brought Mix Diskerud on to road test the new formation with Kwadwo Poku in place of the still missing Frank Lambard, and the formation seems to have merit. The offense exploded, responding to every Orlando attack with a dangerous counter. With the quality of feeds that Pirlo made in the last 30 minutes of the match, Mix, Poku, and Villa were able to spread the Orlando defense across the entire pitch to open space that had previously remained closed.

When Villa was asked after the match if he’ll score more with Pirlo here? He laughed and answered, If I aim right, then yes. That quote says it all.

This was a mid-season rematch of the season opener between the two new expansion teams. Both teams have matured over the first half of the season, but with the addition of Pirlo it appears that NYCFC has just graduated to the next level.

It’s going to be an interesting second half of the season here in seat nine.