If there was any question whether or not Andrea Pirlo would have an impact on Sunday for the Blues, look no further than New York City FC’s 5-3 win over Orlando City in the Bronx.
“[Andrea Pirlo] is a special, special player,” head coach Jason Kreis said in his postgame press conference. “He really opened up the game, used every ounce of space out there – and that’s his first game after four days of training.”
While the win was far from perfect, it’s a key win for NYCFC (6-9-6; 24 points), who now sit just behind Montreal for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Impact’s 1-0 win over Seattle on Saturday keeps them just ahead of the Blues in the win-loss-draw column, despite both teams having the same goal differential and NYC’s 2-0 record against the Impact this season.
“I think the biggest position we take from this is that Orlando was at 24 points, we were at 21, now at 24,” goalkeeper Josh Saunders said. “So as far as the Eastern Conference playoff spot, it’s huge.”
NYCFC’s win on Sunday against Orlando puts NYC in a must-win scenario on Saturday against the Impact at home if NYC wants to continue to control their playoff destiny.
The win also marks their first in the last three matches and the first time NYCFC scored five goals against any opponent. Captain David Villa scored his third brace of the season, while Javier Calle scored his first goal for the Blues on the day. Thomas McNamara scored on an open look in the second half and Mix Diskerud, fresh out of international duty, capped the five goal match with a goal in stoppage time.
However, despite NYC’s best second-half performance of the season offensively (the four goals in the final 45 minutes are the most in a half by the Blues this season), all eyes were on No. 21 in the sky blue. Pirlo made his official NYCFC debut in the 57th minute, replacing Mehdi Ballouchy to a loud, standing ovation at Yankee Stadium.
“It was very emotional when I got on the field,” Pirlo said through a translator afterwards. “But since we won, it’s even better.”
For the last 15 minutes of the first half and the 12 minutes of the second half, fans chanted “We want Pirlo” throughout Yankee Stadium and when they got their wish, Pirlo didn’t disappoint. In typical Pirlo fashion that most have only seen on television and YouTube, Pirlo placed two perfect balls in Orlando’s 18-yard box, however the Blues were unable to capitalize.
On the ball, he worked his way past two defenders in typical Pirlo fashion. It’s safe to say that everyone was impressed.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Thomas McNamara mentioned on playing with Pirlo on Sunday. “You could see the quality that he has and his effect on the game immediately when he stepped in.”
Both teams had a lackluster first half as both NYC and Orlando City couldn’t create any chances in the first half, trading possessions in the midfield. Villa put the Blues up 1-0 at halftime with a goal just past Lions’ keeper Tally Hall in stoppage time of the first half.
Orlando City answered right out of the gates in the second half as Cyle Larin scored his first of three goals in the 50th minute, tying the match at one goal apiece. Larin cut through the NYC backline several times on Sunday, beating both Shay Facey and newcomer Jefferson Mena on several attacks by Orlando City in the second half.
But the Blues would remain aggressive, as Javier Calle’s first goal in New York City off of an assist by McNamara put New York City up 2-1 in the 53rd minute. Larin answered again for the Lions just eight minutes later, tying the match at 2-2.
That’s when the goal-fest started. Villa’s second goal to put NYC up 3-2 came just six minutes after Larin’s goal as Poku set up Villa just outside of the center of the 18-yard box and drilled it into the left side of Hall’s net. Four minutes later, Thomas McNamara got wide open to Hall’s left side and drilled one in the upper 90 to push the NYC lead to 4-2 in the 71st minute.
Larin scored one more time in the 85th minute as NYCFC tried to play conservative to run out the clock.
Orlando City had a chance to tie the game at four off of a late free kick from Kaka, however Kaka’s free kick hit Saunders’ left post. NYC countered near-perfectly as Villa, Poku and Mix rushed the length of the field for the fifth goal to seal the win.
“We almost tied the game, then we conceded a goal,” Kaka said afterwards. “This is futbol.”
All information and quotes were obtained firsthand by Jeff Weisinger for New York Sports Hub.