30,042 people showed up to see Andrea Pirlo’s historic “baby blue” debut. Every once in a while, NYCFC’s PR department opened up certain section of the nosebleeds, something they usually do for Grade A games, and Andrea Pirlo’s first game for NYCFC was certainly that. They were filled, as was the entirety of Yankee Stadium.
I’m not even exaggerating when I say this, but I’m pretty sure 90% of Little Italy showed up to the biggest game of the season (after the second New York Derby).
It’s great to show your true colors: Milan’s Opel kits are some of my favorite football kits ever produced (any kit with Opel’s sponsor is a jewel); Juventus’s 13-14 kits are alright, I guess (they’re just jet black, like Elvis’ slicked back hair).
But when it’s 85 degrees out with humidity, and you’re being crowded around at the security gates (almost longer than one NYC subway unit at one of the gates), heat exhaustion is a possibility when wearing those black kits. Wearing black in blistering heat means that you’re setting yourself up for heat exhaustion.
Strangely enough, I didn’t spot a 2006 World Cup jersey. I’m sure there were tons of them, but I somehow missed them. Shame on me, right? Yes, shame on me for not spotting a Mauro Camoranesi jersey either.
Pirlo Didn’t Start?!?:
*”Vienna” by Billy Joel starts playing*
There was the Summer of ’77, where the Son of Sam generated mass hysteria by preying on young women with dark hair, brandishing a .44 caliber revolver. Then, there was July 26, 2015, where one of the greatest deep-lying playmakers of all-time was going to set foot on the minimized (by, like, two feet) Yankee Stadium pitch.
Sports are a great thing, but sometimes, certain people take it way too seriously. They didn’t quite have the mindset of David Berkowitz – actually, by definition, that’s a Lazio fan – but boy, some of these so-called “Pirlo fans” got on my damn nerves.
During pre-game training, some random guy watched from one of the many stadium gift shop kiosks. I’m in line buying food, the vendor being placed right aside the kiosk.
“Eyyy, where da fuck is Pirlo at?”
Pardon my stereotypes, but this guy had the voice of Joe Pesci (there’s nothing wrong with that), the looks of a Jersey Shore extra (there’s something wrong with that), the mindset of a casual Yankee fan (definitely something wrong with that) and the ignorance of most Yankee fans that never shut their mouths about winning 27 World Series titles. Don’t you just wish that these people could be banned from existence?
The Pirlo hysteria was only getting started. Once NYCFC announced their starting XI on the PA (and on Twitter 5 minutes beforehand, like the PR department does 95% of the time), people discovered he wasn’t starting. Boo hoo, there’s no favoritism in soccer (eh, actually, that’s not true).
One guy sitting behind me with his girlfriend was desperately refreshing his Twitter feed to see when the starting lineup was being released.
“Pirlo better start or else I’m done with this fucking team.”
Ahh, what else is new? Certainly isn’t the first time I heard that one in New York.
Pirlo not starting is exactly what people weren’t expecting riding into the Bronx. Despite legions of overly optimistic presumptions, the much anticipated debut of Andrea Pirlo was not happening in the starting XI. He was debuting as a substitute, which is all fine and dandy, because he was guaranteed to play no matter what. But only the people that don’t care about NYCFC as a franchise cared about Pirlo.
Don’t get me wrong, avid NYCFC fans care very much about Pirlo, but it’s not like he’s the only guy that exists on the team. Even Mix Diskerud is left out of the picture at times because of his Gold Cup call-up. I guess people would have thought their money was being wasted by actually seeing NYCFC play.
I mean, I too wanted the maestro to start. But would you rather see him start and see him get subbed out for someone else? He’s not fully fit yet. Or would you rather see him finish the game in the second half?
*”Vienna” by Billy Joel stops playing*
First Half: Massively Boring, But Good Enough:
The first half of this game was very similar to waiting at a fancy restaurant for a long period of time: annoying, impatient, and you end up losing your mind over time. Nothing was happening, and it was more like waiting after you just took a long test in class and waiting for everyone else to finish so class can finally end.
The “We Want Pirlo” chants started about 25 minutes in, and they seemed a bit forced. And although the fans have played a role in Jason Kreis’ substitutions (sorta, with Kwadwo Poku in particular), Kreis stayed put until Chris Wingert injured himself again. Jefferson
Mena, NYCFC’s new center back signing, came on for Wingert less than 10 minutes in.
A scoreless half seemed imminent from both team’s styles of play: rugged, all fouls blazing, possession-based soccer the not-so main attraction. There were no significant moments – at least there didn’t appear to be.
After what felt like a millennium, stoppage time had arrived and newly groomed Manchester City youth product Angelino (he’s number 69, which is #nice) placed a perfect ball, followed by a fairy-like touch by David Villa, who finished near post past a tightly marked Sean St. Ledger and hoodwinked Orlando City goalkeeper Tally Hall, who stayed flat-footed.
Perfect. Just perfect. No more scoreless deadlock going into the break. Breathing room was given and the Pirlo chants seemed premature, until…
PIRLO PARTY COMMENCE!:
As Andrea Pirlo stood up to leave the bench at around the 53rd minute, raucous cheering took place. It really felt as if the Pope was approaching the Vatican balcony. It was NYCFC fans’ version of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” And he didn’t even enter the pitch yet.
Three minutes later, a yellow-carded Mehdi Ballouchy, Jason Kreis’ first half substitution whipping post, started jogging towards towards the sideline, where Pirlo stood by the fourth official, eagerly waiting to enter the pitch.
Here’s what Yankee Stadium felt and sounded like when Pirlo jogged on:
(Pardon me for my crappy zoom-ins and the unnecessary quasi-voice crack in the last second.)
The PA announcer’s voice was muffled. That’s how loud it was. Every single ounce of heavy anticipation flew out of everyone’s insides. He ran on, immediately shook Kaká’s hand, and there he was, ready to make an immediate impact.
Just a few minutes before, Tommy McNamara whipped a nice low cross to Javier Calle – who hasn’t started since April – to put the score at 2-1. That certainly opened things up in terms of scoreline, but also in terms of crowd participation (props to The Third Rail for keeping it going throughout the whole game).
That made Pirlo’s entrance even better. The crowd’s energy was already running off of that goal and boy, it got pretty damn loud. Some people were covering their ears, and a couple of little kids were complaining, “Mommy! It’s too noisy in here! Tell them to stop!”
Pirlo made an impact within seconds of his entrance. Each time he touched the ball, the crowd raised hell. By the time the 60th minute came around, it was time for the “Rush Hour Rally,” (the Third Rail’s version of the wave, only a million times better) and Yankee Stadium was semi-shaking. Shorty after, unfortunately, Cyle Larin struck again in the 61st minute to level the scoring at 2-2.
Minutes later, Pirlo started performing spin moves and located Kwadwo Poku. Poku then sprinted with the ball, eventually finding David Villa on a run. El Guaje found a little pocket of space and it looked like a fantastic possession was going to be wasted with an audacious shot through three defenders. The shot deflects and goes bottom right corner; 3-2 in favor of NYCFC.
A few minutes later, Pirlo was at it again. He does the same thing – spin moves and all – in the same place of the field, finding Poku. Poku doesn’t fail to find McNamara, and West Nyack’s own buried it upper 90. 4-2, Blues. I almost tripped on myself after jumping up and down in the slim stadium walkway aisle.
Freakin’ Cyle Larin…And Kaká Almost Replicates The Inaugural Fixture:
Once Pirlo came on, he controlled the passing lanes. However, Cyle Larin was still around to pick up the pieces. Larin scored his hat trick clinching goal in the 85th minute. Just like
that, it was 4-3. He couldn’t miss, especially on his second goal. Josh Saunders went full-extension and couldn’t get a tip on the ball.
NYCFC’s late game execution had failed them yet again. They had given up their second hat trick in two weeks, the other being at the feet of Sebastian Giovinco when they faced Toronto FC. Recently signed Jefferson Mena was suspect in the setting up of all three of Larin’s goals, but the hope is that it wasn’t indicative of him being bad, just a reaction to jumping on the field for the first time with his new backline.
Stoppage time arrived and, just like the first game, Kaká was about to take a free kick right outside of the 18, after a terrible foul was committed. Great.
There was no Jeb Brovsky this game to deflect the free kick into the net. But this was just as scary; Kaká takes the free kick, the ball hits the post, and a colossal gasp echoes throughout Yankee Stadium. Mix Diserkud darts out of the box with the ball, finds David Villa reinforcing him in the midfield, plays one-two with Mix, passes to Poku, who fools Tally Hall and crosses to Mix, sealing the game with the much needed insurance goal. 5-3 the final score.
Holy shit. Orlando had almost thwarted NYCFC a second time in two matches in the same season by, funny enough, the same guy, in their inaugural season as an MLS franchise. Most importantly, the Pirlo party wasn’t spoiled, thankfully.
Out Of The Bowels Of The East…For Now:
Andrea Pirlo’s debut was the chief headline of Sunday’s nationally televised matinee. But there were huge implications regarding this game, with NYCFC has been trying to dig themselves out of the bottom of the East. They were in ninth place going into the afternoon’s game, with Orlando at seventh. With the win, NYCFC are now tied with Orlando, amassing 24 points each and a 6-6-9 record with 21 games played.
Sure, there are tons of questions about whether the backline will ever improve in the future. Picking apart their defense is like tearing grass out of the ground. But for that day, we were celebrating the debut of Andrea Pirlo.
And nothing else mattered.