“Frank Lampard is the worst signing in MLS history.”
That’s been how some of the headlines and ledes have gone in April and May (here, here, here and here) as the media went out of its way to kick the New York City FC star midfielder while he was down. Literally. Lampard started the 2016 season as he had most of 2015: on the sidelines nursing a calf issue. After his injury-riddled 2015, the MLS club went out of its way to make sure the Englishman was 100 percent this time.
That didn't stop the press from coming down with its verdict.
But if you set aside the sensational headlines, how does one actually go about evaluating a signing when the full story has yet to be played out? If you’re going to grade a signing, shouldn’t it come when the player has left the club or when his contract is up?
That’s to say that Lampard has more than ample opportunity to make more than a few observers eat their words. Or prove them right. Either way, it’s a reach to try to draw a conclusion so early. And why the rush to judgement?
Lampard made his first start of the season on Saturday afternoon and just eight minutes in, he scored a goal which gave his club a lead they would never give up. For a team that has often locked up at home in Yankee Stadium, Lampard helped set the tone early and propelled NYCFC with those patented runs into the box from midfield. The foul he earned at the top of the box in the second half set up teammate Andrea Pirlo for the all-important third goal.
There are 18 more regular season matches remaining for Lampard and NYCFC, not to mention what could follow in the playoffs. When Columbus Crew SC midfielder Federico Higuain joined his MLS club in midseason of the 2012 season, he appeared in just 13 matches and there were some who wanted him in the MVP running.
Let’s just say that in those 18 matches that are left Lampard puts away 10 goals and maybe 5-8 assists and NYCFC make their first postseason. Can the argument still be made that Lampard was the worst signing in MLS history? Absolutely not. What if they win MLS Cup?
The NYCFC supporters gave Lampard a standing ovation when he came out of Saturday's match in the 75th minute. That’s the most love Lampard has received in the less than one year since he made his MLS debut.
The fact that the Chelsea legend controversially joined in midseason last year contributed to the negative perception. The injuries that have prevented Lampard from playing have not given him a chance to prove that he deserves the big bucks. And while the articles have been ripping him, he has had to bite his lip. Until he can actually play extended minutes, he's in a no-win situation if he tries to defend himself in the media.
Lampard has to do it on the field and Saturday was that first step. The narrative can still change. What will the headlines be if it does?