Castillo: Before Andrea Pirlo retires, salute the unique joys he brought

Andrea Pirlo - New York City FC - Decision Day

This Sunday, in a match against Columbus Crew SC on Decision Day presented by AT&T, marks what is likely Andrea Pirlo’s last home club outing, in the regular season, before retiring (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE). And yes, for better or for worse, it comes at Citi Field rather than his actual home ground with New York City FC. It’s unclear, too, how many minutes he might actually play, particularly given that Jack Harrison’s likely to start, with the latter's recent red card rescinded

It may not be quite the climactic send-off one would hope for, though, of course, there’s always some potential playoff pomp on the horizon. And Pirlo hasn’t exactly formed part of head coach Patrick Vieira’s A squad for a while. Still, to focus on any of this would be doing a disservice to the legacy of an icon, both before and after his arrival at NYCFC. 

His two-plus years since he arrived in New York City brought an inscrutable, yet larger-than-life personality, whose presence lit up stands and behind-the-scene rooms like a rock star. If a minor frenzy followed him wherever he went – even fans at Red Bull Arena stood behind him, shrieking continuously, as he warmed up during the last New York Derby there – he only met it with a totally unruffled cool on the pitch.

When he leaves, he’ll take a unique brand of entertainment that many of us will sorely miss. At his best, Pirlo’s MLS adventure landed him somewhere akin to the uncanny valley, looking human on the surface, but at his peak during 2015 and 2016, turning otherworldly when he needed to be during the run of play. It seems like forever ago, but remember his debut game? He played 30 minutes to near-hysteria, and post-match praise from fellow titan David Villa — and his jersey even stayed tucked. 

Let’s re-savor couple other moments, here, that might have been forgotten in the fog of this season’s ups and downs:

That free-kick power really never flickered; even without many minutes this season, the pure class still made Pirlo
the top-ranked free-kick taker in FIFA 18

Off the field, too, following his comings and goings yielded multitudes; it felt like watching someone learn to relate to not just North Americans, but to mere mortals. Photos of him swanning about Brooklyn, or posing carefully with his dog, or learning to barbecue like a “real American boy” – complete with a dinner fork” – screamed for analysis that didn’t easily satisfy.

Was he having … fun? What did he think of this whole deal? We’d never really be able to tell, which only added to the sheer cool.

Wait, there was that moment when he met up with old Juventus pal Gigi Buffon and cracked a genuine smile. That brief flicker this summer yielded a passing and almost onion-chopping-ninja-ish glimpse at the human inside. 

Now, depending on how far NYCFC take the post-season, this entire package will head back to Italy (or, maybe to whichever dimension from whence he really came). It’s worth saluting the highs he brought during his best days here.