“[Lampard] is healthy now,” the San Jose Earthquakes captain said Thursday, punctuating his statement with a laugh and a shrug. “I don’t know [what to say]. It really is that simple. He’s obviously a world-class player. It’s not like he just lost it when he comes to the United States and can’t find it. When he’s healthy, he’s going to show it.”
In this case, “show it” has meant eight goals in as many matches since June 18 for Lampard, including a hat trick last weekend against the Colorado Rapids.
That kind of form has helped push NYCFC to the top of the Eastern Conference table, making them that much more formidable an opponent for the Quakes to face Friday night at Avaya Stadium (11 pm ET; UniMás in US | MLS LIVE in Canada).
“A lot more dangerous,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said of an NYCFC attack featuring an in-form Lampard. “No offense to the other guys in the lineup, but I think I’m sure if you asked [NYCFC coach] Patrick Vieira if he’d rather have a healthy Frank Lampard or another option, I think he’s going to pick a healthy Frank Lampard.
“The kid Jack Harrison is playing well for them right now. [Andrea] Pirlo does his things. They break well, and their movement seems to be a step ahead. They find the pass before maybe some other guys do, and it gives them space on the field. And Frank Lampard is one of the best at coming late and being deadly in front of the goal.”
That fact puts immense pressure on a Quakes’ backline that hasn’t posted a clean sheet since May 28 and only has four shutouts on the season after collecting 12 last year.
“I’m a Chelsea fan, so I’ve seen a lot of him over the years,” San Jose defender Jordan Stewart said of Lampard. “He always used to find those positions where the ball was getting cut back on the edge of the box and he’s always come in and score those goals and be in the right place at the right time. … It’s of one those things where, if you’ve got talent, it’s eventually going to come to show and, as you can see, he’s been performing well."
Said Kinnear: “The one thing that anybody who’s ever been around him or followed his career knows, he’s a goalscorer from midfield. That’s why he’s had the career that he’s had.”
It helps also that Lampard is playing on a team that boasts some of the league’s biggest concentration of firepower. NYCFC currently leads MLS at 1.74 goals per game.
Stewart joked that he would be getting in touch with Bradley Wright-Phillips to learn “the secret key” that Wright-Phillips’ Red Bulls squad uncovered in walloping their cross-town rivals 7-0 early this season. But Vieira might have already called in a locksmith; his squad was far more prepared to deal with the pressure in beating the Red Bulls 2-0 last month.
“Frank, when he gets on the ball, whether he’s deep or not, he can find passes,” Stewart said. “He’s got a good range of passes, whether it’s long or short or little dinks over the top for players. So he’s a dangerous player, along with a lot of the New York City guys. It’s up to us to kind of nullify that and press high and, being at home, to be the aggressor.”