PURCHASE, N.Y. – When did New York City FC make their playoff push?
Coach Patrick Vieira traces its origins to Frank Lampard returning from a preseason calf injury in late June.
“Frank is really important for us because when we start pushing for this playoff spot, that was related to Frank coming back to the team,” Vieira said. “That was when we were playing well and it’s always good to have him back in the team.”
Lampard came off the substitute’s bench for two more games before earning his first start of the season against the Philadelphia Union on June 18, scoring a goal in the 3-2 win. With the veteran midfielder in the starting lineup, NYCFC won four in a row and five of six, making a rapid ascent up the Eastern Conference standings.
Lampard had 12 goals in 15 consecutive starts before suffering another calf injury late in the first half of a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas on Sept. 17, sidelining him for another month.
The 38-year-old made his return Sunday, coming off the bench for the final 17 minutes and immediately made an impact. He had a pair of assists in a 4-1 win over Columbus Crew SC that clinched the No. 2 seed in the East for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs debutants.
“Of course, he’s a very good player for the team, a very important player for the team. We missed him a lot the games he was out,” NYCFC captain David Villa said this week. “Now you saw the other day, he gets on the pitch and he gave us a lot, he helped us a lot. He, Khiry [Shelton] and Jason [Hernandez] switched the game. Columbus was better than us on the pitch and they switched the game.”
But how match fit is Lampard? Is he available to start Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals? In the team’s first training session since Sunday’s win, Lampard trained fully Wednesday morning without issue.
“We have to see how he’s going to react to the workload, but this morning he did a full session with no problem at all. When everyone was off, he came to do some work yesterday,” Vieira said. “He knows himself and there is no reason why I’m not going to start him, but at the same time I have to look at his workload and see how he’s going to do this week physically.”