NEW YORK — They started from the bottom and now they’re here.
Tommy McNamara and David Villa have seen it all at New York City FC, from a shaky start as an expansion team to the winners of back-to-back games to open the season for the first time in franchise history, following a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
It’s been a meteoric rise for a club that has been transformed under Patrick Vieira from an older, slower side featuring aging veterans Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo into a young, dynamic attacking juggernaut that is now a legitimate MLS Cup contender.
But McNamara isn’t surprised, in part, because of the what he calls the ambition of club owners City Football Group.
“This club, from the moment we came together, has been all about ambition,” McNamara said. “The first year was tough and we struggled, which is a part of the story, but since then we’ve gradually progressed and this year is a very big year for us.”
When Villa signed on June 2, 2014, the Spanish legend was a club of one, NYCFC’s first-ever player. He has witnessed firsthand the birth of a franchise, which the captain believes has matured beyond its years.
“More than surprised, I am impressed what the team is doing in a short time,” Villa said. “More than surprised, because I told you I was here from the start and I saw everything the club has done every day. It’s amazing. If you start to write or start to think about the things NYCFC have done in only three years, it’s amazing. It looks like NYCFC is born 10 years ago, right?”
There’s been significant turnover in each of the last two years, with 10 new players arriving this offseason. They’ve bolstered what’s now the deepest and arguably most talented roster yet assembled in Vieira’s third year in charge, after Jason Kreis was fired following a failed playoff push in Year 1.
The side Kreis and Orlando City SC will face on Saturday at Yankee Stadium (3:30 pm ET | Univision, Twitter in US) is a threat to attack from all angles, from the right (Anton Tinnerholm and Jesus Medina), the left (Ben Sweat, Rodney Wallace), the middle (Alex Ring, Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez) and of course up top with Villa, the one constant as NYCFC enters Year 4.
“Not only in the midfield, but in all the positions of the team, we are stronger than last year,” Villa said. “As a roster, not as a starting 11. I think we are more powerful, more people with more chance to play in the lineup, and this is great for the team.”
The change isn’t just on the roster, it’s also on the training pitch. This year, the club moved into its own state-of-the-art facility in Orangeburg, New York after three years of makeshift operations at Purchase College in Westchester.
“For us, as a club, its very big to have a permanent home,” McNamara said. “There’s a sense of home with it. Our temporary training facility was great for three years, it served its purpose and we enjoyed it, but now to have our own place, our own home, we feel more comfortable in it. We know it’s ours.”
With a great training ground comes great responsibility, according to Villa, who said NYCFC’s is second only to FC Barcelona’s in his experience.
“We have an amazing facility and it’s not for nothing,” Villa said. “It’s for fighting every day, Sunday by Sunday to give back to the club that they did for us. They’re working strong to have this kind of amazing facility. It’s a great responsibility that the team and the players need to take back to the club.”