NEW YORK – It was 30 minutes of brilliance, according to NYCFC forward David Villa.
That was the Spaniard's assessment of Andrea Pirlo’s Major League Soccer debut in a 5-3 win over Orlando City at Yankee Stadium Sunday.
“He just got here on Tuesday and look at what he did in a half-an-hour,” Villa said through a translator. “His half-an-hour was fantastic.”
Many in the crowd of 32,041 chanted “We want Pirlo” throughout the first half and they stood in unison when the Italian legend emerged next to fourth official Robert Sibiga.
Mehdi Ballouchy came off and Pirlo came on amidst a deafening roar in the 56th minute.
It was Pirlo Party time.
“It was very emotional when I got on the pitch,” Pirlo said through a translator. “Despite the heat, it felt great. Since we won, it’s even better.”
Almost immediately, Pirlo demanded the ball.
“The first thing that happened when he was on the field was he went down to Josh Saunders and wanted the ball even though he had two people around him,” midfielder Mix Diskerud said. “I don’t know if you saw that, but I was laughing on the sideline. He wants the ball all the time.”
Pirlo’s demeanor, as much as his quality, proved to be a calming influence to his new teammates.
“Special, special player, obviously, a guy who sees passes that most of us don’t, who can really open up the game,” NYCFC coach Jason Kreis said. “From what I saw right away is our team opening up and really using every ounce of space out there because they felt like he could find them.”
Pirlo’s every touch and pass was met with rapturous applause. He didn’t score – that honor went to Villa, who netted a brace as well as Javier Calle, Tommy McNamara and Diskerud, who each scored in the second half – or take one of his patented free kicks. But Pirlo set the table for an avalanche of goals in the second half, twice playing balls to Kwadwo Poku (three assists) that led to NYCFC goals.
“He made a big difference for us and that’s his first game after four days of training with the team,” Kreis said. “We will hope for even better going forward.”
Of course there are adjustments to be made for Pirlo, both on and off the field on game days.
“It’s a new thing for me to see all these people in the locker room and also to be on the pitch and hearing all this music,” Pirlo said. “It’s different, but I’ll get used to it pretty quickly.”
But the difference with Pirlo on the field is palpable for Villa.
“Everything changes,” he said. “Obviously we have a great coach and this is a team that needs to play. We’ve been playing the ball way too long and we haven’t really played the ball right, especially when we get the ball out. Now there will be no more long ball when Pirlo is in the game.”