New York City FC more comfortable, still excited as "Year 2" cranks up

NEW YORK – It was all new a year ago, new teammates embarking on a new journey. For some, it was their first foray in Major League Soccer. For all, it was a first time competing at Yankee Stadium – a first time calling New York City home.

Year 1 was always going to have growing pains and that was evident in the final MLS standings. But for New York City FC players, there’s a greater comfort level as Year 2 gets underway.

“When you know all the things in the life, not only in soccer, you are more comfortable,” NYCFC captain David Villa said at the club’s annual media day Thursday at Yankee Stadium. “You know all the stadiums when we play away, we know more things about Yankee Stadium at home. Obviously the second year is better for us.”

For those who are back, including Villa, Mix Diskerud, Josh Saunders and Andrea Pirlo, there’s more camaraderie this March. After all, Pirlo and Frank Lampard weren’t even teammates this time a year ago.

“The excitement is not over,” Pirlo said through a translator. “Actually I was here only for a few months last season, so I think this is really the beginning of the adventure.”

The expectation this year is the same as it was a year ago – to make the playoffs. But the path to get there is a bit clearer this March.

“I think we have a better grasp of the expectation,” Saunders said. “Last year everything was new. Coming back this year, we have a familiarity with it.”

While Villa has an entire year of experience under his belt, the club’s other two Designated Players – Pirlo and Lampard – joined in the summer. Now, all three have been together from the start of preseason, although Lampard has been hampered with a calf strain and will likely miss Sunday’s home opener against Toronto FC (5 pm ET; ESPN2, MLS LIVE, SN1 in Canada).

“You’re talking about three players who had fantastic careers,” Vieira said of NYCFC’s big three. “I’m really happy with the way they’re working in training, with how they interact with younger players to make them better, to make them improve. They have a massive part to play in our success.”

But Pirlo doesn’t consider himself a mentor to the younger NYCFC players.

“I’m only a player here,” he said. “I’m not here to bring up other young players. I’m here to help the team do its best and win. Of course, I’m always happy to give advice if anybody wants it, but we have a coach. He’s a coach for me and he’s a coach for the younger players. He’s a coach for all of us.”

Of course, the biggest change is on the sideline, where Vieira has instituted a new formation and new demands on the team, physically and mentally.

“He is our coach and he came with a change of pace for all of us,” Pirlo said. “He really wants to win and he’s changing our frame of mind.”