View from Couch: As Frank Lampard says farewell, options open for NYCFC

Editor's note: Frank Lampard officially put an end to his 21-year career on Thursday by announcing his retirement. This article from MLSsoccer.com Senior Editor Ben Couch, originally published after Lampard's departure from New York City FC in November 2016, chronicles his time in MLS.


Welp.

Thus ends the Frank Lampard era at New York City FC.

This one didn't run in 24 frames per second of continuous film; it was a Designated Player signing – the fourth roster move made by the nascent squad – that revealed itself in snapshots. Here's the photo essay:

The Signing

The parade began July 2014, when Lampard signed for NYCFC, revealed in a spectacular "How time flies!" NYCFC.com photo gallery featuring a Jason Kreis cameo (Pic No. 2) and some sweet pre-kit release merch.

Frank on Frank: "I am really excited about joining New York City FC and helping to play a real part in building something special in one of the sporting capitals of the world. I am looking forward to meeting New Yorkers and tapping into their love of the game. It is a privilege to be able to help make history here in New York City – I just can’t wait to get started and be part of it.”

MLS on Frank: "I am delighted Frank has joined us, he was an obvious choice. I have played against him many times and can vouch for his quality. Frank is one of the best midfielders to have played the modern game, a legend in England and hopefully he will become one here, too."
—NYCFC Director of Football Claudio Reyna

The Delay

NYCFC's inaugural season didn't open until March 2015, and within two weeks of his signing, Lampard was off to Manchester City to join the sibling club. And then he scored six goals in 17 games and was on that extension tho. Nearly 10 days passed before Lampard issued a statement to declare a firm debut date during the summer transfer window.

Frank on Frank: "I was offered the chance to train and be part of the Man City squad in the interim to keep myself in the best shape going into New York. This period has since been extended by Man City and I now will start playing for NYCFC at the end of this current Premier League season. There has always been a constant dialogue between all parties in this time to find the best solution for everyone.”

MLS on Frank: “Frank Lampard's performance at Manchester City reaffirms that he is one of the world’s elite midfielders and we look forward to him joining NYCFC during the 2015 season.”
—MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott

The Debut

Lampard arrived for a first training on July 1, but a calf strain quickly sidetracked his debut, which didn't come for another month – a 21-minute showing toward the end of a 3-2 loss to Montreal. The first goal followed a month after that, when Lampard reined in RJ Allen's looping back-pass and hit a game-winning strike against Toronto FC.

Frank on Frank: "I think the fans have supported the team fantastically and they did for me today. It’s up to me now to repay that by playing well."

MLS on Frank: "He's a player you don’t want to just throw out there and throw him to the wolves a bit. He has to be built into the soccer fitness because he’s been out for quite a long time. We still have one or two small injuries, but to have all the big guns ready and available is exciting."
— Former NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis

The Pinnacle

Sure, the hat trick was a big deal: first in NYCFC history, yada, yada … But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared September 1, 2016 to be "Frank Lampard Day" – perhaps prematurely – and it turned out prescient, as Lampard not only bagged a brace, but also scored the game-winner in the third minute of stoppage time to clinch a crucial intra-conference matchup.

Lampard made it through just 137 more minutes before before exiting with an injury against FC Dallas on September 17. He missed the next three regular-season games, making substitute appearances in the finale and playoff opener against Toronto before a 90-minute run in the punchless, 5-0 elimination game.

Frank on Frank: "Last-minute winners are always the best ones. I don’t get bored of that. That’s what you work for. When I was injured early in the season and you slug away in the gym, you dream of moments like that. That’s what inspires you to keep working."

MLS on Frank: "Of course it’s a disappointment, because Frank was doing really well for us. We will be without him for 3-4 weeks – and it’s a big blow, of course, because since Frank has been back from injury, we scored a lot of goals and the team was playing much better."
–NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira

The Farewell

As it began, thus it ends, with gracious statements from NYCFC and Lampard about each other and the support of the city and its fans. His exit, after a tumultuous, though ultimately successful two seasons – Final Line: 29 games (24 starts), 15 goals, 4 assists – leaves NYC with an opportunity: much as they did in replacing Jason Kreis when they identified the need for a different fit atop the coaching staff, Lampard's exit opens a DP slot with an opportunity to recast the signing for someone who could not only slide into the existing, clear structure Vieira provides, but also be closer to the upswing of their prime, with room to grow into the starring role a la Mauro Diaz or Ignacio Piatti. We'll soon find out exactly how much NYCFC brass has learned to adjust and adapt as they head into Year Three. The expansion era is over.

Frank on Frank: "My teammates have been a pleasure to play alongside. The amazing fans have given me incredible support and backing. I have very much enjoyed my time, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for such a great club and in such an incredible city."

MLS on Frank: "On and off the pitch he has been a fantastic ambassador. I would tell any young player to watch Frank, to see how he’s conducted himself over the last two years and to use that as inspiration as to how an elite, professional footballer should approach the game"
— Claudio Reyna

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