A regular starter since he arrived at New York City FC in 2015, McNamara has played a total of just 43 minutes in three substitute appearances this season.
But as McNamara ran onto the field at Yankee Stadium, the fan favorite hoped to make a difference. He would do that just four minutes later, scoring what proved to be the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.
“Whenever you’re on the field, it’s an opportunity,” McNamara said, “whether you’re starting or have been starting for 10 weeks in a row, or you’re just coming off the bench and you haven’t played at all in the season. It’s always an opportunity, a chance to make an impression within the coaching staff and club.”
McNamara came on for an ineffective Pirlo in the 63rd minute. The Italian legend’s bouncing back pass to Sean Johnson led to San Jose’s 6th-minute goal, and he nearly cost NYCFC again on a tackle on Quakes goalscorer Marco Ureña in the 55th minute.
However, Vieira offered praise rather than criticism of Pirlo in his postgame press conference.
“I made a decision to take off Andrea. It’s not because he was having a bad game,” Vieira said. “I think he was playing quite well. The way we were playing in the first half, he was managing to get on the ball and dictate our game. We just wanted something a little bit different and that’s why I changed Andrea and Tommy. It went in the right way.”
It certainly did. Four minutes after coming on, McNamara stroked home his first goal of the season to cap a sensational passing sequence that started with Ronald Matarrita’s pressure forcing a turnover in midfield.
“I remember thinking to myself to get myself into the box, to get myself free and into a good area,” McNamara said. “When the ball broke through with Mata when he got in behind, I was just hoping he’d cut it back to me, but I didn’t know if he saw me or not. Thankfully he did and played a perfect ball to me, and I made sure to put it in frame, because the goalie was a little bit out of the equation at the time.”
Has McNamara put himself into Vieira’s equation now? The coach joked that with so many postgame questions about him, he surely has to start McNamara now. But Vieira said he’s been pleased with the 26-year-old’s willingness to work for his team, even though playing time has been sparse this season.
“I always love Tommy – not just the player, but the person,” Vieira said. “He’s been a professional and his work ethic in training didn’t change at all. Even more, he wants to show me he deserves to be on the field. That’s what I like, what I appreciate about him.”