Ismael Tajouri instantly takes to new position as NYCFC need him

NEW YORK — Ismael Tajouri was recruited by New York City FC to provide depth on the left wing, to push Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita for minutes. 

The Libyan never expected his first Major League Soccer start would come as the replacement for David Villa

That was the case Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. When Villa failed a late fitness test after picking up a calf injury last week against the LA Galaxy, NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira called on Tajouri to play the No. 9 role against Orlando City SC

It was as foreign to Tajouri as the city he now lives in and the new league in which he plays. But the 23-year-old, who was born in Bern, Switzerland, simply went with the plan Vieira provided him.

“He told me I would start at No. 9. He knows that’s not my position, but he said that I will do it,” Tajouri said. “He said what I can do and I must do. I think we do it well.”

After 10 minutes, the front three of Tajouri, Wallace and Jesus Medina played musical chairs, rotating among the three attacking positions. 

“It’s just understanding each other, understanding each other’s movements and knowing that the main goal is to work hard for the team and that’s going to give us a better chance of winning games,” Wallace said.

Tajouri isn’t as comfortable as the No. 9, but he made it work, just as he’s not as confident shooting with his right foot. 

But yet, there he was in the 62nd minute of a scoreless game, taking a touch on to his right after dispossessing Lions goalkeeper Joe Bendik and slotting past the helpless keeper from 14 yards out for his first career MLS goal. 

The goal was very much a gift after a heavy pass back to Bendik from Yoshimar Yotun that forced the goalkeeper to try to clear first-time fell right to Tajouri. But the feeling of elation was the same regardless of the situation that led to him opening his account. 

“I think most goals is with the left foot because I am [left-footed],” he said. “My right, to be honest, is not so good. Today I needed the right one and the right one was here. It was great to score one goal with the right foot.”

Tajouri arrived in New York City after a career year at Austria Wien, the club he came up through as a youth, where he had 10 goals across all competitions. 

“I think Ismael is a really good player one against one, he’s really good in a really tight space, he’s really comfortable with the ball and he has pace,” Vieira said. “You can just see the way he takes his goal today, I think he was really calm and composed in front of goal and he’s a goal scorer. All these elements are quite really good with the way we want to play the game.”

At Austria Wien, Tajouri befriended Daniel Royer, who played there from 2013-15, so when he was considering the offer made by NYCFC, it was the rival Red Bulls starting winger who helped endorse the move. 

“I asked him about New York, I asked him also about MLS and he gave me some good information,” Tajouri said. “It was good from him and I think it was a good choice. I want now to keep continuing.”

Tajouri might be new to New York and MLS, but he’s well aware of the intense derby between the two sides, pointing out quickly he hasn’t talked to Royer regularly since he arrived. 

“I don’t text with him so much, but he helped me when I came here so he’s a great guy, a great player,” Tajouri said. “We will see when we play against Red Bull New York I will see him again and tell him one time thank you.”

Before addressing the media Saturday, Tajouri raced to the visitor’s locker room to exchange jerseys with defender Mohamed El-Munir, a fellow Libyan who arrived in MLS just two weeks before Tajouri. 

“We changed the jersey, took a little picture because it’s great two new Libyan guys are playing in MLS,” Tajouri said, “But what is important is that we continue now.”

As NYCFC moves forward, Vieira does so with the knowledge Tajouri is a versatile threat, though with the possibility of both left-sided attacking players — Wallace and Matarrita, who came off after just six minutes with a hamstring injury — being part of Costa Rica’s World Cup squad, opportunities to play will come more frequently for Tajouri. 

“Today he was good,” Vieira said. “He played in a position he wasn’t used to it, but he worked hard for the team and he managed to score the goal so it’s a really good day for him and the team.”