Alexandru Mitrita captivated the New York City FC crowd at Yankee Stadium with every touch of the ball, making a rampaging run through midfield in the first half and a free kick that nearly resulted in his first league goal.
But who is Mitrita? Why did he choose to come to NYCFC? And what’s with that tattoo on his neck? Those questions, and more, are answered as we learn 10 Things about Alexandru Mitrita.
The nickname goes beyond the comparable height. The two are also similar on the field with the ability to navigate through tight spaces, draw fouls, score goals with either foot and hit thunderous free kicks.
“It's a pretty popular phrase that’s thrown around, even [in] our locker room,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “He has very, very similar qualities. Obviously Giovinco is a special player and Mitri coming in I think he has a platform to really, really show his quality in a club like this. So hopefully we can do the best to help him get where he needs to be. And also help us get where we need to be as a club.”
NYCFC coach Dome Torrent, though, said Mitrita reminds him more of Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho of FC Barcelona.
“Mitria can play really well. He has the quality to play in the left side, the No. 10, even the false nine because he has quality to play with us,” he said. “He scored many goals last year for Craiova. The most important thing for us is we have a new player who has quality to play and join with Maxi [Moralez] and these kind of players.”
Mitrita’s face lit up when asked about the comparison to Giovinco. That’s because the diminutive Italian is a player he admires.
“He’s one of my favorite players — Giovinco and [Lionel] Messi. I loved Giovinco playing here for MLS, for Toronto. I tell you, it’s my favorite player,” he said. “We have the same style — small player with good dribbling, good shooting.”
Not El Guaje
Mitrita might draw comparisons to Giovinco and he idolizes Messi, but he’s not David Villa. Yes, he’s a foreign Designated Player tasked with scoring goals for NYCFC, but that’s where it ends.
“The people think about Mitrita replace David Villa. No, it’s not true,” Torrent said. “Mitrita is a top player, he played amazing in the both sides, even as a No. 10, but I don’t expect Mitrita to score 30 goals, 25 goals. We have to score as a team.”
Good first impression
While Mitrita impressed the Cityzens fans on Sunday, he already dazzled his teammates in preseason.
“If you guys would see him in practice, it's amazing what the kid can do with the ball, how dynamic he is,” midfielder Alex Ring said. “He’ll need a little bit of time to come into MLS, but I think fans are going to love him for sure.”
Welcome to MLS moment
Mitrita made his MLS debut in a 2-2 draw at Orlando City in Week 1, where he picked up his first assist on Ring’s first-half goal, took five shots and was fouled twice — a stat line similar to the Atomic Ant.
But before he acclimated to the hot and humid Orlando conditions, Mitrita got his first taste of MLS travel. After training in Orangeburg in the morning, the club was set to take a mid-afternoon flight to Orlando.
The team arrived at LaGuardia Airport for their commercial flight, but it was delayed several hours because of overnight snow. Once in the air, the flight was even longer than the scheduled three hours because the plane had to circle several times before landing.
In all, the trip took about 10 hours. And that was after Mitrita made the long journey from Romania to New York.
“It was so long,” he said. “I traveled a lot from Romania to here and to Orlando. But that’s my job, that’s football.”
An emotional return to Craiova
After officially signing as NYCFC’s third DP in early February, Mitrita joined the club in Abu Dhabi for preseason. He returned to NYCFC for the Orlando portion of their preseason, but first had unfinished business back in Romania.
Mitrita went back to his former club Craiova, which he originally joined on loan in July 2017 before signing on a permanent basis six months later.
He was named captain that July and wore the armband through his final match in December. Mitrita returned that armband.
“It was incredible for me,” he said. “It was very emotional. It was an incredible thing for me and for my life.”
Like many other MLS players, Mitritira expresses himself through body art, particularly a scripted message on the back of his neck in Romanian that reads: “distreaza-te pe teren,” or “have fun on the ground.”
It was advice given to him by two-time Romanian Footballer of the Year Ilie Balachi shortly before his death in October.
“I was at a party where we were at a table together. He told me that I had moments when I got out of the game and he told me that when he played, he was having fun on the field,” Mitrita told NYCFC.com. “That’s what I have to do when I play, to have fun on the ground. I appreciate these words and will remain eternally in my heart.”
A New York newbie
When Mitritira arrived in New York after the club’s Abu Dhabi trip, it marked the first time he’s been in the United States, let alone New York.
And while he’s made a good first impression on the NYCFC fans, and his teammates, the same is true of the Big Apple on Mitrita, who plans on living in Manhattan when he gets settled.
“It’s my first time, but it’s incredible,” Mitrita said at the club’s annual Media Day, which coincided with the 24-hour game at Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan. “I like it very much.”
So what made him choose NYCFC?
“It’s a big step in my career,” he said. “It’s a good team, a big team with a good coach. I have a lot of things to learn from my coach. It’s a big step in my life.”
Although he’s new to New York, Mitrita already did his homework on the city’s sports teams. And he plans on going to the local arenas, especially to watch New York’s two NBA teams — the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.
“I want to go to see all the sports here — basketball, hockey,” he said. “I like basketball.”
Maybe Torrent, an avid hoops fan himself, will bring him to a game.
“If you like the music, if you like basketball, you are in the right city,” Torrent said. “It’s the best city in the world; if you want to enjoy American football, hockey, you are in the right city.”
Some people have dinner and drinks with friends, others throw a party and some like to celebrate at home.
Mitrita celebrates his birthday by scoring goals.
On his preseason debut, Mitrita blasted a shot into the top corner against AIK for his first NYCFC goal on Feb. 8 on his 24th birthday before being serenaded by teammates at dinner that night.