New York City FC announced on Saturday that Italian midfielder Andre Pirlo is out of tonight’s game against Orlando City SC as the 38-year-old veteran will have to go under treatment for a minor knee injury.
Pirlo didn’t make NYCFC’s game day roster for three straight matches, when the club was undefeated, before he returned to Patrick Vieira’s starting lineup Wednesday, in the 2-1 defeat against Real Salt Lake.
The Italian is one of the greatest players of his country’s history, but his recent form raises the question: is his absence a good or a bad thing for Orlando City?
The first step to answering this question is taking a look at New York City FC’s results this year. With Pirlo on the field, NYCFC has three wins, one tie, and four losses, including two setbacks to Orlando City. Without the Italian, the New Yorkers seem to perform better, amassing two wins and one tie.
When Pirlo is on the field, he still excels at what has probably been the trademark of his entire career: his passing ability. The Italian has an 82.8% passing accuracy rating according to WhoScored.com and plays a pivotal role in NYCFC’s possession-based playing style.
This season, however, Pirlo is struggling to make his passing skills translate into offensive productivity as he is yet to record an assist. It’s worth remembering that the Italian amassed 16 assists in his first two MLS seasons — one fewer than Kaká did in the same period — a number that puts him as the all-time assists leader for NYCFC, alongside forward David Villa.
If his offensive production has been nothing to call home about, it’s on the defensive end of the ball that things get ugly for Pirlo. The Italian was never praised for his defensive instincts and, at the age of 38, lacks the mobility and the energy he once had. That’s why plays like this happen.
Ureña takes advantage of the #NYCFC mistake, it's 1-0 @SJEarthquakes! #NYCvSJ https://t.co/ObWYcSORgd— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 1, 2017
His presence on the field usually overloads midfielders Alexander Ring and Maxi Moralez on the defensive end. The Argentinean, especially, needs to play deeper to cover the space the Italian is not able to and finds himself more distant from the opposition’s box more often than he would like to.
With Pirlo out, his presumable replacement is defensive midfielder Mikey Lopez, who is expected to help NYCFC’s midfield regain its usual balance, as the 24-year-old brings the energy and the stamina the Italian is not able to provide anymore.
Even though Pirlo is one of the best Italian players ever, his contributions to New York City FC have been nothing but modest in 2017. The veteran can still be a threat with his long balls and on set pieces, but his team apparently found a competitive shape without him and his defensive flaws.
As Orlando has a very dynamic midfield, with players such as Will Johnson and Cristian Higuita, Pirlo’s presence would definitely be a liability to NYCFC. If he’s actually replaced in the lineup by a player who brings more energy to the field, the midfield battle tends to be harder for OCSC.