David Villa
(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

New York City F.C. sporting director Claudio Reyna shared the club isn’t interested in buying stars from Europe. Is this the right path?

Just four years ago New York City F.C. had two of the best midfielders of this young century on their roster, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, along with one of the best forwards, David Villa.

Lampard left in 2016, Pirlo left in 2017, and this one hurt the Cityzens’ fan the most: Villa leaving in 2018.

The club didn’t replace their megastars with megastars. After Lampard left in 2016, NYCFC acquired Maxi Moralez from Liga MX side Club Leon. The following season, after Pirlo’s departure the next defensive midfielders NYCFC brought in were homegrown player James Sands and former VfB Stuttgart man Ebenezer Ofori.

And after Villa’s exit, the club signed rising Romanian star Alexandru Mitrita.

Some NYCFC fans weren’t shy to express that they wanted their megastars to be replaced with other megastars on social media:

To these fans’ despair, NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna noted that the club isn’t too keen on bringing superstars.

“We made a strategic decision early on to bring in players that were recognizable and were known in world football,” Reyna said via ESPN.

“But now I think we’re in a different stage as a club. We’ve matured, and our fans are aware that more than anything they want to see a good team that gives 100 percent for the club and for the jersey. That’s what excites me. That’s kind of been our focus, and that’s where we are today with this team.”

Are The Pigeons flying to the right direction of the MLS Cup by not bringing superstars from Europe?

MLS 2018 champions Atlanta United’s top two players from last season were former Serie A mid-table side Torino player Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, a young midfielder from Argentine team Club Atletico Lanus who had never played a single game in a European league.

As for the 2017 American titlists Toronto F.C., their Designated Players were Sebastian Giovinco, a midfielder who did have a very promising start but didn’t live up to his expectation in Italy, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, two players who couldn’t really make a name for themselves in the top leagues in Europe.

Going back to 2016, champions Seattle Sounders’ three top scorers were Clint Dempsey, a forward who did have quite a solid career in England but only broke in the 10 Top Ten scorers list once, Homegrown Player Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro, who only played in Europe for two years with AFC Ajax.

Portland Timbers didn’t have a star from Europe in 2015 when they won the league either. You’d have to go back to 2014 to find a former star from across the sea who helped an American side win the MLS. And that was Robbie Keane with L.A. Galaxy.

As for a megastar from the European leagues, David Beckham is the only ex or current well-known player around the world to lift the MLS Cup out of eight other players Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Lampard, Villa, and Pirlo.

Looking at the past champions the trick was to acquire a couple of solid players from a mid-table or bottom club in Europe, Martinez and Altidore for example, or a rising youngster from a second-rate league as Almiron or New York Bulls 24-year-old playmaker Kaku—NYRB didn’t win the MLS in 2018 but they did win the Supporters’ Shield Cup.

It seems that NYCFC is going by this formula. Going into the 2019 campaign, the Bronx based club has Moralez on their roster, a playmaker who played for Atalanta B.C. in Italy and they signed Mitrita in February. At only 24 years of age Mitrita had a quick spell in Italy as well before putting up two great seasons in an unpopular league, Liga I in Romania.

Why does this formula work? These players are younger hence they’re more motivated, healthier and will be around longer. Pirlo, who joined NYCFC at 36, left the club after three seasons and only played 60 league-games due to injuries. Lampard parted away from New York after two seasons, so did Drogba with Montreal Impact.

Furthermore, when you bring in an average player from Europe, there’s more space left, moneywise, to sign other solid players.

On the other side of the argument, one advantage inking superstars does come with is a high revenue. The Boys in Blue’s attendance dropped from 29, 016 to 22, 643 after Pirlo and Lampard exited the club.

Perhaps Reyna was talking about revenue when he said: “We made a strategic decision early on to bring in players that were recognizable and were known in world football.”

Having Villa, Lampard and Pirlo in the first few seasons was a brilliant idea to rally fans at Yankee Stadium.

Reyna continued: “But now I think we’re in a different stage as a club.”

Different stage means a different strategy. Will signing less known but solid players work for The Bronx Blues? It sure has worked for other clubs.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.