Finding a solution to the Andrea Pirlo ‘problem’ in MLS; By Steve Davis


Let’s call it the “Pirlo Problem.” Not because the elegant Italian midfield maestro is a “problem” per se. But rather because he perfectly illustrates a brain-teaser that MLS coaches are increasingly dealing with.

We love to see these splashy names coming into MLS. Yes, the narrative of MLS as a retirement home is annoying and possibly problematic. But most fans get past it quickly because it means the great unwashed can personally witness legends – seriously, legends – perform in meaningful competition inside MLS grounds.

Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba (and previously the likes of Thierry Henry, David Beckham and so forth) qualify as legitimate greats of the game. Giovani dos Santos, freshly landed and lauded in Los Angeles, isn’t quite there yet, but he’s not that far away. In terms of popular appeal, the Mexican star clearly is already there.

So these guys fill seats, add a more TV eyeballs and, hopefully, improve the MLS product through higher match-day quality and daily tutelage of the younger and lesser skilled.

But then we get to the “Pirlo Problem.”

Again, it’s not a problem so much as a puzzle that needs careful piecing together. (You see where the “Pirlo puzzle that needs careful piecing together” just doesn’t have the same ring.)

In one way, these guys are a little like those terrible fires out West, the ones that create their own small weather systems. Pirlo at NYCFC, Kaka at Orlando City and others like them, past and present, are hefty enough names and sufficiently talented craftsmen that they create their own little weather systems inside the facility.

So it is up to Jason Kreis, the wise-beyond-his-years manager at NYCFC, and others like him to create the optimum conditions around their new star men, the better to extract all that can be reasonably extracted from them.

Pirlo is the fabulously bearded embodiment of it. The guy can clearly impact an MLS match. We saw it as soon as he took to the small field at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. In his typically effortless way, Pirlo eliminated one, two or three defenders at a time with precision passes. Not a slew of them, but more in about half an hour than some MLS midfielders will make in a month. That first appearance was a mouth-watering goal fest, a win over Orlando City.

But then we saw his second match, and the reality of the “Pirlo Problem” took hold like a killer leg cramp. Kreis’ club fell at home to Montreal, and the tactical conundrum presented by the Bronx’s newest Italian special brew was there for all to see. He can’t cover ground, and there was frequently a bewildering amount of space to be found in front of two overmatched NYCFC center backs. Clearly, that has to be addressed.

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