New York City F.C. learned a lesson or two from their rivals-in-waiting about entering the Big Apple. They addressed the primary misstep by these Red Bulls by expressing a strict desire to play within the city proper. They grasped the need to make a big splash in the marketplace as soon as possible. And they understood the requirement to sign a prominent star or two to raise awareness and spearhead the efforts on the field.
David Villa will follow in the footsteps of Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez after signing with NYCFC on Monday morning. The Spanish national team striker announced his departure from Champions League finalists and La Liga winners Atlético Madrid for a undisclosed and undoubtedly lucrative move elsewhere on Sunday. He took less than 24 hours to confirm his widely reported switch to MLS.
“Throughout my career I’ve always tried to keep pushing myself to achieve new targets and this represents another important goal for me,” Villa said in a statement released by the team on Monday morning. “I want to try and help MLS continue to grow, through playing, working hard, scoring goals and at the same time try to make New York City FC become the best team in the league. It’s a real honor that the people who have formed the club have focused their attention on me. I’m keen to do the best I can, take on board that extra responsibility and prove my worth by repaying the confidence they have shown in me.”
His next move – after a third World Cup appearance with Spain, of course – certainly fulfills that brief. NYCFC has a technical staff, a temporary home and little else at this point. Villa represents one of the cornerstones for a club in desperate need of them at this stage.
“David Villa is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished soccer players and best strikers in the world,” NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said in the statement. "I couldn’t be happier that we have acquired such an amazing talent as our first-ever signing. David will be a shining example of what it will mean to be a New York City player and a leader for us on and off the field. He is hard working, he is a natural competitor, he is a winner at heart, and he is a terrific man. David has checked every box for what we were looking for in our first signing and it is a great day to be a member of this growing family of a club."
It is difficult to go astray plumping for the all-time leading scorer for the World Cup holders to provide some of the bedrock. Villa, 32, isn’t at the height of his powers, but he remains an effective and potent contributor capable of making a significant impact in MLS. His performance in the Champions League final and his sustained presence in the Spain squad reflects those realities.
Villa’s cultured approach to forward play also dovetails neatly with the aspirational approach of manager Jason Kreis and the NYCFC hierarchy. He combines well with others, drops intelligently into spaces and threatens with sharp runs behind and through the lines. He won’t stretch the field much vertically with his advancing years, but his clever running should benefit him a great deal as he transitions to MLS.
His flexibility also benefits Kreis as he attempts to shape his squad. Villa isn’t the sort of player pigeonholed into one role. He can partner a more robust forward in Kreis’ 4-4-2 diamond setup or slide out into his usual wide position in the 4-3-3 often preferred by the City hierarchy. In either spot, he possesses the ability to influence matches and score his fair share of goals.
The prospect of pairing Villa with Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard – an oft-rumored MLS target over the past several years now heavily linked with NYCFC – also relieves some of the inherent responsibility to sell the club. Lampard – if he indeed signs – offers a standardbearer of the highest quality, the sort of figure capable of commanding and maintaining attention in a crowded market. Villa offers personality as well, but the potential arrival of another, bigger name can allow him to focus on his playing duties.
By identifying Villa – an experienced player with vast experience at the top levels – as a target and tempting him to join MLS, NYCFC revealed their understanding about the road ahead. The new number seven adheres to the standards established in the past and charts an intelligent course for the future for this new side. He is a flashy name with impressive credentials, yet he fits neatly into Kreis’ intricate plans.
Most importantly, Villa’s arrival offers a determined signal of intent to show NYCFC plans to challenge the Red Bulls for star power and make a concerted impact in New York City. And that path shows how quickly this new club has learned from its predecessor about the importance of meeting those ingrained standards in NYC from day one.