As a player who has won a World Cup, two UEFA Champions League titles and six Italian league championships, Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo is a natural fit for a New York City FC side looking to start its own winning tradition.
Pirlo made his debut for the expansion club Sunday as a second-half substitute in NYC FC's 5-3 win over Orlando City and his former AC Milan teammate Kaka. The Yankee Stadium crowd of 32,041 also saw NYC FC's other marquee player, David Villa, score twice.
"I'm very happy with this debut. I'm very excited about the victory. It couldn't be better than this," Pirlo, 36, said through a translator. The Italian playmaker was acquired this summer from four-time reigning Italian league champion Juventus, and was directly involved in the build-up for two NYC goals.
Thomas McNamara's 71st- minute goal gave NYC a 4-2 lead. After Orlando City's Cyle Larin completed a hat trick in the 85th to make it a one-goal game, NYC's Mix Diskerud clinched it with a stoppage- time goal.
Javier Calle also scored, and Kwadwo Poku had three assists for NYC (6-9-6; 24 points), which moved into a tie with Orlando and Montreal for the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Villa scored from the edge of the penalty area in the 45th minute to punctuate a first half that featured frequent "We want Pirlo" chants.
Larin equalized for Orlando (6-9-6) in the 50th minute before Calle tapped in a McNamara cross three minutes later. In the 57th minute, Pirlo made his entrance.
"It was great because they wanted me to play," Pirlo said. "When I got on the pitch, it was great to feel this great applause. It was very emotional and I really appreciated it."
Larin equalized again in the 61st minute, but four minutes later, Pirlo played a ball to Poku, who assisted on Villa's go-ahead goal.
After Larin's third goal, Kaka had a chance to tie it at 4 in stoppage time, but his free kick hit the post, leading to a counterattack that ended in Diskerud's goal.
NYC FC fans could be treated to another debut next week against Montreal. Coach Jason Kreis said star English midfielder Frank Lampard "should be ready" for the match.