New York City F.C. sure knows how to make an entrance.
The MLS expansion team, slated to begin play in 2015, announced its first player signing on Monday, and it was a whopper, with Spain international David Villa coming on board.
It's the kind of signing that will give NYCFC some precious attention in the ultra-competitive New York sports market. And while it would be a stretch to say that Villa is at his peak, he still retains enough skill and savvy to have a major impact in MLS, as evidenced by the 13 goals he scored for La Liga champions Atletico Madrid in 36 league matches this season.
"This is exciting. We could visualize how we were going to play, now we can visualize who is going to play for us at Yankee Stadium," said NYCFC Director of Soccer Claudio Reyna on a conference call with reporters. "It's one step closer. It's very exciting...It's a huge day for us as a club."
Given such effectiveness, why would Villa swap the bright lights of Europe for the admittedly more low key climes of MLS?
Villa wasn't on Monday's conference call with reporters, but said in an interview on the club's web site, "Above all it was the quality and capacity of the project and the desire they have to improve in MLS which is really growing in importance.
"More than anything, the interest they have shown in me to be the figurehead of this project. I'm happy and really looking forward to helping the City group grow even bigger with the team in New York. So let's hope it all goes well."
Manager Jason Kreis is renowned for relying on his personal interactions with players to determine if they are indeed the right fit. Oddly, Kreis admitted that he had yet to meet with Villa, and instead relied on the recommendation of Reyna.
Granted, Villa's extensive resume is hard to ignore, but it does amount to something of a departure from the way Kreis has operated in the past. That said, Kreis has no doubt as to how Villa will fit it, especially after watching the work he put in over 120 minutes in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
"When you look at David Villa and think about the number of things that he's won, right away you say, 'Wait a second, I've got to have this guy on our team,'" said Kreis. "Then you start to look at the individual performances that he's put out there, the collective number of goals that he's scored, and how hard he's willing to work for his teammates when his team doesn't have the ball, and all that adds up to me to be the exact right fit for the first signing of New York City FC."
Of course, there will be a seven-month gap for Villa to fill between now and the start of NYCFC's first training camp. Reyna stated that the club plans to loan Villa out to an unnamed club, though he confirmed it will not be parent club Manchester City.
"We have a training plan to keep David fit and ready to compete," said Reyna. "The most important thing is that he be ready for 2015, and we know he will be."
Without question, Monday's announcement is the latest statement of intent to neighbors the New York Red Bulls. When it comes to securing high-profile players, the Red Bulls no longer have the country's biggest media market all to themselves, and while Reyna insisted that the rivalry between the two clubs will have to form organically on the field, the acquisition of Villa confirms that NYCFC has the financial clout and credibility to compete with any team in MLS.
That point will likely be reinforced in the coming weeks, with published reports indicating that the club is pursuing Barcelona midfielder Xavi, as well as England international Frank Lampard. Reyna declined to comment on the interest in Lampard, but it point towards NYCFC being a very competitive outfit from the get-go. While it's true that New York's roster will be largely comprised of domestic players, the installation of Kreis as manager would appear to ensure that the club will be on sound footing in that area as well.
Establishing chemistry is always an issue with expansion teams, and only Seattle has managed to reach the playoffs in its first season since the latest surge in expansion began in 2008. But signing Villa is an impressive first step, one that figures to benefit the club in a number of ways.
"There was no doubt in speaking to him, in meeting him in person, just what type of person he was," said Reyna. "Everything I'd heard about him was true. It was just the perfect fit in terms of the type of player we want on the field - scoring goals and being exciting for our fans - and off the field, helping our club grow, helping our younger players develop."