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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

NYCFC's Andrea Pirlo says level of play in MLS is 'higher than I thought'

NYCFC's Andrea Pirlo shares his thoughts on his first MLS season, new manager Patrick Vieira and his expectations for the 2016 campaign.

Andrea Pirlo says he was surprised by the high level of play during his first year in MLS with New York City FC, while Kaka believes the league will join the world's elite within a decade.

Pirlo never really took off in his first season at Yankee Stadium, as he tallied just two assists and failed to score in 13 appearances after joining the expansion club in July.

New York City FC failed to make the playoffs in their first year of existence, but Pirlo said he's hoping for more in his first full season.

"I've only spent a few months here, but I've been very, very happy to see the way things went," Pirlo told ESPN at MLS media day.

"The level is much higher than I thought and I'm very happy to be here, but I hope from the new season we will improve and things will go even better."

Pirlo said MLS makes up for in speed what it might lack in technical skill, though his new coach, former Arsenal star Patrick Vieira, might be able to improve that facet of the game.

"It's a beautiful kind of soccer," Pirlo said. "It's fast. Technical not so much yet, but maybe with the arrival of European coaches it will improve in that regard.

"And then I like also the passion of the fans, the fact that they love the sport, they love being at the stadium. Win or lose they're happy and that's the most important value of a sport."

New York City FC is owned by City Football Group, who also run Manchester City in the Premier League, and Pirlo said he is motivated to prove his value to the company, not merely play out the final years of his career. 

"I have to say I didn't go to New York to be a tourist and go out and about," he said. "I went to New York because there was a project, because there was a company that wanted to grow and had a plan to be more and more important. That's what really charged me into wanting to go to New York City."

Orlando City midfielder Kaka also spoke of a "project" when discussing the attraction of MLS to international stars.

The former Ballon d'Or winner said he has bought into club owner Flavio Augusto da Silva's plan to build a world-class team in Florida.

"My big motivation was the challenge, to be part of this project, part of Orlando City," Kaka told ESPN FC. "I always said one day I would play here in America, so probably it was [going to be] L.A. or New York, but after that I met Flavio, and Flavio told me about his dream, that he wanted to buy a franchise here in America. And I told him my dream to play here as well and after we decided [to team up].

"It's real, what I'm feeling now and for this second season. I think everywhere that I've played before I've tried to lead more than just play. This is what I'm trying to do here as well -- embrace the league and the team and the project and Orlando, and know how the city lives soccer. So it's been a very good experience for me."

Kaka said he spoke with former MLS players Thierry Henry and David Beckham about what made the league different.

"They told me it's the high level and intensity of the game. Because when you play a Champions League game it's the top of the top of soccer, so when you move here the level of intensity of the game is a little bit different.

"But to be a part of the moment of the league was part of my personal project, so I decided to move because I wanted to be part of this. I think in five, 10 years this will be one of the best leagues in the world for sure."

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