ORLANDO, Fla. | New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis and his players couldn’t wait for March 8 to come fast enough.
Kreis, his staff and his players have been waiting in anticipation for the Club’s first-ever match.
That day has finally arrived.
New York City FC embarks on their inaugural season in Major League Soccer against fellow expansion side Orlando City SC at 5 p.m. EDT Sunday at the Citrus Bowl. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 and played in front of a sold-out crowd of 60,000.
“It’s pretty exciting,” midfielder Tommy McNamara said. “For me personally, it hit me on the trip here. The opening match for MLS was Friday night and we get to kind of cap off the weekend, so I’m excited for it.”
“Excited, nervous, all of the above,” defender Chris Wingert said. “Most of all, I’m excited for this game, to play with these guys and start the season.”
Kreis is looking forward to returning to the sidelines of an MLS contest. He hasn’t coached a regular- or post-season match since guiding Real Salt Lake to the 2013 MLS Cup final on Dec. 7, 2013. Adding to his anticipation is the way that match ended – a 2-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City on penalty kicks.
“It’s been a long year and several months now since my last coaching job and my last opportunity to coach in a competitive match,” he said. “The last match was a downturn for me, since we lost in the MLS Cup finals. It’s been a long time, it’s been a ton of hard work. I really feel we have a good group put together — we have a terrific staff and we’ve all worked extremely hard to get the players prepared for what should be a very fun 2015.”
While the MLS is new for both New York City FC and Orlando City SC, it certainly isn’t foreign. Both clubs have had a taste of their new league at the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C.
In fact, the two clubs met each other in the first round of the round-robin event, won by the Houston Dynamo.
Orlando City SC designated player Kaka got the former United Soccer League side on the board first with a goal in the 31st minute, but rookie forward Khiry Shelton provided the equalizer for New York City FC in the 56th minute as the match ended in a 1-1 draw on February 21.
“There are definitely things we can take from it, but it’s a preseason game at the same time, so you don’t read 100 percent into it,” McNamara said. “It’s interesting to play them a few weeks before we play them again.”
After the draw, Kreis wasn’t pleased with how his players covered Kaka, saying the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner was given too much time and space, especially around the final third.
“We’ll do our best to make sure his touches are limited and when he does get on the ball, we’ll have a couple of defenders around him,” Wingert said.
Kreis had a decorated playing career in MLS full of firsts. He was part of the league’s first draft and first season; he scored the first goal in both the Dallas Burn and Real Salt Lake organizations; he was the league’s first American-born MVP (1999), the first to register a 15-goal, 15-assist season and the first to 100 career goals.
He said he plans to convey the motivation for similar milestones to his own players at New York City FC.
“We have a lot of firsts coming — to be the first goal scorer, being named to the first starting lineup, the first home game, the first away game,” Kreis said. “I want to convey that message that those things are kind of cool to have linked to your name and it should be added motivation for anyone involved.”