When Frank Lampard went down with a calf injury that will sideline him 3-4 weeks, New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira called it a “massive loss.”
But it also is a massive opportunity for players to come off the bench and prove they can do the job in the veteran midfielder’s absence.
“When a player is injured, some of the players have a chance to show how good they are,” Vieira said.
That’s just what Steven Mendoza did Friday night in a 4-1 win over the Chicago Fire that put NYCFC on the brink of clinching a first-ever MLS Cup playoff berth.
Mendoza was a threat in the attacking third, scoring a golazo in the 44th minute that allowed NYCFC to go into the locker room with a two-goal lead.
With Mendoza filling in for Lampard, Khiry Shelton earned his first start since May 29 and contributed three assists.
“It’s really important, not only today. I think the three points against D.C. and the point against Dallas was because the guys off the bench, like Khiry and Mendoza. They give to the team very big things,” NYCFC captain David Villa said. “Today it’s the same. Khiry and Mendoza aren’t normally starters, but today they came in the team. This is a team of 26 guys. The most important is when the players in the last games who don’t play a lot go to the pitch and play well, it’s only because they train strong.”
While Mendoza started the game in Lampard’s position, Vieira quickly switched him with Tommy McNamara, utilizing Mendoza’s pace on the wing.
“I was thinking that we were a little more disciplined having Tommy inside and Mendoza wider because the way they were pressing us,” Vieira said. “I wanted to use Mendoza’s pace up front and Tommy was finding the right spots between the lines.”
In 58 minutes, Mendoza was tied with Villa for a team-high five shots, putting three on target. That includes a candidate for Goal of the Week when he took a pass from Villa, took a touch with his outside left and quickly cut inside of a defender before unleashing a blast with his left from 25 yards out that landed in the upper left corner of the net.
It was his fourth goal of the season, a goal that moved NYCFC one step closer to the postseason.
And it was a performance that proved to Vieira that Mendoza has a “massive part to play” going forward.
“That’s just telling me the message the staff and myself are sending to the squad is a good one because everyone wants to play, everybody wants to be in the starting XI and they’re working really hard in training to make it difficult for me,” Vieira said. “Then when they have a chance to play, they perform like Mendoza tonight, like Khiry tonight and that makes my job more difficult and I like it.”