BRONX, N.Y. — Four goals in five games. This is the Frank Lampard that New York City FC and its fans long envisioned.
Lampard has been in stellar form ever since MLS returned from the brief summer break it had to accommodate the Copa America Centenario. The veteran midfielder has looked like the player that was an English Premier League standout for more than a decade, using his two-way play and nose for goal to serve as a key figure for NYCFC as it has reached the top spot spot in the Eastern Conference.
Not only has Lampard scored in bunches to alleviate the attacking load that David Villa has carried singlehandedly for so long, but the Englishman has also used his experience to assist in shouldering the leadership responsibilities. Lampard’s improved play since MLS resumed its season in mid-June has, at least temporarily, shed almost all the talk of him being a Designated Player bust.
The same talk that was popular amongst fans and media across the league not for what he did on the field, but for how he struggled for months with a niggling calf injury off of it. The same talk that was even common amongst a sizable portion of NYCFC’s faithful as Lampard served as a mere spectator from the sidelines.
“I’m experienced enough to know that when you’re injured and people are talking you have to keep your mouth shut and you just have try and go with it,” said Lampard. “I’ve tried to do that, and then when you come back you try and do the right things. The most important thing is my manager, my teammates who are there every day with me, they helped me through that period.
“It’s great to give something back to the fans. It’s great to go to away to New England and score a goal that helps us win and you see the traveling fans and they’re happy. I want to keep doing that. That’s what I’ve done all my career and I want to do that here now.”
The 38-year-old Lampard has demonstrated his qualities and ability to make an impact in recent weeks. Since returning to New York City FC’s lineup on June 18, Lampard has netted four times in five matches as the club has posted a 4-1-0 record. In the one game he did not tally in, Lampard simply delivered an assist to help NYCFC topple the New York Red Bulls for the first time in the Hudson River Derby.
A cynic or critic might point out that aside from this past weekend’s strike in a loss to Sporting Kansas City, most of Lampard’s goals have not been pretty. One seemed to ricochet off his knee, another was littered with controversy because it appeared to come via a Raul Ruidiaz-like handball, and another was the result of him being Mr. Right Place Right Time.
They all count the same, however, and are a result of his clean bill of health. Lampard is no longer hindered by the calf injury he picked up in preseason and that kept him out for the first two-and-a-half months of the campaign. He admittedly feels good and fit, and the great news for NYCFC is that his best might still be yet to come.
“I don’t think I’m still quite at my top. I think I can get better, but, yeah, I’m pleased,” said Lampard. “I’m pleased to contribute goals, I’m pleased to be playing in the team. Forget the last game, but before that the performances, the results were very, very good.
“I want to carry on now. I’m eager. I missed too many games. I want to play every other day now.”
While Lampard is healthy and playing at a good level now, he still has to have regular treatment on his calves. The treatment requires spending a good bit of time with the team physiotherapists, getting massages on the trainer’s table, and doing specific exercises in the gym. His workouts have been altered, and so too has his rest routine. Such is the life of a player who has played at the highest levels and is nearing 40.
Lampard’s willingness to do whatever it takes to be able to contribute has not only benefitted him, but also Patrick Vieira. The NYCFC head coach now has another well-seasoned star player that he can count on to set an example in games and in practice as well.
“He’s a big help for me as well to have him on the field and off the field as well,” said Vieira. “He’s well-respected from all the other players because when you look at him working in training, he’s training the same way he’s playing. That’s a good learning process for the young players like Khiry (Shelton), Jack (Harrison), because it’s important for them to understand that training is fundamental for the weekend.”
Healthy again after a long and frustrating spell on the shelf, Lampard now wants to show he can go the distance in one of NYCFC’s upcoming games. He has yet to do that this season due to not being 90-minutes fit, but believes he is back in top shape and that his legs can handle the workload.
Vieira agrees, and that spells trouble for opposing clubs given the form that Lampard is currently in.
“I’m really pleased for him because he went through a really tough and a really difficult period, but that just shows how strong he is,” said Vieira. “He used his experience to get back to his best. I believe he now is fit to play and to play 90 minutes. He’s scoring goals, but I’m not surprised about that because when you look at his record he’s been fantastic.”