In mid-February, the New York City Football Club discharged an undisclosed amount of General Allocation Money and Target Allocation Money to acquire the Right of First Refusal from the Portland Timbers in order to sign winger Rodney Wallace. Since, the Costa Rican international has been a lead character in establishing NYCFC as one of the premier teams in Major League Soccer.
In head coach Patrick Vieira’s favored 4-3-3 shape, Wallace has been a perfect fit at left wing. The former University of Maryland star excels on both sides of the ball. A positive mentality has led to four goals and five assists placing him third on the team scoring chart.
“The coach has a plan for you and there’s a system to play but at the same time we’re told to express ourselves,” said Wallace. “I know if I fail, I’m going to get the ball again and get another chance. The whole thing about being afraid to fail, it’s just going to bring your game down.”
Wallace says that Vieira identifies the special qualities in each player and encourages them to extract their unique skills at different stages of the match.
“For me, it’s about mixing it up,” said Wallace. “If I take them on 1-on-1 and beat them the first time, the second time I might work a combination. You have to keep them guessing. You’ve got to think as if you were the defender.”
Wallace has played at the back during his career and he maintained certain expectations of the winger in front of him. Consequently, he appreciates the defensive responsibilities of a position more noted as an attacking spot.
“I know when I was playing at left back, I felt comfortable having a guy who was doing the work in front of me,” said Wallace. “The system here, the wingers defend as well as attack. And we’re more successful if we do the dirty work. You see Jack (Harrison), (Jonathan) Lewis, myself. The harder we work the more chances we create.”
The exertion of Wallace and the wingers has been influential in less goals permitted this season. Compared to 2016, NYCFC has conceded 18 fewer tallies through 29 matches.
At 29 years old, Wallace can share a variety of experiences since his 2009 MLS Draft selection by D.C. United. Included in his nine years as a professional is an MLS Cup title with the Portland Timbers in 2015. Wallace has first-hand experience on the characteristics necessary to conquer the league.
“It’s a couple of things,” said Wallace who scored the game winner against the Columbus Crew in the 2015 Final. “You need talent but you need to go through the low points of the season including games you should have won, injuries and guys bumping heads. You take all those things and use them as fuel to get you though the season.”
After 12 matches in 2015, the Timbers were last in the Western Conference table and the Timbers Army unveiled a tifo that read, “Same As It Ever Was” to lament their forecast – another year out of the playoffs. The Timbers recovered to win their final three regular season matches followed by an unbeaten playoff run. Wallace sees the similarities of that Portland club and his current NYCFC side.
Wallace has missed eight matches with a combination of injuries and international duty. NYCFC, currently second overall in MLS, has won four games with Wallace absent.
“Right now, we’re in a position where we have gone through those things as a club,” said Wallace. “Games we should have won and didn’t, the injuries we have had and still have.”
“We’ve had every single scenario,”he said. “You’ve got to go through it and the chemistry in our locker room adds up to a championship team.”