For the first time in their short history, New York City FC are in Mexico. On Friday night, they face Club Necaxa from Liga MX at Estadio Victoria in Aguascalientes. This also marks NYC FC’s first ever mid-season friendly: the blue side of New York still have two games of the regular season, against DC United and Columbus Crew. After a five-year absence, Necaxa are back in the Mexico’s top division and are currently sitting in fifth place thanks to a solid run that has seen them go undefeated in their last seven matches.
Despite the fact that this is only a friendly, the importance of this fixture should not go unnoticed. From a soccer standpoint, it is a great opportunity for both managers to take advantage of what other fringe players can offer their team, especially those who have impressed in training but haven’t seen much of league action. “It will be a mix of players who have been playing really well, and I don’t want to break that momentum, and they need to play every week,” said Vieira during their last training session before they left for Mexico. “But we will also want to give a chance to some of the players who have been working really well in the last few weeks and they deserve to play some games.”
He mentioned players such as Diego Martinez, Mehdi Ballouchy and Frederíco Bravo, who have not seen much action in recent matches.
But the trip represents another chance where both leagues can solidify their ties by learning from each other and their supporters. Vieira admits he doesn’t know much about Necaxa or the relationship between MLS and Liga MX, but he knows this will come with time as it’s a vital relationship, mainly founded by the Mexican and Hispanic fanbase in both countries.
“I think when you look at our squad, staff and how many Spanish speakers we have, and the fans we have in this country, going to Mexico is really important for the brand and the relationships we can have with each other. I am really looking forward to it.”
He is also honest about his own Spanish and admits he has to work on it. “It’s really, really, bad,” he said.
A perfect example of this relationship is the 23-year-old NYC FC playmaker, Mikey Lopez. For the Mexican-American playmaker, being in Mexico and playing against Necaxa as a professional fútbol player is a joyous, personal achievement. Born in Dallas, Lopez has a deep connection with Mexico: his father Miguel is from Reynosa, and his mother Martha is from Monterrey. He grew up in Mission, Texas, five miles from the border in Hidalgo County, where he casually supported Tigres as a kid before his attention veered towards the European leagues and MLS.
“It’s really special, really cool that we’re in country close to me, my family and our Mexican roots,” said Lopez earlier this week.
Club Necaxa’s history goes even further than Mexico. Much like NYC FC, owes its existence to foreign ownership. Los Electricistas (the Electricians) were founded in 1923 by an Englishman, William H Frasser, an engineer and owner of the electrical plant, Luz y Fuerza (Light and Power) in Mexico City. The team was originally called after the company but had to change it as the national federation did not allow teams to be named after private enterprises. Eventually, Luz y Fuerza became Necaxa, named after the river close to the plant.
Another Englishman who has been making an impact on his own team is 19-year-old Jack Harrison. The attacking player was hoping to use this friendly as a match to get back on scoring form as he hasn’t scored since July 17 when NYC FC beat Montreal 3-1. Harrison, however, won’t be traveling with the team as Vieira has decided for the teenager to stay back in New York and rest as the number one priority is a healthy squad as they look to maintain momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We want to make sure we don’t lose our competitiveness and stay on our toes,” he told Guardian US on Wednesday. “These last two games are important as we want to have the highest seed, so we just have to keep working hard and do what we have been doing. We know it’s an important time in the club’s history so we’re looking to make a point.”