Rodney Wallace: “It’s important to always work, regardless if you are on the bench or not. I think that people who are not starting, it is always important to push the group and make everybody better. You have to hold yourself accountable.” (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — To play domestically and internationally, players have to be mentally tough. They have to be able to switch from team to team, system to system and even positions.
Which brings us to New York City FC forward Rodney Wallace.
Acquired by the Major League Soccer team to play on the left side — defender, midfielder or up front — the Costa Rica international has been one of the pleasant surprises as a forward this season. He has accrued four goals and set up five others.
He left to join his Tico teammates to train for the CONCACAF Gold Cup Friday, a day after his left-wing cross set up the game-winning goal by Jack Harrison in the 52nd minute of City’s 3-1 home win over Minnesota United.
That was fine and dandy, except, he wasn’t supposed to play. Or least start. Head coach Patrick Vieira said he wanted to give Wallace a rest, but last-minute line-up changes forced him to use him.
“I think Rodney, you look at his performance in his first games with us, has been fantastic,” he said. “He’s been doing really well. He’s worked so hard, and I felt he needed to rest a little bit.”
Wallace was ready, whether he was going to be part of the Starting XI or sitting on the bench.
“You got to be mentally prepared to play, regardless from the time the lineup sheet comes up to the practice before the game,” he said. “Even if I am not on the starting list, I have to prepare as if I have to come in and play the game. I have to raise the level in training for my teammates who are starting and for those who aren’t to make sure we are all attuned and connected because anything can happen.
“It’s important to always work, regardless if you are on the bench or not. I think that people who are not starting, it is always important to push the group and make everybody better. You have to hold yourself accountable, but it also brings the level up.”
Wallace knows something about high levels in Major League Soccer. He was a member of the Portland Timbers’ MLS Cup championship side in 2015. He said he had good vibes from his current squad.
“I think this is a special team, a special locker room, talented guys,” he said. “It’s not just talent that wins championships. I think that the bond that we have and our work rate and how much we want it. I think those are important keys to winning the championship. That’s our mission and we’re on our way to doing that.”
For the next two weeks at least, Wallace won’t be part of NYCFC’s mission. Instead, he will be helping Costa Rica at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Central American side, which has never won the competition, kicks off the competition vs. Honduras at Red Bull Arena across the river in Harrison, N.J. Friday, July 7 at 9 p.m.
He liked Costa Rica’s chances, liked them a lot.
“I think we have a very good chance of winning the Gold Cup because we have a very good team,” he said. “The team knows how we play. We know our system and we have the confidence and ability to win this tournament.”
Wallace has confidence in his teammates while he is away.
“I just have to switch chips and right now,” he said. “We just finished this game. We got a good victory. Regardless, if I am here or not, I know my teammates are ready, everybody’s ready. That’s why we work so hard because if one guy’s not there, there are two guys behind you that are going to come in and do it. So, I’m not concerned about what’s going to happen when I’m gone because I know that everyone here holds themselves accountable and everything we do is for the club. I know that we’re going to be successful.”