Not too long ago, Frank Lampard was being considered as a candidate for the “Biggest Designated Player Bust” in Major League Soccer history. It is a list that has had some notable swing-and-misses amongst lesser known talents like Gilberto (Toronto FC) and Lucas Melano (Portland Timbers), as well as some once great players like Rafa Marquez (NY Red Bulls). But Lampard would have easily taken the cake because after a start-stop first season due to injuries, he looked like a shell of the former goal-scoring machine he had been for Chelsea and doomed to retire in a way unbefitting of his former glory. That is no longer the case. Frank Lampard has torn Major League Soccer apart for several months now, and has been instrumental in leading NYCFC to a somewhat surprising lead atop the Eastern Conference as the regular season wanes.
Tied for the highest salary in the entire league with the LA Galaxy’s aging British import Steven Gerrard, ahead of fellow superstar teammates David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, Lampard seemed to be limping his way into an early retirement. He announced he was leaving Chelsea for NYCFC, only to be loaned out almost immediately to the New York team’s parent club, Manchester City. It was not the initial loan that began the catcalls, but the fact that the loan was extended to a full Premier League season, which runs from August to May. This became an even bigger issue because the MLS season runs from March to October, causing Lampard to not only miss the first couple months of the season but also to return exhausted and more susceptible to injury. He also entered this season with an undisclosed injury, further angering the NYCFC supporters and leading to rumblings that Lampard would never be able to make up for his huge salary.
Once he got completely healthy, those rumblings have faded into distant memory. He has scored eleven goals in just sixteen appearances this season, an unbelievable return for a thirty-eight year old midfielder. He has also not dropped off as the season has progressed, as many would have expected given his age and the miles he has covered in a long, glittering career at the highest level. However, as evidenced this past weekend, when Lampard scored a brace as NYCFC came back to beat Eastern Conference rival D.C. United and maintain their position atop the conference leaderboard, he has shown no signs of slowing down.
Yet it hasn’t only been his goals that have helped NYCFC succeed this year; Lampard has also shown a great willingness to mentor several of the rising stars in this team (and the league), most notably NYC’s top draft pick Jack Harrison. The nineteen year old winger has spoken often of his disbelief at getting to play with one of the all-time English greats and Lampard has been effusive in praising his young countryman.
Leadership is a much harder quality to quantify, but Frank Lampard has always had it in spades. Now that he is able to play and not just cheer from the side, that leadership has taken on a whole new dynamic and has been an invaluable addition to a young and youthful team.
Aside from the superb Mighty Mite Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC, no one has been more valuable to their team this season than Frank Lampard. It’s a far cry from being considered the worst MLS signing ever, and if he is able to help lead NYCFC to a deep playoff run and possible MLS Cup, he could ultimately go down as one of the best.