72216_isi_mcnamaratommy_mlsack20160706144 Andrew Katsampes/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Tommy McNamara Is a Fan Favorite—With Good Reason

The 25-year-old midfielder plays alongside three of the biggest names in Major League Soccer and yet more than holds his own as one of the best, and most consistent, players for New York City FC.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 22, 2016
2:00 PM

WHEN MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER released jersey sales data last week, it came as no surprise that New York City FC had three players in the top 10. After all, soccer fans across the globe know David Villa, Frank Lampard, and No. 1 seller Andrea Pirlo. One NYCFC player who did not make the list but nevertheless has been crucial to the team’s success is Tommy McNamara.

McNamara, 25, has played the underdog role most of his career. He was a second round draft pick for the abysmal and now-defunct Chivas USA organization. Early in his rookie season he tore his ACL, and then D.C. United claimed him in the dispersal draft. Left unprotected in the most recent MLS expansion draft, New York City FC claimed the midfielder.

Upon first glance, McNamara does not look the part of a top professional soccer player. But getting past his un-athletic build is a talented player and one that now has eight assists for a New York City FC team that sits atop the Eastern Conference.

“I’ve always just had a strong belief in myself,” McNamara told American Soccer Now. “And I knew how I compared with other players around me. I felt I was always good enough to make it professionally and to have an impact in games. That belief has never waveredwhether or not other people felt the same in me. Even when I had the ACL surgery, I always had the belief and I always had the support of my family and friends.

“I don’t necessarily know if I call it a chip on my shoulder, but yes, I do feel like I want to prove to people that my belief the correct one and what they believe is incorrect. So there is a little bit extra inside of me that wants to prove people wrong.”

For people who have been following NYCFC’s success this year, it's impossible to get away from the role McNamara has played. Just this past weekend, NYCFC traveled north and easily defeated Montreal 3-1. McNamara delivered two assists—his first was a beautifully executed pass that played Villa past the Impact’s backline and into a dangerous area.

McNamara also produced one of the best MLS goals of the season in a May road game against Portland.

McNamara calls to mind another dynamic MLS player: Clint Mathis. Both are Americans who developed outside of the Bradenton system and other youth national team programs. Despire their atypical physiques, both players are difference-makers with a high degree of technical ability—and both are fan favorites.

None of this is lost on NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira, who quickly alludes to McNamara’s strengths and even this preseason proudly proclaimed to reporters: “I love Tommy Mac.”

“I think Tommy is a player who, when you see him or look at him play you think, ‘Yeah, OK,’” Vieira said. “But technically, he’s fantastic. Technically he’s really good, his game understanding is fantastic. He’s really smart on the field—you tell him what he has to do, you tell him once and he understands it. And he can score goals as well.

“Those are the type of players that I like. He’s smart, always in the right position at the right time. He can score goals, he can [create] assists, he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet. I like this player.”

McNamara enjoys playing under Vieira too. The former French international has created a true meritocracy within the squad and the high-profile designated players do not receive special treatment.

“From the first day of practice in the preseason, Patrick Vieira set the tone that everyone is equal,” McNamara explained. “That’s how we’ve gone about our work this year. It’s made an impact because when we’ve gotten a lot of positive results recently, it’s been because people have been working for each other. They’re great people and they treat us like everyone else.”

While McNamara’s career began in obscurity at Chivas USA, the West Nyack,. N.Y., native is now closer to home. He is a local face on club with a distinct European feel.

Of course, much of the soccer talk in McNamara’s New York area has been the creation of a “Hudson River Derby” with the established Red Bulls playing a few miles across the river in New Jersey. The Red Bulls won all three games in 2015, but the first edition of 2016 brought about one of the most shocking results in MLS history when the Red Bulls rode into Yankee Stadium in May and walked out with a 7-0 win on national television.

Afterward NYCFC was ridiculed and labeled a team absent any direction. The real story of the memorable loss, however, was the team’s response. In the subsequent eight games, NYCFC has won five, drawn one, and lost twice.

“After the game, we had a day or two off,” McNamara said. “Everyone went back and reflected individually on their performance and the team’s performance. We knew it was unacceptable but we got back to work. We decided to put it behind us. We only focused on it a little to learn what we can do better. But we took it as a one-off. Everyone reacted well. We had a good result the following game and we’ve done pretty well since and it’s pushed us up the table.”’

On Sunday, the Hudson River Derby will resume at Red Bull Arena, where packed and hostile crowd will await.

“I definitely feel the rivalry,” McNamara said. “There is no doubt about it. When you get into the stadium, either Yankee Stadium or Red Bull Arena, the atmosphere is more electric than it normally is. From a play perspective and my perspective, you don’t want to get too caught up in the emotions of the game and make it something bigger than it is. I think I try to treat it as every other game with three points on the line.”

The stakes on Sunday will be high. Both teams are in good shape to be part of the post-season, but there is a huge incentive to finish in the top two to earn a first round bye. But NYCFC holds higher aspirations and Sunday is an opportunity to not just to pick up three points, but to make a statement in its rivals' arena.

“From the first day we sat down in preseason, we said we are here to win trophies. That’s what we’re focused on. It’s always in the back of people’s minds.”

Of course, with any American player succeeding there is always speculation of potential involvement with the national team. McNamara is no different but with praise from the likes of Vieira, David Villa, and Frank Lampard, he has a lot going for him.

It's not clear whether he is in Jurgen Klinsmann's plans but McNamara holds an Irish passport through his paternal grandfather, giving him the ability to represent either country. The passport could also streamline a move to a European club in the future.

McNamara’s dual nationality is not lost on the Irish media which has been tracking his progress for a potential call-up to the Boys In Green. McNamara doesn’t discount his interest in both national teams. He grew up in the United States but his Irish father was one of his biggest influences in his life—iincluding teaching him the sport of soccer at a young age. Former Irish international Stephen McPhail is also a friend of his family.

Still, McNamara admits he will only make a decision when or if the situation mandates.

“It doesn’t weight on me right now because nothing is happening currently,” McNamara said. “It’s not taking up a lot of my time or energy thinking about it. I’ve always said it would be a huge honor for me to represent either the United States or Ireland. I still feel like that to this day.

"We will see what happens and if it ever gets to the point where a decision gets made."

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