More than 32,000 fans flocked to Yankee Stadium for Sunday's marquee MLS matchup between New York City FC and Orlando City SC. Most were clad in the sky blue made famous by NYCFC's parent club, Manchester City. A couple hundred were in the purple of Orlando City.
But a lot of fans were only there as regular soccer fans. That happens a lot in MLS, with so many aging stars like David Villa, Kaka, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and, as of Monday, Didier Drogba. Old jerseys are normal sights at MLS matches. On Sunday, the majority of the casual observers were wearing Milan and Juventus jerseys, most of them bearing the number 21 on the back. A special MLS debut was about to take place.
I am a Milan fan, but also an Orlando City fan, partly in thanks to Milan legend Kaka, so I was at Yankee Stadium in one of my Orlando jerseys. It did not hit me I would be seeing Andrea Pirlo's debut until the lineups came out and I saw he was on the bench. I started to feel the emotions come to the surface.
It was the same thing that happened two months ago when I was in Orlando to see Orlando City play the Los Angeles Galaxy. The night before, I watched old videos of Kaka. When he buried a penalty kick the next day, I was the most excited person in the Orlando supporters section.
When Pirlo started warming up for NYCFC at halftime, all the memories started coming back.
There was this goal, one of my favorites.
And this gem against Real Madrid.
But when the moment finally came, all the memories started running rampant, not just for me, but for everyone. The ovation from the 32,000 fans in the Bronx went ballistic.
This was the moment Pirlo entered the match for Medhi Ballouchy. The first thing he did was run over to Kaka and shake his hand.
After that, they were opponents. I grew up watching Pirlo and Kaka destroy opponents together, guiding a Milan attack through the midfield that was so perfect, so beautiful, it made your jaw drop. To see them playing against each other, not in a friendly but a meaningful game in a league I love and want to see prosper, was an overwhelming experience.
Many MLS fans have teams and players they love over in Europe. They have had the chance to see their heroes come over and star in MLS. But none have had a feeling like Milan fans had yesterday. To see two giants standing next to each other and be reminded of images of them lifting the Champions League trophy together, it was chilling.
Making the day even better was Pirlo's performance. He was sublime. He commanded the midfield in the same way he did at Milan and Juventus.
Sitting there in the crowd, watching him rip apart my favorite MLS team, all I could do was smile. I don't care what league it's in or who he's playing for, seeing Andrea Pirlo play is a privilege.