Alexandru Mitrita is an entertaining personality off the field, and he hopes to dazzle on it for his new team in a new city that's quite different from the confines of his home–and conjures memories of a classic winter movie.
In order to prepare for a new chapter in his career, Alexandru Mitrita, NYCFC’s new star acquisition and reportedly MLS's third-most-expensive signing ever, re-watched Home Alone 2 over and over again as a way to feel more comfortable with New York City. The movie may be 27 years old–three years older than the player–but Mitrita loves it.
“I want to do everything like in the movie,” says Mitrita, speaking in his first interview in the U.S. since making the transfer from Universitatea Craiova in his native country. “In Romania, throughout the holidays, they play it all the time, and when I see the movie, that’s what I want to be, just like Kevin–but Mitrita in New York.”
Unlike, Kevin McCallister, though, the 24-year-old Romanian star doesn’t intend to get lost in this city. Instead, he aims to find his way and settle with relative ease. He'll look to help NYCFC reach the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year and finally go beyond the conference semifinals, potentially earning a place in MLS Cup. It's not exactly outsmarting and evading Harry and Marv and conning his way into The Plaza, but it's a challenge that, if completed, would be embraced by The Third Rail more than Kevin's mother embraces her son.
“This is a big step for my career. This [MLS] is a great championship with good teams," Mitrita said. "I’ve seen the league, and I believe this a big opportunity to put all my talents here."
As Mitrita arrives, NYCFC enters uncharted territory. It will be the first season in its existence without captain and star forward David Villa, and head coach Domenec Torrent emphasizes that Mitrita is not a direct replacement and shouldn’t carry that burden of responsibility.
“I say many times it’s not easy to replace a player like David Villa,” Torrent said earlier this month on MLS’s website. “He has everything, you know. He has [the] name in the soccer, he has performance, he has goals. It’s not about who replaces David. It’s not about that.”
While it’s clear that Mitrita (he likes the nickname Mitri) is not considered as a direct replacement for the legendary Spanish striker, the reportedly hefty transfer fee ($8.5 million) brings with it a high level of expectation. But the versatile attacking midfielder, who could form a dynamic trident with fellow Designated Players Maxi Moralez and Jesus Medina, doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the pressure. In fact, he welcomes it.
“For me it’s big, because pressure makes me stronger,” Mitrita said. “They paid a lot of money, and for all these reasons I want to put all my quality in this team and become a big player for this league. This pressure makes me stronger.”
Mitrita’s English, though not perfect, is improving by the day, and it's definitely good enough to get a sense of his infectious personality. He’s confident but humble, eager but disciplined. He loves to rap (Drake mostly) but not in public (“Mainly alone in my bedroom”). He idolizes Lionel Messi and is excited to attend “Romania Day on Broadway" in May.
“It’s good for me, hearing there’s a lot of Romanians here," said Mitrita, who has six caps with the Romanian national team, all since last March. "I feel like I am home with all the Romanian people. I hope to see them when I play.”
Mitrita started paying more attention to MLS when Sebastian Giovinco came to Toronto FC from Serie A, a league he knows well from his time with Pescara. It’s not completely out of place to compare him to Giovinco as they both share similar technical and physical attributes, though Mitrita, who is 5’7” is three inches taller. But Torrent believes he bears more of a resemblance to Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho, due to his extreme versatility.
“He has the quality to play in the left side, the No. 10, even the false nine because he has quality to play with us," Torrent said. "He scored many goals last year for Craiova. The most important thing for us is we have a new player who has quality to play and join with Maxi Moralez and these kind of players."
By the time NYCFC showed interest around December, it was an easy decision for Mitrita to come to MLS.
“I was very happy when I heard they [NYCFC] were interested," Mitrita said. "Very good players and a very good coach who can help me grow and improve for this league.”
It will be intriguing to see how Torrent utilizes him, especially since there is an obvious shortage of target strikers on the club. But Mitrita, who has no positional preference, says he is ready to take whatever role is required.
“Wherever my coach wants me to play, I will play," Mitrita said. "Whether it’s left wing, right or attack I will play. If he wants me as striker, I will play. I feel good as a striker, I can play there if they need me.”
It was only a preseason match, but last week against Nashville SC, Mitrita showed glimpses of what he’s capable of. In the 39th minute, the Romanian picked the ball from the left wing, cut inside, dribbled towards the box and took two players in the process before slotting a wonderful curling attempt past the keeper. It was a fantastic piece of skill.
Now, the attention is on Saturday and a chance to show NYCFC what he can do at Orlando City. After spending a reasonable amount of time with his new club (he’s been with them since the beginning of the month during training camp in Abu Dhabi) "Mitri" feels he knows his teammates well enough.
“There are very, very good players here. Great quality," Mitrita said. "I have a great impression of this team, and I am sure we can make an even bigger team together.”
The diminutive attacker may not get lost the same way Kevin did in Home Alone 2, nor will he be looking out for Duncan’s Toy Chest, but as the season opener approaches, one thing is for certain: he is more than ready for the bright lights in his new big city.