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Not long into 2013, Major League Soccer was losing patience. The division’s desire for a second franchise in New York was on the line, with the whole enterprise seemingly resting on the search for a location on which to build a soccer-specific stadium. Don Garber offered something of an ultimatum, warning that if a deal couldn’t be cut for new stadium in the city MLS would look elsewhere in North America for its 20th team. Then New York City FC happened.
In May of 2013 it was announced that Manchester City and the New York Yankees had paid the $100 million expansion fee to form NYC’s second franchise. But there was no plan for a new stadium, at least not a solid one. There was a commitment to come up with a blue print, but for the time being New York City FC would play their home gams at Yankee Stadium. A baseball stadium.
Two full seasons have now been played with NYC FC as an MLS team and they remain at Yankee Stadium. What’s more, any prospect there might have been of the franchise moving into their own specially-built venue in the not so distant future has all but vanished. Patrick Vieira’s side will be playing on a baseball field for a long time to come.
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It’s an embarrassment to MLS that one of the league’s biggest, most renowned clubs has to play its home fixtures on a pitch so ill-suited to soccer. The likes of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo are forced to play on a tiny field that is half dirt and half scorched grass, with NYC FC’s players merely blips on the horizon to some supporters along one touchline.
It makes for an atrocious match-going experience, with New York City FC’s home games appearing even worse on television. Soccer played on a baseball field makes for all sorts of bizarre camera angles, with some matches frankly unwatchable as a result. Games played at Yankee Stadium make MLS look amateur.
This is a great shame given the strides North American soccer has made over the past decade in the construction of some exceptional venues. This season saw Orlando City move into their new ground, complete with standing section and cupholders. Atlanta United will also move into new digs this summer when the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium is completed.
DC United have started work on a new stadium now dubbed Audi Field, with Los Angeles FC also set to move into their new Banc of California Stadium home for the start of their expansion season next year. Meanwhile, New York City FC have no plan in place to leave Yankee Stadium.
“There isn’t a timeline,” Garber reasoned upon the announcement in 2013 that NYC FC would play their home games at Yankee Stadium. “We’re obviously excited about playing in perhaps the most renowned stadium in the world. I know our players are excited because I’ve spoken to a bunch of them and I’ve attended a number of international soccer matches there. I know the stadium can handle it. The team, the Yankees, can handle the turnover. They have a world class grounds crew. We’re confident it will work. How long it will work is too early to make any prediction on.”
Early last year it seemed that moves were being made in the background to ready the ground for a new soccer-specific stadium in New York. NYC FC sent season tickets a survey gauging various preferences concerning the construction of a new ground somewhere in the Five Boroughs. At the same time architecture firm Populous — the same firm that designed BBVA Compass Stadium, the Emirates Stadium, the London Olympic Stadium and the new Wembley — opened an office in the city. Many added two and two together and ultimately got five.
There was no movement. NYC FC sporting director Claudio Reyna claimed “positive inroads” had been made on finding a site somewhere in the city, but added that more emphasis had been placed on the sporting side of things. The club, he said, was happy at Yankee Stadium.“It’s not something we really think about,” he said.
“Sometimes I take a step back and, again, it’s one of those things I dream about and can’t wait and look forward to having our own stadium, but we gotta worry about the next game. So we don’t talk about it.”
Maybe they should because playing at Yankee Stadium gives a negative and unfair impression of MLS. New York City FC are shown around the world perhaps more than any other team in the league, particularly in the United Kingdom where the association with Manchester City offers a certain interest. Yankee Stadium has, to a certain extent, become MLS’s global front. The league should be concerned by that.
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