Chapter #1 – New York City Football Club

The journey begins in New York, a city that’s rich with sports culture and tradition dating many years back. Where does soccer fit in? Ask any American and they will probably mention the Yankees, Giants, Knicks, or Rangers. The list goes on. Maybe it’s a matter of time before the NYC Football Club will join the list. The future of the franchise is in many ways still unwritten.

NYC FC Logo

History

New York City Football Club joined the MLS in 2015 to become the second New York team after the NY Red Bulls (previously NY\NJ MetroStars). While the Red Bulls were part of the league from day one, NYCFC arrived as an alternative that’s trying to represent something different.

The same group of Qatari investors behind the European giants Manchester City backed NYCFC. Much like the ‘big sister’ from England, NYCFC share the same colors, name, and works in close collaboration. It’s thanks to the collaboration that the franchise was able to sign David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Frank Lampard for the 2015 inauguration season and attract a lot of attention in the international soccer media. Unfortunately for the club, the players have since left without winning any trophies (Pirlo and Lampard retired, Villa moved to Japan).

If Manchester City is the big sister, the New York Yankees are the big brother. The team plays in Yankees Stadium and shares the navy blue color of their logo and jersey. In total, Manchester’s investor group, the City Football Group, own 80% of the club while Yankee Global Enterprises owns the remaining 20%.

Biggest Rivalry

There are two teams representing the metropolitan area of New York, giving us an opportunity to enjoy a local derby. The game against the New York Red Bulls is the biggest game for the supporters, and earned the name the Hudson River Derby. The NY Red Bulls (like MetroStars before) play in New Jersey. A river separates the two clubs and NYCFC sees itself as the club that represents the city, the real New York.

So far, the Red Bulls have been the more dominant team, even enjoying a 7-0 victory against NYCFC in 2016. The rivalry between the fans is now incredibly heated, making it interesting. This is good for the league and adds interest that resembles international soccer. You don’t see it in most other franchises across the US.

The City

Let’s set the scene. New York City is the most populous city in the United States and the most densely populated major city in the United States. It is one of the biggest megacities in the world.

The city consists of five boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan. Every borough – and every neighborhood – has its own character that makes this city the cosmopolitan metropolis that it is.

In the very beginning – the 17th century – the city was Dutch, one of the 13 original colonies in America and known as New Amsterdam. It was later surrendered to the hands of the English, renamed to New York, and played a vital part during the American Revolution.

Manhattan is the most striking of the boroughs. Skyscrapers neighbor historical landmarks and people from all backgrounds make the city a vibrant place. If you’re visiting there for the first time you’ll probably visit Time Square, one of the nation’s most iconic crossroads. Enjoy the beautiful skyline view from the Empire State building, the restaurants and shops in the small neighborhoods of little Italy or China Town, or one of the many plays in Broadway’s famous theaters.

Let’s not forget the iconic Statue of Liberty and the basic principle of freedom that it represents around the world, or other important landmarks like Wall Street, the UN headquarters, or the Brooklyn Bridge. For me, it’s all about walking the streets, people watching, and strolling through parks, especially the most famous one of them all – Central Park. You can easily spend hours there.

The list of things to do in the city is endless, but it’s time to talk soccer again.

Game #1: vs. Chicago Fire

Game #1 in this journey is NYCFC playing at home against Chicago Fire. Though it was only the first third of the regular season, it was clear this was going to be a head-to-head battle over the playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Chicago was slightly more dominant, but they weren’t able to translate this into goals. City won the game 1-0 with a goal from the Argentinian Valentin Castellanos and was close to making it 2-0, but Maxi Moralez missed a penalty kick in the last minute.

The game had its moments – Fire’s manager was ejected after saying a few words to the referee.

View from my seat at section 206 © Elad Spira

Game #2: vs. Orlando Pirates

Three days later, NYCFC hosted Orlando Pirates and it was another clash between teams of similar levels. Nani, the former Portugal and Manchester United star, opened the score for Orlando in the 18th minute. The Pirates completely dominated the first half and were able to score another goal that was disallowed after a VAR review.

The second half was a different story. NYCFC was better and managed to get an equalizer from their Brazilian striker Héber in the 51st minute. Orlando had a golden opportunity to come back with a victory, but striker Tom Dwyer somehow missed it

If I was NYCFC, I would be content with a 1-1 tie against the rested Pirates, especially considering City played a tough match only three days before.

After those two games NYCFC was in 7th place on the Eastern Conference with 9 game in. They have the same number of points as Orlando (ranked 6th) and three points ahead of Chicago (ranked 8th). These results may turn out to be critical to ensure NYCFC snag a spot in the post-season playoff matches.

View from my seat at section 105 © Elad Spira

The Stadium

  • Name: Yankees Stadium
  • Address: 1 E. 161 St., The Bronx, NY 10451
  • Maximum capacity: 47,309

Beautiful, gigantic, and close to subway stations – everything you could ask for. But, it’s a baseball stadium, and it’s just… wrong. There are never really any good seats, and parts of the field are always obstructed. I wondered how anyone could see a thing from a few of the sections.

Since the baseball season is running simultaneously, the stadium is shared with the New York Yankees and the field is not in a particularly good shape. On the bright side, It’s nice to see that the fan stores sell both Yankees and NYCFC merchandise. Most seats are not shaded or covered from rain, but lucky for us it wasn’t an issue at any of these two late April matches.

Since not many people showed up to either of the games, getting to the stadium was easy. In both cases we took the car and entered the Bronx from north NJ, parking the car in one of the nearby parking lots that’s ~10 minutes away from the stadium by foot. We prepaid $17 for parking, but we also saw other cheaper parking lots. A friend of ours took the subway from the Upper West Side and made it in less than 30 minutes.

It’s important to wrap up by saying that the team is still waiting on promises – from even before its inauguration – to have its own proper soccer stadium.

Is that soccer or baseball? Yankees Stadium before the Chicago Fire match © Elad Spira

Tickets

Maybe it’s because there aren’t really ‘good’ seating options and it’s still the regular season, but ticket prices were relatively cheap. For the first game we found a sale on Ticketmaster and ended up buying each ticket for $15 ($20 with fees) for section 206. Not bad.

For the second match we bought tickets in the 100s for only $26 on one of the resell apps. It was clearly ‘discounted’ in comparison to the regular price on Ticketmaster, but considering the odd way the stadium is set up, it’s fair to say that the 200s might’ve provided better views.

Tickets for regular season games start at $30 and go up to $250. The concessions give you an opportunity to buy snacks in souvenirs – beer in reusable cups in or fries in helmets. It is an iconic stadium and, if you don’t attend it often, it’s a nice way to bring home some new memorabilia.

Atmosphere

Both games were nice, but the atmosphere was decidedly absent. 21K people came to the stadium, but it feels empty in such a large stadium. The nearby parks were busy, but not with tailgaters. As the street signs point out, it’s not even allowed.

Most spectators showed up just before or a little after the game started. Except for the section where the group supporters are seated, there wasn’t much noise coming from the crowed. In the first game the only cheer we heard was for a Chicken Bucket – it’s still unclear to me if that’s an amateur team or a reference to the Chicken Bucket value pack that they sell in the stadium. Though I did hear a few nasty curses, I would still conclude that it’s a very nice family attraction.

Not surprisingly, you could hear many different languages and see people from other countries. The rest of the world is crazy about soccer, and you can see a lot of tourists that are getting their own MLS experience.

The major supporter group for NYCFC is called the Third Rail and are seated behind the north goal in sections 236 and 237. They should be given credit because they were cheering non-stop and their singing and chanting could be heard everywhere despite the half empty stadium.

There are some nice perks when you walk in. Between the two games, we were given a nice scarf and a Bronx pin. People (or mostly families) can wait in line to get their face painted or balloons in the club’s colors.

But, to be honest, none of the games had anything spectacular. The national anthem was standard and, during the half-time break we got to enjoy a Trivia game with one of the supporters.

The ‘Third Rail’ supporters group during the match against Orlando Pirates. © Elad Spira

Club’s Presence in the City

Tourists love walking the streets of this city, but they can easily miss out on the club. You can walk around Madison Square Garden and feel that you are in the home of the New York Knicks (NBA) and Rangers (NHL). Soccer is not to be found.

It’s true that many people live in this city, and even more people visit the city, but their choices for sports entertainment are endless. It’s not surprising then that a local New Yorker is more likely to spend his time and money on teams that are already well established. It’s a very competitive field that NYCFC hasn’t penetrated yet.

I did see a person or two wearing their jersey, and briefly saw an ad in Times Square probably targeting tourists, but that was it.

What Does the Future Hold?

NYCFC has the potential to become the biggest club in the world. Yes, I fully stand behind this statement. Imagine what would happen if they win a title or two and gain the attention of local New Yorkers. Imagine they also get to enjoy a new stadium situated inside New York City. The Hudson River Derby could fill the entire city with excitement – and define who they are while defining who they’re clearly not. They are not New Jersey, they are not suburban America, they are New York, for everything that it is.

Unlike hockey or football (the American kind), tourists would also come to see the club if it becomes successful and signs a few of the big names in Europe. NYCFC’s potential to outshine the Red Bulls is tremendous. The team in light blue has the chance to make a name for itself, better than any other team.

Manchester City has established itself as the number one club in England, but 10-15 years ago it was a mediocre team that lived in the shadow of Manchester United. The same transition could happen to NYCFC in a short period of time. Despite an invisible presence in the city, it still attracts (on average) 23K supporters per game.

If the investors play their cards right, one success can follow another, the money will start pouring in, and the club will earn its identity. I see great future for NYCFC, and it will be a crucial step towards the inevitable – shifting the world’s focus on soccer from Europe to America. Just don’t hold your breath. It will take some time.

Stadium Portrait © Elad Spira