New York City. The Big Apple. The Concrete Jungle. The City that Never Sleeps.
Immortalized in song by both Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z (among countless others), and in hundreds of films, television shows, books and plays, NYC is perhaps one of the three most famous cities in the world — and arguably the most iconic.
It should stand to reason then that its sports teams would also hold that same stature, and an iconic team deserves an iconic home. And if not exactly a state-of-the-art masterpiece, then at least one that they can call their own.
New York City FC is and should have been treated different.
Finding a good home shouldn’t have been a concern for a club which shares a deep pocketed Abu Dhabi-based ownership with Manchester City FC of the Premier League — and the aforementioned Yankees, perhaps one of the richest sporting franchises and brands in the world. Both of those teams play in sparking new(ish) stadiums that rank highly amongst stadium aficionados.
On the field, NYCFC has tried to generate buzz in the past (and wins), by acquiring high-profile names like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Frank Lampard, but the success never truly followed. One can argue the merits of taking this approach with their DP slots, but at least the club was trying. That cannot be questioned. They’ve even seemed to turn the page on the Villa-era this season, as one of the most dominant teams in the league.
However, it’s continued to be the off-field challenges which has been most disappointing for a club who should be perceived as one of the flagship franchises of MLS — a status it can never truly attain so long as they continue to play their home games at Yankee Stadium.
Look, Yankee Stadium itself is iconic. It ranks up there with Old Trafford, Cowboy Stadium, Camp Nou and Wembley. But when I hear the words Yankee Stadium, I think Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and Jeter...not Sean Johnson. (Note: This is the third stadium to use the name Yankee Stadium, and replaced the original version at the site, which was demolished in 2009).
Yankee Stadium is poorly fitted for soccer. The pitch an absolute disgrace in its dimensions.
The sightlines require unnatural levels of head turning as they’re all angled towards the batters box and pitcher mound, as opposed to the centre of the pitch.
On television, it looks like something that even CONCACAF wouldn't let one of its nations play their home games in, as the visuals on TV make for a seemingly sloped pitch. It just doesn't look Major League.
Heck, I don't even think the Timbits program would hold practices there, as the pitch is some sort of combination of grass and artificial turf that covers the dirt infield at times.
I will give credit to the club in that they're trying; Boy, have they tried. There has been no more than five different sites that they've explored since their inception, only to see them turned down by competing interests (ex. the New York Mets), or by having a potential parter remove themselves from the equation (Columbia University).
However, a club with such deep pockets can afford to go at it alone, and there is no amount of inertia in sports that cannot be overcome with the right figure written on a cheque. MLS and NYCFC need to make the latest proposition in Bronx work as a soccer-specific stadium in Manhattan would instantly become the crown jewel of the league — a place that would showcase one of the world’s biggest cities and its diverse and vibrant fanbase, rather than empty bullpens and dugouts.
The stadium doesn't even need to be anything extravagant. The Canadian Premier League has a few examples of how small intimate settings can work to create the perfect atmosphere, and in some cases, work even better than the larger counterparts: think more Craven Cottage than West Ham Stadium. All in all, a 20-25,000-seat stadium somewhere in the Bronx, with proper pitch lines and dimensions, with seating for players on the field, with better camera angles and seats closer to the action are all thats required to create a better soccer environment. Anything else on top would be the cherry on the cake.
New York City and New Yorkers don't do anything low key; everything about the city and their own possess a certain swagger and bravado. It’s time the owners of the club and the leadership in MLS offices remember that Empire State of Mind and get a new stadium done, no matter what it takes. The ramifications of that decision could be the rising tide that lifts all the boats anchored in the MLS harbour.