Playing on a field whose dimensions are dictated by America’s pastime is emblematic of New York City FC. The size of the NYCFC field is a testament to the club’s tendency to grovel to the basest tastes with panem et circenses.
Take the most billed match of the year – LA Galaxy vs. NYCFC. Or as you more likely saw it pitched: Stevie G vs. Super Frank (ignore that Lampard didn’t even make the bench). As for the match itself, the cameraman completely missed a goal because he was hell bent on a close-up shot David Villa.
There was no goal build-up and not even a glimpse of the ball flying into the net. Viewers saw Villa walking near the halfway line, heard a cheer, and then saw a replay. It’s great that soccer is growing in the US. And it’s swell that aging internationals are willing to live out a well-paid early retirement on American shores. But can we please show goals live?
The NYCFC field fails to meet minimum size requirements—this much is clear to the naked eye. Opposition teams spoke of how they practiced long throw-ins before coming to Yankee Stadium because a good throw-in is equal to a corner at the Bronx stronghold.
All media requests to measure the field were denied, confirming the open secret: soccer is ancillary to the NYCFC machine.
The restricted field at Yankee Stadium can hardly be expected to produce top notch soccer—but NYCFC offers something else. The bulk of NYCFC’s allure is its landlord.
Soccer in a baseball stadium is a phenomenon in itself. It’s a novelty that might turn apathy to curiosity. There is inherent, American history at Yankee Stadium so a supporter will get something out of the experience no matter how poor (or confined) the soccer is. There is something of value simply in visiting the storied stadium.
The oddity of seeing a soccer match played on a baseball diamond is reason enough to go. A sort of athletic freak show, NYCFC’s strangeness is its appeal. Sure, NYCFC might have Pirlo, Lampard, and Villa, but throw in the Great Bambino, Mantle, and Jeter then Americans will watch this FIFA declared “ethnic sport for schoolgirls”.
The problem with the NYCFC setup is that the focus is not on the game but on the spectacle. Designated players take precedence over goals. The MLS caters to our wants as consumers, though.
Does it think we’d rather see a DP walk around more than we’d like to see a homegrown MLS player score? Maybe we do. The number of Pirlo shirts at Yankee Stadium prior to his arrival indicates the MLS is simply giving us what we want.
For all that Yankee Stadium is doing to bolster soccer’s status in the US, is it doing so at the expense of the most iconic winning team in the world? The Yankees bought the MLS expansion rights with Manchester City. Imagine—how would you feel as a Yankees player?
With baseball declared dead or dying daily, Yankees players must be resentful that their owners don’t even have the respect to wait for the autopsy report. You have just one foot in the grave and they’re already building a “football club” on top of you.
Perhaps the Yankees can feel vindicated that their pitcher mound took precedence over decent football and served as the primary reason the field was constrained to a minute size. Perhaps they couldn’t care less.
It’s unclear after just one season whether sport or spectacle will triumph for NYCFC. The appointment of Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira as manager speaks to the club’s penchant for marquee names.
NYCFC is on the egregious end of the spectrum in the gimmick arena as compared with other MLS franchises, but their impressive attendance indicates that there is a shrewd business mind behind their pageantry.
NYCFC average 29,000 fans per match. The Red Bulls, the Eastern Conference winners, have an average attendance of 19,600 (capacity 25k). Maybe it will end up being a ‘come for the Villa, stay for the Poku’ success story.
Would Dog Day Afternoon or Serpico have reached so many people without The Godfather? A love for the sport, sprung from an initial interest in seeing a Champions League winner in the flesh is plausible enough.