Manchester City win at Yankee Stadium; signal start of New York City F.C. era

Edin Dzeko Scores Final Goal in 5-3 victory over Chelsea. Photo Credit - New York Yankees

Edin Dzeko Scores Final Goal in 5-3 victory over Chelsea. Photo Credit – New York Yankees

By Chris Ballard in New York

Following this week’s announcement that a Manchester City/New York Yankees franchise would enter MLS as its 20th team in 2015, this evening’s exhibition match versus Chelsea – at Yankee Stadium – offered an interesting glimpse into New York City F.C.’s potential traction in the biggest media market in the world.

This was second meeting in three days between the two storied English sides, with the match in the Bronx following hot on the heels of the exciting 4-3 win for the Citizens in St. Louis on Thursday. And, while it’s not entirely clear where NYCFC’s home games will be played, the attentive and – at times – raucous crowd seemed to enjoy themselves as the two sides put on an entertaining match. While not a capacity crowd, the 39,462 who did make it appeared extremely appreciative of the effort put in by both teams, as City once again emerged victorious, this time 5-3. It was not a game that any defensive coaches would have appreciated, but plenty of skill was on display, particularly from Frenchman Samir Nasri, who scored two well-taken goals – one in each half – in a match that Manchester led for all but the first 150 seconds, when Gareth Barry pounced on a series of errors in the Chelsea defense to slide in the opener.

It seems apparent now that this game had been scheduled with the MLS announcement in mind, and prior kick off the Yankee Stadium big screen replayed Commissioner Don Garber’s midweek press conference, which drew big cheers from those who had arrived early. The theme of the night was very much NYCFC-flavoured, with Manchester City players and their mascots all wearing New York City FC t-shirts for the pre-game ceremonies.

There is little doubt that the Manchester City owners are hoping to increase awareness of their own brand in the United States as well as launch an MLS team. Based on the experience of the past few days, they’ll need to use all of their marketing nous to match the stateside popularity of Chelsea; the Blues’ fans outnumbered those of City quite comfortably. In that respect, it is perhaps telling that Chelsea have played games in the US going back a decade now, whereas Manchester City only started paying attention to the market after Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2011. Chelsea’s on-field success in that time is another reason that they are a more recognizable name right now – they bought the recently-won Europa League trophy with them, and Chelsea fans were lining up to have their photographs taken with it.

One of the major doubts about a second New York team is always going to be how they’ll reach out to the local population – Red Bull New York have been singularly ineffective in marketing to the city they claim to call home – but the strategic link-up with the Yankees suggests that this won’t be an area of concern for New York City FC. The Yankees’ marketing machine is impressive, and assuming that NYCFC’s games are broadcast locally on their YES Network (not yet confirmed but probable), they’ll already have more penetration than  their cross-river rivals. The relationship with the Red Bulls will also be a driver of the success of both teams; it has always been MLS’ intention to have 2 teams in each of New York and Los Angeles, and central to that strategy has been a desire to create an intense rivalry similar to that seen across many European cities with multiple teams.

The major stumbling block for NYCFC could be the location of their home stadium; unusually for MLS they have apparently been given the franchise without a firm idea of where they ultimately play their home games. The deal for land close to Citi Field in Queens appears to have stalled, and although all parties have said that they have plans for their own place, you do wonder if Don Garber would have shown a similar level of patience for a team outside of New York. (hint: he wouldn’t, as evidenced by Orlando City’s attempts to get into MLS). Assuming that New York City find themselves in temporary accomodations at the start of 2015, it seems a reasonable bet that those lodgings will be at Yankee Stadium,  simply because there aren’t many other places in the New York metro area capable of holding popular MLS games. Red Bull Arena and Citi Field have been mentioned in passing, but it’s difficult to see either of those venues being made available. The other option could be MetLife stadium, which would be interesting considering that it is neither of the two criteria that were considered key for the team (soccer-specific stadium, and within the 5 boroughs). At worst, the exhibition today served as a proof of concept that Yankee Stadium could, if necessary, be pressed into service as a makeshift soccer stadium, although the pitch would probably be narrow simply because of the dimensions of the outfield.

Following the game itself, Man City (and England) goalkeeper Joe Hart was asked about his opinion on the expansion into MLS, and he had this to say –

 It’s really exciting, you know?… MLS is growing and growing and growing and for Manchester City it’s the same thing, we’re growing as well, so it’s good to do it together

When asked about the venue for the new team, Hart said something that MLS execs and fans would undoubtedly agree upon.

Ideally you want your own stadium, your own home.

Now that New York City Football Club is a real thing and not a nebulous idea in the head of the MLS Commissioner, it’ll be an interesting 22 months or so to see whether they can answer the question that still linger – can they get a stadium deal done? Will they be able to field a good team from day one? Most importantly – will anybody care if they do?





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