A View from Afar

Yankee Stadium’s soccer pitch is an embarrassment to MLS

Photo: Peter Andrews

Yankee Stadium’s soccer pitch is an embarrassment to Major League Soccer, a lingering sign of how rich foreign owners bought their way into one of the world’s most rapidly ascending leagues at the expense of good soccer.

The field was the star in Saturday’s match between New York City FC and Philadelphia Union. Players repeatedly slipped and fell in the left back’s area on one side of the pitch, which was temporarily sodded over infield, and in a corner where sod covered the baseball warning track. We saw players wipe out on set pieces, of all things. The sod was so temporary that it was already being removed less than two hours after the game.

That was on top of the usual ridiculousness of a soccer pitch so small that it should not host a professional soccer game. The sport is soccer, not pinball.

This is not the provincialism of an opposing fan, mind you.

I grew up going to the Bronx to watch Yankee games. I was born in New York, spent much of my childhood there, and hear my mom’s Brooklyn accent in my own words whenever I get too excited. Toward the end of the 2008 baseball season, my brother and I made sure to catch a game at the House That Ruth Built before they demolished it and replaced it with the penthouse that tax breaks built. I walked off with a Don Mattingly throwback jersey, childhood memories, and a wistfulness for what was.

Basically, I was predisposed to be a NYCFC fan.

It will never happen, of course. Not with this product.

On the road and in practice, NYCFC features one of the most entertaining squads in MLS. Their team is loaded with talent, including the venerable David Villa, rising stars Jack Harrison and Ronald Matarrita, cult hero Tommy McNamara (the next Mike Magee), and Venezuela U20 star Yangel Herrera. Their coach, Patrick Vieira, spent a decade as a top player in Europe and looks like his managerial career could follow a similar trajectory. Put this roster and technical staff in any other MLS market, and they could be the most fun team in the league to watch.

Add to that the fact that many foreign players’ first choices are the teams in New York and Los Angeles, and this should be an MLS flagship club.

But the lack of adequate infrastructure blows a hole in all that. Most fans watch the games via bad sight lines. The crowd is spread out over too many seats. And, of course, the small pitch distorts the flow of play and turns it into a disjointed pinball match.

Worse still, there seems to be no alternative in sight. The club has put forth no new stadium plans and botched its past proposals. They’re stuck playing a version of soccer so clearly damaged by the field’s shape that it pales in comparison to what it should be. Sure, it’s tough to build a stadium in New York, but if even the Nets could build an NBA arena in the city after decades in New Jersey, then NYCFC should be able to pull off a stadium too.

But let’s be honest: We know they don’t want to. The billionaire owner has already bought into MLS revenue sharing. With the league’s value skyrocketing, this investment is set.

No MLS fan should accept that, least of all New Yorkers.

This is New York City, proclaimed by many as the greatest city in the world. Its soccer fans deserve more than this tragicomedy.

Yankee Stadium’s uniquely bad pitch is not home field advantage. It’s just a joke.

 

Author’s note: Read this for amplifying detail on the 24 player slips during the match, published after the above column was written.

37 Comments

  1. i hate watching the games they have there. its unwatchable trash. pinball is the exact comparison i was thinking about on saturday. i feel like i would get seasick if i were an nycfc fan and had to watch them 18 times a season on that shitty field. i’m going to post this again (i always bring it up around discussions of the nycfc stadium situation) in hopes that an nyc higher up sees it: they should fuse two container ships together and build a stadium on it and have it boat around the hudson during games

  2. There really is no reason the team doesn’t have a stadium. City Football Group is loaded. They could probably build a stadium in Manhattan if they wanted. I don’t at all understand why they are content to play in Yankee Stadium.

    • Jim Presti says:

      What do you mean? New stadium = incurring high expenses. Simple accounting. Keep expenses down, aka rent Yankee Stadium, and let the net income flow into your earnings. The only “cost” is everyone outside of NYC bitching about the field.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Yep. Good business says dictate to MLS as long as they will take it – that you will play in Yankee Stadium until the “exact right situation presents itself”. Costs stay down. Value of team rises. Many people make money. Simple stuff.

      • I don’t know…. the organization is sinking something like $3 billion into the Etihad campus in Manchester…. I find it hard to believe that an organization that prides itself on being the best is OK with the current conditions. But who knows? Maybe they’re being stingy. They just don’t strike me as a stingy outfit, though.

      • Union fan says:

        @Pete, a possible alternate explanation: the parent group still looks at the US as a soccer backwater. Right now any MLS money coming into them probably only covers the Gatorade expense for the year for the big boys. It’s a long play for huge profit decades down the road, so no reason to take on a 500million+ expense (and annual maintenance costs) If they don’t have to. We can all thank Don Garber for this mess. He’s done a lot of good for league, but struck out here.

      • Not a bad theory, Union Fan.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        City Football Group has ridiculous sums of money. They’re more interested in building a brand than “making a return”. Aside from Manchester City, NYCFC is their most prominent club so I would expect that building a world class stadium is a major priority for them.

        Their primary investor is Sheikh Mansour who has an estimated individual net worth of at least £17 billion and his family is worth $1 trillion.

    • Fernando Gonzalez says:

      No offense, but I’m going to assume you don’t actually know anything at all about NYC if you think they could build in Manhattan. It’s extremely difficult to build in any of the 5 boroughs let alone Manhattan. There is virtually no real estate to build in Manhattan and what little precious space is left will never go to a sports team. If the NY Jets couldn’t pull it off, a soccer team won’t. There’s barely real estate in the other boroughs either. The Giants gave up trying to build in NY 50 years ago. The Jets tried for almost 50 years and finally gave up. The MetroStars were practically laughed at in the early days of MLS. Heck, the Yankees had to threaten to leave NYC and go to the Meadowlands before they finally got their stadium in their own backyard, let alone new real estate. Mets got theirs only because the Yankees got theirs. It’s going to be a monumental task for NYCFC to get a stadium within NYC proper. Zero chance in Manhattan regardless of money. If they do end up somewhere in NYC proper it’ll be in the worst possible place far from real transportation and far as hell from the primary areas. Harrison will be closer to the average NY’er.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        The Nets got one in Brooklyn. Let’s remember what a laughing stock the Nets were for most of their existence in New Jersey, and they pulled it off.

        Agreed, Manhattan is probably out of the question, but NYC as a whole is not.

        Yankee connections/influence within city government were part of why the Yankees were supposedly part of the ownership group. (Supposedly.)

        It’s a difficult task, but with commitment, persistence, smart lobbying and money, it should get done.

      • I know Manhattan is difficult, but nothing is impossible if the price is right. With all due respect to the Giants, Jets or whatever, City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is worth more than 30 billion dollars :::Dr. Evil pinky to lips gesture::: If someone can buy some Manhattan Real Estate, it’s him.

  3. There is an adjacent park which would make an excellent soccer pitch.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Hehe, the Yankees took a lot of heat from the neighborhood for how long it took them to finish that park as it was a condition to their development approvals for the new one.

      Dan – I grew up going to many games at previous Yankee Stadium and agree that the new one is just awful for any sport and in all aspects.

      Haven’t been there in decades, but has Randall’s Island been considered?

      • Roger Allaway says:

        Randall’s Island has been debated, but whether it has been seriously considered by NYCFC for more than five minutes is uncertain. The problem with Randall’s Island (other than the fact that using parkland has been a stumbling block in New York generally) is that there are only three roads leading off the island, and getting a 25,000 crowd out of there after a game would be a nightmare.

  4. Preach.

  5. Phil in Wilmington says:

    two words. floating stadium. put it on barges and dock it all over the island.

    it’s the food truck version of soccer stadia.

  6. Jim Presti says:

    Stockade FC. Fans can invest their entertainment money elsewhere.

  7. Chris Sherman says:

    I think there is also a strong argument that their field is substantially hurting them from a performance perspective.

    In looking back at my first article on home field advantage, NYCFC has one of the best away records in the league since 2010 (not that they’ve been playing that whole time), but among the worst home records.

    After watching the game this weekend, I think there is strong evidence that the field makes luck a greater factor in the match result, thus lessening the impact of their own home field (would-be) advantage.

    That game also led me to add “field conditions” to the list of future research topics and their impact on matches.

    • Jim Presti says:

      Chris, any way you can explore game states? Like the timing of goals or red cards, and the net outcome? Probability of win if a goal is scored prior to X minute or after Y minute etc?

      • Chris Sherman says:

        Yeah, in fact in my regular SEBA posts, there is already an early stage of that (this week’s it is the feature’s photo) showing the probabilities throughout the NYCFC match.

        The only part of it that is time-specific at the moment is Goals, but I have the data to eventually include the timing of yellow/red cards and subs as well.

  8. Union fan says:

    Thanks for writing this Dan. I say that not because I think it will make a difference necessarily. But I say it because I think this same article should be written by every visiting team media contingent for all 18 NYCFC home games. As someone above mentioned, MLS and the City Soccer Group are just trying to whistle through the graveyard on this. I think their attitude boils down to “Hey, as long as no one is saying anything about it let’s just keep our mouths shut and pretend everything is hunky-dory.” If they aren’t going to do anything about the trash soccer played on this field, at the very least team executives and Big Don Garber should have to try and defend this monstrosity week after week- just for the unintentional comedy that it would provide us. Kevin Kinkead has promised an article on this field today too. I say, keep them coming.

    • Jim Presti says:

      I don’t think people are silent. Take a gander at Twitter. Like I said above, it makes more financial sense to rent from the Yankees organization – who btw are co-owners of the team. MLS can turn a blind eye because the team brings in some revenue at home and more importantly on the road – people want to pay to see Villa & Pirlo etc

  9. Per the FIFA laws of the game, the referee has the final say over the suitability of the pitch if he believes it is a safety issue for the players, and thus the ability (in theory) to cancel the game if he believes the loose sod could endanger player safety (which you could probably make at least a somewhat-convincing argument for). Granted, MLS would probably see to it that a referee who did this would never work above the U8 level again in his career. That being said, I would love to see a referee on the edge of retirement cancel the game, or the manager of visiting team that already had clinched/been eliminated from the playoffs refuse to field his him team by citing the field conditions as a safety concern (kinda like what happened at the Vet for the preseason game against the Ravens back in 2001).

  10. I’m a Kansas City fan and we were mocked when we spent 2 seasons in a baseball stadium (which was only because the stadium was actually in the process of being built!). We were told MLS clubs should have soccer specific stadiums, so we built one.

    Now NYCFC is allowed to play in a baseball stadium with no plans to actually build a stadium, and Atlanta is allowed to play in what will probably be a 1/5th full NFL stadium (another problem Kansas City was mocked for in the early 2000s).

    The MLS is a joke with these “rules”

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Well said. Thanks for weighing in.

    • pragmatist says:

      I fully agree in regards to the lease of Yankee Stadium, and the general concept, but I’m holding out judgment on Atlanta. They designed that stadium with soccer in mind, theoretically. I’m guessing at the end of the day, it will be 1/2 – 3/4 empty, but I’m willing to give that experiment a little time to play out.
      .
      But on the whole, you are dead on. Everyone was expected to have a soccer-specific stadium. MLS just sold out to Man City.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      in the current socio-economic circumstance of the western world, if you have enough money, you can buy the rules.
      .
      At one point in the history of the United States Congress, individual Senators had the privilege of passing laws that applied to specific Peterson and/or situations and not have these personal bills recorded in the Congressional Record.
      .
      if you have enough money, you can change the law.
      .
      it has been ever thus, see Han Dynasty China for other examples.

  11. If the NY lovefest part of this article could GFOH that would be great. This is the PHILLY Soccer page. We don’t want to hear about what New Yorkers deserve, thanks.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Smell my shoe…;)

    • Dan Walsh says:

      It took seven years of PSP for someone to finally nail me on my NYC ties. 😉

      What I didn’t go into was how that garbage pitch probably helped cost your team the game.

      • I’n honestly just curious as to why you write for PSP about the Union if you clearly prefer to be a NY fan

  12. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Repeating a point made earlier, Peter Vermes claims the actual pitch size is 106 x 68.
    .
    That is comparable to the Varsity field at the Haverford School.

  13. Rashaad Jorden says:

    I’m actually crazy enough to think NYCFC will get a stadium eventually. Although, “eventually” could mean like 10-20 years from now (It seemingly took forever for D.C. United to get their own stadium).

    But it is an embarrassment that NYCFC will continue to play in Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future. I don’t know why anyone thought they would get a stadium built quickly. Although the Yankees, Mets and Nets succeeded in getting new venues built, it was enormously time-consuming for all those times.

    I do think NYCFC wants to build a stadium but it’s clear they’ve gone about it the wrong way.

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