There are soccer fans out there in the five boroughs of New York, and some of them follow the New York Red Bulls, a team that plays in New Jersey as part of Major League Soccer. Of course, the Red Bulls are like the football Giants and Jets – they are “New York” in name only. Now here comes New York City FC (Football Club) through a partnership of the New York Yankees and the British Manchester City. They plan for the team to play its games in New York City, so the name will be more meaningful, and the hope is that the fans will come to the games like they used to do years ago for the Cosmos.
Of course, there are still Cosmos fans in New York. One of them, let’s call him Vinnie, spoke to me on the phone earlier and was all excited. “It’s going to come back, and we’ll have the attention just like we did when Pelé was here.”
Okay, with all due respect to Vinnie and those like him, those Pelé days (1977-8) are so long gone that many people do not remember them. Those that do may recall the brief focus on the excitement of soccer in New York, but after the great one retired the sport lost its luster in the city, with the Cosmos eventually moving to – you guessed it – to good old New Jersey. After that the team fell off the radar and that was the end of MLS soccer here.
The Red Bulls can call themselves a New York team, but we all know they are a New Jersey team. Perhaps New York City FC will stoke the fires again for the sport in New York. I would definitely be willing to go to games and bring the kids, and the rumor is that the team is searching for a home (which could even be temporarily Citi Field).
The problem is recognition. Baseball, football, basketball, and hockey all have big stars. They are recognizable names and faces, and that is why when Pelé was here that soccer flourished. If we stopped the average guy on the street in Times Square and asked him to name a big soccer star, would he be able to mention anyone on the Red Bulls or any other MLS team? I’ll bet you might get a few responses of “David Beckham” but, otherwise, you would be at a loss.
So now as MLS announces New York FC as its 20th expansion team, and we know the team will begin playing in 2015, and Man City is wise enough to partner with an organization like the Yankees, the next step is to lure top talent to New York. No organization more than the Yankees knows how to do that – with everyone from Babe Ruth to Reggie Jackson to Alex Rodriguez. This is what will have to happen with New York City FC if it wants to draw fans and succeed in this town.
The amazing thing is that the NY Mets have long opposed the idea of building a soccer stadium near Citi Field. So perhaps Yankees President Randy Levine is just dreaming when he says that the team might play at Citi Field while the new stadium is being built. Also, locals in Queens do not want to see Flushing Meadows-Corona Park lost to a huge complex, especially with Citi Field and USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center already causing plenty of traffic jams; another stadium could become a logistical nightmare.
Still, Manchester City has made a huge investment and must be convinced that New York will be the place to make soccer explode in the United States. It could happen if they get top talent and a beautiful new stadium. We can imagine Red Bulls fans are starting to think about a rivalry, and that is always an exciting thing for the city.
Will New Yorkers embrace New York City Football Club? First of all they will have to get used to “soccer” being called “football.” If we can get over that hurdle, the rest of it should be a piece of cake.
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