Is New York City FC’s stay at Yankee Stadium really an insult to soccer?
Critics say an MLS team playing on a baseball field is symbolic of soccer’s place in US sports’ pecking order. But many love the unique atmosphere in the Bronx
Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan, New York City FC has long searched for a permanent home within the five boroughs, but has so far struggled to make it happen.
Since joining Major League Soccer in 2015, NYC FC has played the majority of its home games in the Bronx-based Yankee Stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s Yankees whose owners, Yankee Global Enterprises, also have a 20% stake in the soccer club. It was supposed to be a temporary measure while NYC FC worked on finding a site for a permanent, soccer-specific home, but eight seasons later the club is still there, playing on a baseball field.
And it’s still seen as a stopgap. The search continues for a site to develop a new facility, but there have been roadblocks at every turn. Many see the situation as an embarrassment for the club, and indeed, MLS. But many NYC FC fans genuinely enjoy elements of the Yankee Stadium experience, especially the supporters’ sections.
The Guardian spoke to a number of NYC FC fans, online and in person, who are keen on Yankee Stadium. For many, it’s simply easier to get to than other venues where the team has played – Yankee Stadium can be reached on a number of subway lines and is near the Metro North line for fans coming into the city. And the fact that the team has now been in the area for a number of years, means many of its most loyal fans live nearby (the Bronx also has the highest proportion of Hispanic people among New York’s five boroughs, a demographic with a strong soccer following). Moving to another venue would mean a longer journey for many of the club’s fans.
Citi Field, the Queens-based home of the New York Mets, has been a secondary home venue for NYC FC in recent years. Many enjoy watching games there, but those who are part of a supporters’ group tend to prefer Yankee Stadium as the bleachers make for an ideal place to congregate behind the goal.
“Yankee Stadium looks a lot worse on TV than in person, in my opinion, and I love my seats there in section 135 below the supporters’ section,” says Brooklyn-based NYC FC fan Björn Bellenbaum. “I take my kids to the games, they’re teenagers now but for the first few years standing room/general admission wasn’t really an option. But we do get into it so we like to be close to the supporters’ section, so that area of seats below the bleachers is perfect and obviously wouldn’t exist in that way in a soccer stadium.”
For those fans who watch on TV, the main camera angle at Yankee Stadium is often criticised for being too low and far away. But it still shows a clear view of the action, it’s just different to the slightly more top-down style common at other stadiums. There is also a tactical cam view from behind one of the goals that is unique and useful (at least for those interested in that type of thing).
There have been other complaints that the area furthest away from the soccer field, behind home plate and not dissimilar to the TV angle (and incidentally where the press box is situated), is also too far away from the action. But watch a game from this vantage point in person and it’s a better view than that in some other well-known stadiums around the world, a number of which have a running track between the stands and the pitch, or even obstructed views.
Then there is the issue of the small pitch dimensions, but this can also be a positive if players have the technique to shine in tight spaces, and it’s potentially ideal for narrow defensive structures and counter-pressing. NYC FC don’t lose too many games at Yankee Stadium – perhaps because away teams are unused to playing in such a constricted environment. The only away team to win there this season is Philadelphia Union, who specialise in narrow defense and high pressing. Besides, recent results suggest NYC FC players can’t hate playing at Yankee Stadium too much: they are, after all, the reigning MLS champions.
Some of the criticisms from those who aren’t NYC FC fans can feel like a case of first-world problems. Yankee Stadium doesn’t fit the perception of what a soccer-watching experience usually looks like, so it’s criticised. Unorthodox doesn’t mean bad. Some of the best stadiums and the best atmospheres in world soccer will have an element of discomfort or awkwardness about them, but this is often what gives these sporting theatres a unique character.
Maybe there’s also a lesson here for when the club eventually constructs its own stadium. It would be tempting to go with something like Red Bull Arena – the home of New York’s other MLS side, the New Jersey-based Red Bulls, which is an impressive if fairly generic soccer-specific stadium. Or they could keep baseball-style bleachers for standing areas, the grand scoreboards, the Americana, while also incorporating New York’s cosmopolitan character into the venue.
All of this doesn’t mean NYC FC supporters should settle for the current situation. Supporting a club can often be about sticking with a team through the tough periods while simultaneously fighting for something better. But once a new home is found and a new facility built, fans could look back on the Yankee Stadium era as an “I was there” moment that wasn’t actually so bad. Some may even miss it.