As we witnessed during the World Cup, interest in the sport of “soccer” has grown significantly in the United States. Everton’s Tim Howard became a national hero and was a popular topic on mainstream television shows such as Letterman and the Tonight Show.
At the same time, Major League Soccer has seen a significant growth in attendance. In fact the first MLS match following team USA’s exit from the World Cup, featuring Portland at Seattle, drew 64,000.
It’s no wonder then that MLS is expanding. The league currently has 19 teams and will be up to 21 by the time the 2015 MLS season begins next March. One of these teams is New York City Football Club. A joint venture of the New York Yankees and Manchester City, NYCFC will play their home matches at Yankee Stadium.
Despite the fact that NYCFC has yet to build a team (as of this writing the NYCFC squad is made up of six players), they have already made headlines with the signings of David Villa and Frank Lampard.
I’m sure that NYCFC will draw fans from within the five boroughs and develop their own fan base; however, I wonder what kind of affect the arrival of NYCFC will have on the area’s original MLS team, the New York Red Bulls.
I can see the Red Bulls taking a hit with regards to soccer fans from Long Island, the northern suburbs and the city. The casual fan may abandon the Red Bulls simply because NYCFC’s matches will be easier to get to.
The Red Bulls have made great inroads within the tri-state area and deserve credit for growing the profile of professional soccer in the New York area. In addition to signing stars such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, the Red Bulls built a beautiful soccer specific stadium that is modeled after similar sized European arenas.
Though they are named the New York Red Bulls, the team is actually located in New Jersey. The Harrison area is rather run down and has seen better days. For those of us that live in the city, getting to Red Bull Arena is an ordeal. Despite the fact that the stadium is just less than 17 miles away from Manhattan, it takes those using public transportation approximately 2 hours to travel to see the Red Bulls. Added to the journey is the insanity that is the Harrison train station. Just exiting the station is a hassle as there is one set of stairs that leads down to the narrow exit. Getting back on the train is even worse as you actually have to wait in a line as the entrance can only accommodate a few people at a time.
Fans from the city have put up with this over the years as the Red Bulls were the only game in town. I’m afraid that many fans will desert the Red Bulls and the ridiculous journey to New Jersey for NYCFC and Yankee Stadium. As baseball fans in the area know, Yankee Stadium can easily be reached by either the 4 or B and D trains which let fans off right at the Stadium.
My hope is that both teams are able to keep and develop its own following. One thing that is certain is we will soon find out whether there is enough of a soccer fan base in New York area to accommodate both the Red Bulls and NYCFC.