On a picture perfect summer night in The Bronx, two of the world’s bigger football clubs met at Yankee Stadium as part of this year’s edition of the World Football Challenge. In the first soccer match played at the ‘House That Steinbrenner Built,’ Chelsea FC and Paris Saint-German battled to a 1-1 draw before 38,000 spectators, of which about 90 percent were cheering for Chelsea. It was an impressive turnout for the Champions League winners, particularly given the match was held on Sunday night rather than during the day.
Yankee Stadium turned out to be a fine venue for the event. The pitch looked in decent enough shape, and although grass had to be placed over the dirt of the infield it didn’t seem like the players were having too much trouble with the turf. I sat in the second level near the corner in the end PSG was attacking in the first half – or right in line with the left field foul pole. The sight lines were fantastic, and every bit of the pitch was visible from my vantage point and from many other areas of the stadium that I checked out.
While the match sounded at times like a home game for Chelsea, the crowd was fairly subdued throughout the first half. With Nene pulling the strings in the PSG midfield, the French outfit looked the better side, and Chelsea fans were asking when they would get a chance to see some of their stars. They got their wish in the second half with the entry of Ashley Cole, John Terry, Florent Malouda, Ramires, and Michael Essien. Terry in particular got a rousing ovation when he entered, and despite the recent court case, it was clear the Chelsea faithful were backing their captain.
With Nene going to the PSG bench, Chelsea began to see more of the ball and put together some impressive attacks. While the fans had awakened with the entry of the Chelsea stars, the reminder that this was indeed a friendly came just shy of 70 minutes when the wave was in full swing, which probably provided the most crowd energy to that point. To be fair, I was seated at the opposite end of the Chelsea supporters’ clubs. I could hear them now and again, but the rest of the stadium seemed content to watch rather than sing.
The noise level did pick up as Chelsea built momentum and the crowd exploded when Lucas Piazon leveled. A few more close calls at both ends led to an exciting finish. While it seemed silly for the ref not to allow Chelsea to take the corner kick before the final whistle, the neutrals sitting next to me had a laugh at the Chelsea players surrounding the ref at the end with suggestions of mid-season form.
Despite not getting to see Torres, Ibrahimovic, or Silva, all in all, the experience of catching a match at Yankee Stadium was thoroughly enjoyable. My one gripe would be for the matches to include two clubs that may draw more even support. Though New York has a decent-sized French expat community, the PSG support was minuscule. I look forward to the Real Madrid vs. AC Milan match in a couple of weeks at the same venue and will compare the turnout and support.
I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on what it looked like on television.