If there are two lessons that Manchester City and the New York Yankees can take out of the game between Liverpool and Manchester City at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night, it is that there were a whole lot more Liverpool fans in New York, and that there is a lot of work yet to be done before the stadium can really be soccer-ready.
The two teams were playing at the new home of the MLS joint venture between Manchester City and the New York Yankees, New York City FC (NYCFC), but the first issue is insignificant when compared with the state of the field and the viewing experience.
Having a stadium predominately filled with Liverpool fans is not a problem, but the baseball dirt that showed through the makeshift field is actually a very big issue. Even from the second level of the stadium, you could see the outlines of the strips of grass that were laid down in preparation for the match. It looked slippery and thin, and the ball bobbled across the uneven surface, which is not a good combination for a soccer field.
The first baseline disappeared into the patchwork, crossing diagonally right in front of the goal, and then along the side of the field where the third baseline is. The covering over the dirt of the baselines creates something that is by no means an even surface. Players fell as they crossed from the thick, manicured grass to the uneven surface covering the baseball dirt. Plus from the stands, you could see where clods of grass had been torn up. Even Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart slipped on the change in surface in front of the goal — where the net that abuts directly onto the low first base wall, with one post practically resting on it.
The ball behaved differently on the surface as well, which will definitely give NYCFC the advantage over the course of a season. Even the lack of width on the strip at the third base line, which the Yankees hope will not have to be covered with grass, is only about three feet wide, and presented a challenge when players ran off while giving chase, finding themselves on dirt.
A jumbo screen hangs there above the field at the furthest corner from the press box, showing the game as it is played as well as replays of goals, but it will make the officials life a lot more difficult as well when their calls no longer need to be debated. The replay action of their calls, penalties, fouls, offsides, etc, can be seen not only by the fans, but by the players almost immediately. As a friend of mine from Germany once said, the controversy and conversation and the very mystery of not knowing is something that should be cherished. Especially in soccer.
At the interval, lines for Liverpool and Manchester City merchandise were already 15 minutes long and growing even longer, so by the time the second half began, those toward the end of the line missed a lot of the second half action to wait for a scarf, hat or T-shirt. It was poor judgment to only have three merchandise stands available when a Yankee Stadium record of 49,653 (for a soccer game) show up.
Any time there is a big game at Yankee Stadium, there is always a problem getting fans out and onto the trains, but the trip is fairly quick if you know how to negotiate the lines, have a card with money on it already, and know to take the side staircases, but it is going to be an issue for families trying to get home on school nights early and late in the NYCFC season if they don’t drive. If they do, a $35 parking fee awaits them at the closest garages.
And yet for all the problems, no-one in the stands really seemed to mind. It was a well played game between two strong teams, who were unfortunately hindered by a third opponent, the field itself.
There is a lot of work to be done before the NYCFC season begins, but this game provided valuable insight for the NYCFC owners, to show what needs to be done to improve Yankee Stadium’s soccer-viewing experience. However, was Wednesday night’s field the best that soccer fans can expect from a bad situation?
Immediately after the game, even before both teams had left the field, the grounds crew was out putting up lines and stakes around the perimeter of the freshly laid grass. Their work was just beginning, with a long night ahead to prepare the field for baseball once again.