Yankee Stadium Is Not Ready For MLS Soccer

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.

27 thoughts on “Yankee Stadium Is Not Ready For MLS Soccer”

  1. That pitch was narrow and just awful. These converted baseball stadiums is just not what should be used in these preseason matches. The potential for injuries is just too high. Every squad should have fully fit players for the start of the season.

  2. I have faith that Yankee Stadium can get it right. They now have had a number of soccer games played in that stadium so the grounds crew probably has a good idea of what works and doesn’t work and the best way to go about things. For the record Yankee Stadium has hosted 5 soccer games including last night.

  3. I have seen Chelsea play there twice and you could tell that the ball would play better in the outfield but would also play slower there because they grass was longer than a soccer field.

    So this is what the 5th soccer match they have played at Yankee Stadium you would think they would have realized already that this is a bad idea. Just imagine what it’s going to play like in the rain.

  4. The field was in much better shape last year for City vs Chelsea and Ireland vs Spain.

    Last night’s pitch was embarrassing and as an NYCFC season ticket holder I am not pleased to see this as an example of what our field would look like.

  5. It was funny to hear the announcers try to convince the viewers that the pitch was “amazing”. At one point Jason Kreis, NYCFC manager, was interviewed and he fawned over the field and how good the surface was.

    Meanwhile, every time the ball rolled over the infield section of the grass, it bobbled or came to a complete stop.

    And keep in mind, this was Yankee Stadium putting its best foot forward for Liverpool and Manchester City. What’s the condition of the pitch going to be when NYCFC is playing Philadelphia?

  6. It’s problematic. I mean, even when you expressly build a field for soccer, the field has to be maintained and fussed over. It’s not surprising that converting a baseball field is a mess. I would be more surprised if they actually did a good job with the conversion.

    Hopefully they can make it though the first couple of seasons and it becomes a distant memory.

    On the other hand, you should see some of the crummy fields that lots of us play Sunday soccer on. The field I played on last week felt like asphalt with grass clippings glued to it. Motorcycle protective gear would have been appropriate for sliding on this field. Yet….we managed to play, some nice goals were scored, multi-pass movements came off sometimes, nobody died.

  7. Practice makes perfect. Last night was not the best example of what can be done. Dimensions will always be a problem but as with Arsenal’s Highbury, teams just adjusted.

    Making the turf look and feel seamless from the outfield to home base, week in – week out will be an initial challenge but with the deep pockets of NYFC’s owners, I’m sure that it will eventually be done to acceptable standards.

    It’s unfair to compare what’s done now, a few times a year, in a fairly ad hoc manner for a one off tournament, to what a resident grounds-keeper with custom turf may do.

    As for transportation, Yankee Stadium is a peach to get to and from, compared to the likes of Red Bull Arena.

    Using the subway is NOT going to be an issue any more than one would expect, attending an event on a weeknight.

    Merchandising and other logistical issues, will sort themselves out.

  8. I wonder if this was a legal pitch? It was awfully narrow. I guess commissioner Garber has a stiffie over the wonderful condition. At least that is what he told the New York manager to say to the TV folks. Strictly second rate.

    1. FIFA regulations require a pitch to get 50 yards or wider. This one measures 70 yards (supposedly, although it looked narrower than that on TV).

  9. Smokey, they won’t do that. They’re really going after this NYC’s “real club” thing.

    I should mention this game got a larger crowd than any Yankees’ game this year.

    I have an obvious question…

    Why is the field set up like it is for the Pinstripe Bowl?

    The pitch would just be wide enough. I would assume that it’s more work and money to set the field up that way, plus the seats wouldn’t be as close to the pitch either.

    1. I’ve never seen the Pinstripe Bowl, but if it goes over the pitcher’s mound then that’s your answer. Since MLS’ season runs concurrent with MLB, they would have to remove the mound and rebuild it after every match. This would up the injury risk to pitchers, so I’ve been told. It’s just one of the reasons the A’s desperately want to stop sharing the Coliseum with the Raiders.

      1. During the press conference announcing NYCFC was going to be playing at Yankee Stadium they said they are going to be putting the mound on a base so they can lift it off the field easier.

  10. I agree with the optimists, they will get it right. Wasn’t Arsenal’s Highbury pitch small? And a bumpy pitch is still preferable to the artificial grass found in Seattle.

  11. Was anyone else watching on TV confused on Dzeko’s offside goal. It seemed that he looked onside because the lawnmower stripes on the outfield grass do not run parallel to the end line like they usually do on a normal pitch.

    On replays, you can usually use the lines in the grass to tell if the player was an inch on or offside, but not when the lines go diagonal across the field.

    Wonder if the various lawnmower cuts and odd grass patterns will make the linesmen’s job calling offside even more difficult..

  12. I watched a stream of a british channel, they said repeatedly how terrible the pitch was, what a disgrace that these two top teams had to play on it.

  13. If you think Liver gut and Man fan will come to watch a NYCFC game your crazy. Now imagine when NYCFC starts and the stands are half empty what kind of image will MLS have. Public perception is everything when it comes to sports marketing & MLS will have to deal with a bad situation gone worse.

    1. Liverpool supporter here who was at the match Wednesday. I already have a deposit on NYCFC tickets, as do several of my friends.

      1. You do know that NYCFC was purchased so that Manchester City can get around the Financial Fair Play Rules. How can you give your money to a team that directly competes with Liverpool for title and Champions League spots?!

        1. I don’t believe that is the reason MCFC purchased an MLS club. I have no doubt it was done to spread the City brand in the US, and I have no problem with that.

          As far as FFP goes, we as fans have absolutely no say in how those rules are enforced, and I’m pretty sure City and others are easily finding ways around it already.

          I’m happy to support an MLS team in New York. It’s your prerogative not to, and not support any MLS team. You’ve been pretty vocal with your criticism of the league and your screen name suggests you aren’t interested in any rational discussion about the league, anyway.

          Enjoy being bitter and angry. I’ll continue to watch what I want when I want.

          1. So if you don’t like your pants league, it’s being “bitter and angry”?

            Typical thin-skinned American. Enjoy wasting your $ on minor league soccer.

  14. There are many problems with the baseball fields. Someone mentioned injuries, I don’t think that is one. The grass is grass, its not the artificial grass seen in some other stadiums ad NFL stadiums too. However:

    -The field is too narrow

    -The outfield grass is too long and thus the play is slow and you can see the players are always miss hitting balls because I sits up higher than normal

    -the dirt infield is always a mess with the grass on top of it. Players were sliding all over it in the first half at least.

    Maybe they can work to remedy those problems, but “top level” football, which MLS is trying to be and what these euro teams are when they come to visit, should not be played on baseball fields.

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