By Nick Chávez
When I stepped onto the platform of the 7 train at 74th Street and Broadway, I was immediately greeted by the sight of at least 20 people wearing New York City Football Club shirts, and many more inside as the train arrived.
I was encouraged by this initially, since I had my doubts about how many fans this “Decision Day” Crew match would draw. It didn’t seem like the club did enough to advertise in the Queens area itself that New York City FC would be playing at Citi Field.
I live in the area and I saw no such advertising in the community, though it’s possible I just missed it. As we all know, it’s easy for MLS news to fly under the radar if you’re not already inside of our far-too-exclusive bubble.
Consequently, it appeared to me that NYCFC would be reliant on season ticket holders and the club’s otherwise most-dedicated fans, that are much more accustomed to travelling to the Bronx, to fill those seats. I saw the 18-20K tickets sold announcements from the club prior to the match, but we all know that this doesn’t always equal butts in seats. And with a reportedly large percentage of season ticket holders hailing from Westchester, even Mr. Brightside himself had given in to realistic pessimism, all things considered.
As fate would have it, kick-off arrived, and New York City FC did indeed draw a raucous crowd of 20,113 that truly filled the lower half of Citi Field. To make matters so much better, we were finally able to hear what a more or less full NYCFC supporters section would sound like in a stadium with actual favorable acoustics, and they did not disappoint.
Indeed, I tell you now without a thread of exaggeration that New York City FC’s supporters will be among the very loudest supporters in MLS when they finally get the stadium they so richly deserve. Yes, I fully understand that this distinction is a tall order with all of the incredible MLS atmospheres across the United States and Canada, especially among the expansion sides that have arrived since (and including) Toronto FC.
But, NYCFC’s supporter section, led by the drums and inexhaustible voices of Los Templados of the New York City Supporters Club, finally got the chance to showcase their voice at close to full strength in a stadium much more capable of amplifying it in a way most soccer-specific stadiums can, and they did it in a stadium that was not their usual home.
NYCFC Family halftime show pic.twitter.com/agYVDa3wD1
— NYCFC Nation (@NYCFCNation) October 22, 2017
New York City’s 12th man was booming and intimidating, and you could tell how much it drove the home side to get the result they needed to finish 2nd place in the East. This is just a taste of what it will be like in New York City’s own soccer-specific stadium. But, will that stadium end up being right next door?
Citi Field itself is a venue much more appropriate for soccer. It has a larger field that can expand upon the size limitations of Yankee Stadium, though Los Celestes decided to keep their usual Yankee Stadium dimensions this time to keep that home field advantage.
The stadium shape and seating itself also more closely resemble the layout of a soccer stadium, and as mentioned before, really does a much better job of keeping in the sound and projecting that New York roar than Yankee Stadium.
If it is announced that NYCFC’s stadium will indeed be built in Willets Point, or elsewhere in Queens, NYCFC should seek to play all home matches in Citi Field in order to really engage the community, draw more fans from the Queens area, and get NYCFC fans used to travelling to where their future home stadium will be as soon as possible.
And honestly, NYCFC should plan ahead and seek to play more games at Citi Field in general, especially with any potential scheduling conflicts with the Yankees in the upcoming seasons. Not only is it a better venue for soccer, and provides a much better atmosphere, but it also is a way to showcase NYCFC to Queens residents and people in the surrounding areas that find Queens to be a much more convenient commute than to the Bronx. In short, it can create new fans and form new emotional connections to fans from different parts of the Tri-state area.
But of all the encouraging things that I personally experienced this past Sunday, nothing gave me more to smile about than hearing a group of 10-11 year old boys on one part of the train, and a totally separate group of even younger boys on another part of the train car, both talking about international soccer, extremely knowledgeable and passionate about it.
They spoke about it in the way you’d historically hear most American boys talk about their favorite baseball or basketball players. It almost sounded like these children were from another country, considering their passion for a sport that has been so often overlooked here in the past, but their accents were certainly American.
It was a revelation to me that we are truly in a new era, and that New York City FC has already, after only 4 years of existence, provided such an effective catalyst in the movement to intertwine world football into New York’s cultural tapestry and unifying its diverse soccer-loving population under its blue crest.
It will no doubt continue to be, in the biggest and most diverse city in the United States. The importance of that can never be overstated for the purposes of our game domestically, which has recently been dealt such a heavy blow in missing out on the Men’s 2018 World Cup.
But back to these soccer-mad boys, it really was a remarkable scene on that train. After one group of boys got finished discussing Messi vs. Ronaldo, “Atletico” (I assume Atletico de Madrid), the Champions League, and Sergio Ramos during the winding trail of their conversation, one of the boys said, “and Number 7… Daviiiid…” and all the boys in unison said “Viiiillaaaaaa” with great pride, in the style of New York City FC’s stadium announcer.
You just don’t see something like that every day in regards to an MLS player: An MLS marketing signing turned deserved league MVP, and now, organic local sports hero for the children; especially not in New York.
This is the way the game, and our top flight league, continues to grow in stature and quality. These kids on the Willets Point bound 7-train showed me that we are, in many ways, moving in the right direction. They, and my year of living here now, also showed me that Queens is fertile ground to plant these seeds of development, of both players and new fans, creating a foundation that will propel New York City FC and US Soccer to greater heights for generations to come.
This area of Queens, with nearby Jackson Heights only a few stops away, may be the most culturally and ethnically-diverse place on earth. This game is the most popular, passionate sport all around the world. Nothing else comes close.
With so many of these people originating from every part of the globe, or are the sons and daughters of these foreign-born Americans, they already have the world’s game in their blood. They are ready to support and unite under one team that represents their city and community.
So, Mr. Patricof, if by chance you are able to secure a land deal for a stadium in Queens proper, I have no doubt that it will be very successful here. And if you already know that the stadium will be in Queens, it would be wise to arrange for Citi Field to be the temporary home of NYCFC as soon as humanly possible to further prepare this fertile ground for growing New York City Football Club into the global sports institution we know it can really become.