New York City FC banners and sunny skies greeted supporters arriving at the Etihad City Football Academy this past Thursday in Orangeburg, New York. After parking at the World Class Soccer facility across the road, roughly 100 fans from around the tri-state area were given a warm welcome by Doug Bennet, manager of fan and member services. Every guest was given a NYCFC embossed cleat bag as a gift and individual pictures were taken. At roughly 11AM we were led across Old Orangeburg Road and into the NYCFC training facility. The first thing you notice upon entering the ECFA is that it is still under construction. Workers halted construction as we walked in through the service entrance, crossed a path made of plywood, and into the main parking lot on way to the training fields. Passing through a security gate you come face to face with the stunningly manicured soccer pitch.
We walked, as a group, along a paved path that surrounds the fields to the east end of the pitch. Jon Patricof, President of NYCFC, casually came over and chatted with many of the fans. After everyone was finally settled, Jon and several other NYCFC front office personnel spoke to the group, welcoming everyone to the facility. They spoke about the importance of the facility for the organization, the players, and the youth academy. There are currently 1 ½ pitches at the ECFA. The fields can be configured in various ways to keep them from being overused. With 33 miles of underheat piping the pitch can stay dry and relatively snow free all year round. The lines on the pitch match those at Yankee Stadium for a seamless transition to the stadium on match day.
We watched for an hour as players ran drills like keep away and scrimmaged on ¾ of a pitch while Sean Johnson and the other goalies practiced away from the rest of the first team. Following practice the players greeted the fans by signing autographs, taking pictures, and chatting with regulars. As players returned to the ECFA for lunch, we returned to the World Class facility for a lunch of our own provided by NYCFC. Support staff also set up activities for adults and children. We were also told that the tour would begin once all the players had left the facility. Around 3PM Doug and the rest of the staff brought us back together to tell us it was time to head back for the tour.
Entering the ECFA you’re greeted with a bright and open lobby. Behind the reception area is a wall with the crests of every City football club. Our guide told us that every facility, whether it be here in Orangeburg, Melbourne, or Manchester, is designed to look the same. When you visit any of the training facilities it should feel like you’ve been there before. There’s stark, clean industrial feel to the outside of the training facility. Jennifer Knowles, Vice President of marketing for NYCFC, told us that the design of the horizontal metal siding is proprietary to CFG. The designs are so perfect that they attract people to visit site. The other thing you’ll notice in the lobby, as well as every other room in the building is a large digital clock showing the time in hours, minutes, and seconds. As we learned during the tour, every second counts.
Behind the lobby is a set of double glass doors that lead to the vast majority of the facility. Stepping through this door you enter a long hallway covered with images from our first three years of existence. You’ll see a large picture of David Villa celebrating the first goal in NYCFC history, Mehdi Ballouchy, our first player turned coach, and James Sands, our first homegrown player to sign with the first team. Off this hallway are a large conference room where coaches and players have meetings, and training facility offices. At this point in the tour Jen told us about some of the amazing technology incorporated into the building and fields. There are video cameras that monitor the training field 24-7 recording training sessions. These recordings are then relayed into the building where coaches can analyze film for game planning. Coaches even have the ability to click on players on the video screen in the conference room and move them from one place to another to highlight where a player should be positioned at any given time on the field.
The large training facility office looks out over the fields. Jen commented on the open feel of the office. There are few enclosed offices in this space and that’s on purpose. The team stresses collaboration between colleagues. An interesting aside is that the smaller conference rooms in here were all named after bridges around the New York City area. As Jen said, “Instead of booking a meeting in conference room B I have to remember to reserve the George Washington Bridge conference room.” Another unique feature were the coaches offices tucked into the corner of the room. Jen told us that Patrick Vieira and his support staff were squirreled away at that time in a corner office working on Sunday’s Dallas match.
After leaving the training offices we entered the first team area of the facility. Everything in this part of the building was constructed with the players in mind. The round locker room serves as the hub of all activities on this side of the building. The first stop at this point in the tour was the cafeteria, staffed by a full time chef. Players usually eat breakfast and lunch at the facility and the meals are carefully designed by both the full time chef, nutritionists, and sports scientists. Jen told us that there is no oil, cheese, or chocolate in any of the food. And you certainly won’t find any desert on the menu. Players eat at long conference tables that again, look out over the field. In warm weather, retractable doors can open so players can eat “al fresco.” One beautiful feature of the room is a wall of photos with the word “#TOGETHER” above it. Each picture was selected by digital content coordinator, Katie Cahalin. The candid photos provide a glimpse into the lives of the player both on and off the field. Katie told us that the pictures are changed on a regular basis. The cafeteria has an overall sense of welcoming and warmth that brings players and staff together as one family.
We followed our tour leaders into the hub of the training facility, the locker room. Of note, the locker room is the only part of the building that was constructed on site. Every other part was built, as a modular unit, off-site in Pennsylvania and trucked to Orangeburg where it was assembled. The first I noticed when entering the circular room was the starkness of it. You won’t find a television or even a couch in the locker room. Perhaps this is because the building is still receiving a few finishing touches. I’d like to think GFG and NYCFC would rather the players be on the field or building bonds in the cafeteria than sitting in the locker room. Either way, there are 32 lockers for first team players spread out in groups of 5, 6 or 10. Of course, everyone in our tour group was immediately drawn to Villa’s locker. Above the lockers, and around the room you’ll find the moto “We come in every color, bound by blue, together for the city.” It’s a fitting tribute to a diverse team with players from around the world. Past the lockers you’ll find a large bathroom and an aquatic recovery room with hydrotherapy tubs. There’s also a large medical treatment and massage room for medical staff.
Our next stop on the training facility tour was a visit with Dan Laroche, AKA the Kit Man. Dan and a helper were busy sorting and organizing uniforms when we walked in. Dan provided some real insight into the daily operations for the team. Training kits are always prepared for the players two days out to keep ahead of schedule. As for game-day kits, players are only allocated 8 for the entire season. They can trade kits but for the most part, the 8 per year is a pretty hard rule. Of course there are exceptions for a player that might be asked to trade more often, like David Villa. Dan keeps track of how many kits each player has left on a computer in this office. I asked him whose uniforms were always the hardest to clean and without hesitating he said Callens and Chanot, two center backs not afraid to get dirty. Dan also noted that the original SUNY Purchase facility was dark, and while this office certainly felt dark, he was happy to inform us that he had a “skylight” now. The skylight, it turned out was basically a service exit to the roof. Nevertheless he told us the facility was a huge improvement over the SUNY Purchase location.
Before exiting the facility we saw the gym, the training fields, and the “boot room.” The gym contained your typical equipment for strength training. There were treadmills, what appeared to be pilates machines, and free-weights branded with the NYCFC logo. Doors from the gym lead out to a blue FIFA approved synthetic training surface enclosure where players can exercise outside during spring and summer. As our afternoon in the ECFA ended inside the boot room, Jen took some final questions from fans. We paused to marvel at the rows of colorful cleats in every color and size, displayed for everyone to see. On the opposite wall made of decorative subway tile were the words “Every Second Counts,” and above that the same digital clock we’d seen throughout the training center. It was a fitting end to a wonderful day.
Looking back on the day, I was thoroughly impressed with the new facility. I heard comments from several employees who said that they were thrilled with the location. The Orangeburg facility is a welcome break from the noise and commotion of New York City. It provides an environment that’s free of distractions, builds community, and allows players the opportunity to focus on improving on the field. With only 10 of the 17 acres of land in use, and the ability to expand the facility above the current footprint, something that was pointed out by Jen Knowles, NYCFC believes the ECFA is and will be the premier training facility in MLS for years to come.