MLS Wrap: David Villa leads NYCFC to triumph at Yankee Stadium
NEW YORK -
Stop there for a moment.
Yes, you've seen the dateline on here and on every other soccer websites many times before. Even within the narrower context of MLS, it has made regular appearances in stories on television events and interviews at MLS' Manhattan headquarters.
But until Sunday night, those two words had never set the stage for a game.
Now they have. And for all the travails off the field that NYCFC endured (and brought upon itself) in the offseason, the product on the field Sunday night won over a lot of skeptics. A crowd of 43,507 fans flocked to the Bronx for the club's first home game, and David Villa led the way to a 2-0 win over the reigning Eastern Conference champin New England Revolution.
The criticisms of City Football Group's attempt to crack the American market on behalf of its Manchester flaghsip have been well-honed by now. It's a cash grab, it's inauthentic, the fans could have crossed the Hudson and supported the Red Bulls because it's 10 miles and everyone else in the rest of the country has no trouble driving 10 miles so why don't they do it in New York too.
Well, you finally got the answer to why traveling 10 miles in New York is different from doing so anywhere else in America. In fact, you got 43,507 answers. And that was no trumped-up number of tickets sold. The crowd looked and sounded the part.
More importantly, quite a few of those fans were new to MLS. NYCFC's PR department (yes, it has one) sent out a release last week noting that some 60 percent of its season ticket holders had bought their first season tickets for any professional sport from this new enterprise.
For a league - and, yes, a sport as a whole - that still badly needs to grow its overall fan base, that is significant.
It took a while for many of the fans to get to their seats because of stringent security measures at the gates. But once they were there, the entire first and second decks of Yankee Stadium were filled in, and a lot of them were wearing light blue. Most of the crowd outside the Third Rail section wasn't organized in any particular capacity. The fans were just fans: with friends, their kids, or whatever, but they were there, and they were into it.
You could get tickets to this game if you wanted to, which is something you can't say for a lot of New York teams. Baseball's easy, of course, because there are so many games, but when it comes to the Knicks, Rangers, Giants and Jets, they're just about always sold out. Sure, there's always the secondary market, but even then the prices can get steep. There's an accessibility to NYCFC games that doesn't exist elsewhere in the region.
And clearly people wanted to be there. NYCFC officials opened up all of Yankee Stadium to accomodate demand, instead of limiting capacity to the regular crowd of just over 33,000. The subway lines were jammed coming out of Manhattan, whether on the 4 from Grand Central or the D from Herald Square.
(Yes, that's right, people took trains to a MLS game played in a major Northeast city. That makes three teams out of five. New England is one that doesn't have that luxury. You can guess the other, and you'll be right.)
"I think you see today the fan base we can build here," NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said. "You have a lot of fans who are from the boroughs and want to support a team from New York City... You could see there was a large fan base that was really excited to be exciting a New York City team."
Was the atmosphere perfect? No. It was disorganized at times, and quiet for long stretches. But the chants that did rise up didn't just come out of the Third Rail supporters club in the left field bleachers. From the first base line, there came a "NEW-YORK-CI-TY" chant with the traditionally Bronx-esque four claps. From in front of the press box, behind home plate, came an even simpler "N-Y-C!"
There were some moments of synergy, most notably in the 19th minute or so. The Third Rail started up a "New York (clap-clap-clap)" chant, and just about the whole rest of the stadium joined in.
Mix Diskerud, the U.S. national team cult hero who has already become one of City's most popular players, took notice of the buzz around him.
"I was watching the crowd, and we were feeding off them," he said. "Everything here with this club is new. All the information we get, we just kind of suck up, and we're just enjoying everything."
Later in the 19th minute, just a few seconds after the aforementioned chant, the decibel level jumped even higher. David Villa cut a streaking path into New England's 18-yard box, and Ned Grabavoy set up the Spanish superstar for his first goal in MLS. The crowd erupted. Orange, white and blue streamers flew through the air in the Third Rail section.
It wasn't as loud as you'd have gotten at the old Yankee Stadium, but it at least showed that the House That Derek Jeter Built (With George Steinbrenner's Money) can make some noise.
The crowd died down a few minutes after that. But once the traveling Revolution fans got going from their perch just to the left of the press box, the New Yorkers around them started firing a few barbs back. And when Patrick Mullins scored to seal City's win, a new crescendo of noise rose from all corners of the stands.
It was that particular kind of deep, nasal "Yaaaaaaa" that has been the soundtrack behind so many sporting nightmares in Philadelphia, Boston and beyond over the years. You heard it on TV loud and clear.
There was plenty of booing, too, and the odd - well, okay, maybe not so odd - expletive tossed around. You can guess what the fifth syllable was that the New York fans around the New England fan section added to their "RE-VO-LU-TION!" chant.
No one would have confused it for a Yankees-Red Sox or Rangers-Bruins game. Still, it was a taste of the kind of heat MLS has been wanting to generate in this part of the country for many years.
Revs forward Charlie Davies grew up in Boston and remains a diehard Red Sox fan. He understands as well as anyone what the Boston-New York rivalry means, and what having strong teams in the Northeast Corridor means.
"Coming right into MLS, their first season, they have a target on their back," he said. "Hopefully now, the rest of the teams can step up and make it an east coast powerhouse league."
NYCFC isn't quite a true villain yet. Down the road, it will probably become that - though it's a bit hard to imagine Diskerud playing the role of a bad guy.
Indeed, on Sunday, Diskerud's team did something that wasn't very villainous at all: It expanded Major League Soccer's fan base.
MLS fans get trapped in a bubble of self-centeredness at times. Not all of them, of course, but we've all seen those times when an overly inward focuse leads to a hue and cry over complaints of someone not caring or knowing as much as the next guy.
I've written and spoken many times about the importance of not forgetting that casual fans do exist. It's not going to harm your bona fides as a deeply passionate supporter of your specific club if you allow for someone to come along who has found a reason to follow a MLS team or the league as a whole when he or she didn't before.
On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people found their reason. That's a good thing. Even if it happened in a place you love to hate.
Now for the usual look back at the weekend's action around MLS:
Orlando City: Tyler Deric (own goal) 74'
(As you'll see in the video, the goal was caused by an impressive bit of hustle from Orlando's Pedro Ribeiro. Remember him, Union fans?)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Octavio Rivero 86
Columbus Crew: Justin Meram 57', Kei Kamara 61'
(It did not take long for Kamara to regain his old title of MLS' most creative goal celebrator. If you were not following the league when he last took the crown, click here.)
FC Dallas: Blas Pérez 17, Blas Pérez 52', Fabián Castillo 73'
Sporting Kansas City: Roger Espinoza 44'
Seattle Sounders: Clint Dempsey 1', Obafemi Martins 84'
San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski 13', Chris Wondolowski 48', Innocent Emeghara 70'
New York City FC: David Villa 19, Patrick Mullins 84'
Portland Timbers: Fanendo Adi 31', Fanendo Adi 90'
Los Angeles Galaxy: Gyasi Zardes 65', Alan Gordon 90 +2'