New York City FC fans voted with their feet to show their disgust at the club’s stadium situation. And they have every right to do so. NYCFC’s stadium debacle has been horribly managed.
It was a little bit embarrassing. Watching one of the premier teams in Major League Soccer ‘host’ their first-ever game in the CONCACAF Champions League and have almost no fans to support them. It did not reflect well on New York City FC.
The Pigeons hosted A.D. San Carlos in the second leg of their CCL Round of 16 tie. Ronny Deila’s side held a healthy 5-3 advantage and were expected to ease through to the quarter-finals with little difficulty — that was indeed what transpired as Alexander Callens scored the lone goal of a game his team entirely controlled.
But while New York City FC dominated on the pitch, the real story of the night came off it. Due to Yankee Stadium undergoing winter preparation, NYCFC claimed that the match could not be hosted there. They searched for alternative options and eventually settled on Red Bull Arena, the home of their most ferocious rivals. Far from ideal.
A vast array of NYCFC supporters chose to stay away from the match entirely. Some simply did not want to make the trek to Harrison. Others will have struggled with the 6 PM kick-off time on a weekday. But a large number stated plainly that they would not show up and support their team because of the change in stadium.
In a statement prior to the match, New York City FC supporters’ group Third Rail SC stated:
"“It is a complex issue, but ultimately, we feel that attending this match would normalize RBA as an alternative home site for NYCFC and force us to share the arena with our rivals. We will be staying away.”"
Their frustrations with the club and subsequent protest is utterly justified. While NYCFC may have valid reasons for moving this particular match and they say that Red Bull Arena was the only option — one that they admit they were desperate to avoid — after submitting several other proposals, the club’s stadium problems run much deeper than just a one-off match.
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New York City FC will enter their sixth year in MLS this season. They still do not have a home. They have had seven years to find a suitable stadium to call home, and are still delaying over new developments. It is more complicated than simply blaming the club, of course, but seven years would be plenty of time for any remotely professionally managed organisation.
Reports surfaced earlier this year that NYCFC could build a stadium in an area of unused parking lots and an elevator parts factory near Yankee Stadium. But these types of reports have surfaced before. NYCFC have made ‘progress’ before. Hope has abounded before. And on every occasion, the fans have been let down.
NYCFC’s inability to secure a stadium has only been made more calamitous by other expansion teams’ success in this area. Atlanta United, LAFC, Minnesota United and plenty of other teams have invested heavily in modern, fashionable, inspiring homes. Meanwhile, NYCFC play in a stadium that isn’t theirs, cannot be used when the Yankees’ schedule clashes, like in the playoffs, and has a pitch that was only allowed because the rules were changed.
New York City FC fans have every right to protest Wednesday’s game. Because, ultimately, this protest is not about that one game, but a much deeper issue, one that, shockingly, is still yet to be solved.