There were 24,290 in attendance. Yankee Stadium. Wednesday Night. But it was not for the Yankees: it was for New York City’s football club, NYCFC.
Amidst the tremendous success of the New York Yankees this year, another City team has flown under the radar to the top record in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer and looks toward a successful playoff run of their own. While I am not a Yankees fan, and I prefer soccer over baseball, it is an incredible experience, even for those who are not a fan of the team or the sport itself, as those who joined me to my first NYCFC game will attest.
The ease of arriving at Yankee Stadium remains the same, but the crowds are significantly diminished, and entering the stadium is far more seamless than it is for a baseball game.
Secondly, the tickets can be more affordable, with field-level seats available for a manageable price, even for those on a college budget. All that aside, what matters is the entertainment, and with soccer, it is something special.
While it may not have had the same crowd as a Yankee game, the stadium was buzzing in this Wednesday night showdown against the reigning MLS Cup Champions, Atlanta United. A fan zone that was desolate when we arrived — about thirty minutes before kickoff — did not have one open seat available just a few minutes into the game. The crowd was engaged from kickoff to conclusion; chanting, yelling and dancing throughout the match. And after just a few minutes of anticipation, NYCFC scored its first goal of the night. The smokestacks went up, the lights flashed, the celebrations commenced. And then it happened a second time. And a third time. Alexandru Mitrita produced a hat-trick in a 21-minute span, something that does not happen often in professional soccer. It made the experience one of the best I have ever witnessed live.
Each team would add a goal in the second half, with Héber delivering the fourth, sending NYCFC faithful home happy and securing the top spot in the Eastern Conference. I use the word “faithful” because there is such a passionate fanbase for NYCFC. There may have been open seats, and half of the city may not even know the team exists, but to the 20,000 in the stadium and the many more watching at home, NYCFC has a very real market — one that is just getting started. When they finally move from a baseball field to their own home stadium, that market will become even greater, and New York may have its next dominant sports power.
So while many will surrender hundreds of dollars to attend a Yankees playoff game to hopefully see the Bronx Bombers return to the World Series, I will be following the new Boys in Blue as they search for their first MLS Cup. I highly suggest that you do too.