One rendering of what the soccer field at Yankee Stadium will look like when NYCFC opens play there in 2015. (Courtesy of NYCFC)
NEW YORK – The New York City Football Club will play its inaugural Major League Soccer season at Yankee Stadium in 2015. Beyond that, no one at the 2015 MLS expansion club that is owned by Manchester City Football Club and the New York Yankees is willing to offer much in the way of detail.
"Yankee Stadium is the home of New York City FC until it's not," said Yankees President Randy Levine at a press conference held at the Stadium Monday. "If there's a change we'll let you know."
When asked about last week's New York Times report that NYCFC would play its first three seasons at Yankee Stadium, Levine said no such agreement has been reached.
New York City FC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna and coach Jason Kreis, along with Chief Business Officer Tim Pernetti, all put a positive spin on the arrangement, which will see NYCFC's 17-game league schedule woven into the Yankees' 81-game schedule.
"It's an amazing location," said Reyna. "Everyone knows where it's at."
Said Kreis, "It's an iconic stadium."
Added Pernetti, the former Rutgers Athletic Director who is leading the search for a permanent home for the club, "We are thrilled to call Yankee Stadium our first home."
"It's not easy," Pernetti admitted when asked about getting a soccer specific stadium built in one of New York's five boroughs. "But when we move into our own stadium, whenever that may be, it's going to be spectacular and worth the wait."
Until then, MLS fans will have to watch a team that's already announced it will go after high-profile international players make do playing across a baseball diamond. For every NYCFC match, the infield dirt will have to be excavated so that sod can be laid flush with the rest of the playing surface. The pitcher's mound will not come into play.
When asked if MLS games would be played in inclement weather, even if it meant the baseball playing surface would be badly damaged, Levine said, "We know what we're doing and we're pretty good at it. We have the best groundskeepers in the world."
Still, while MLS has told other expansion teams it is paramount to have a stadium built in place that's built for soccer, the league is willing to make an exception to get a club up and running in the nation's largest media market. The only other time an MLS team tried to share a stadium with an MLB team was when the Washington Nationals and D.C. United shared RFK Stadium from 2005-2007. That arrangement was less than ideal.
"I knew when I accepted this position one of the challenges was that we weren't going to have our own place in the beginning," said Kreis, who left his job as coach of Real Salt Lake to manage NYCFC. "But I'm excited about playing in Yankee Stadium and we'll make the best of the situation for as long as it lasts. I've spoken to players who played in exhibition matches here and they all said the playing surface is good. It will be fine."
The soccer field, which Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost said will measure 110 yards long by 70 yards wide, will by laid out from the left field warning track to the right field foul line. "The field conversion takes about three days," Trost said. "We've been analyzing that when it comes to the schedule. We can work it in. The most difficult thing will be waiting on baseball to release its schedule in December."
Trost also said that for most NYCFC games, Yankee Stadium's grandstand and terrace levels will be closed, giving the venue a capacity of around 33,000. Yankee Stadium's full capacity is 50,291. Season tickets went on sale Monday afternoon with retired Yankee legend and closer Mariano Rivera introduced as the team's ceremonial first season ticket holder (with account No. 42).
Reyna, who is tasked with building the roster, said he did not see any potential problems trying to attract players, even with the club's uncertain stadium situation.
"This is going to be our home for a few years," said the former U.S. national team captain. "All the players I've spoken to are aware of it and it has not been a problem. We have 17 home games here and we want to make this our fortress as best we can. We are not concerned about it. My approach and Jason's approach is that there are no excuses."
The games at Yankee Stadium will represent the first MLS league games ever played in New York City. The New York Red Bulls (formerly the New York/New Jersey MetroStars) have always played their games in New Jersey.
"It was always the goal of The Boss (George Steinbrenner) that this building be open and busy all year long," said Levine. "We don't anticipate any problems whatsoever."
New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer Club will both begin play in MLS in 2015, giving the league a total of 21 teams. Further expansion has also been announced in Atlanta, while Miami provisionally has an expansion team provided David Beckham and his ownership group can secure a stadium deal.