NYCFC's inaugural season set for Yankee Stadium
MLS expansion franchise to begin play in 2015, eventually seek soccer-only facility
NEW YORK -- The Yankees will have a new double-play partner in 2015.
New York City FC announced Monday that it will play its first season -- and perhaps a few more -- in Yankee Stadium while it seeks to build a soccer-only facility. NYCFC, an expansion franchise to Major League Soccer, will begin play next year and began selling season tickets on Monday.
The team, built in partnership between the Yankees and Manchester City of England's Premier League, held a gala news conference at Yankee Stadium to celebrate the upcoming campaign. Mariano Rivera, the recently retired Yanks great, was introduced as the first season-ticket holder of the team.
"I'm proud to be the first one," said Rivera, the all-time leader in saves. "I'm used to being the closer, always the last one. I'm a starter now, so I'm happy to be No. 1 and a big supporter of the team."
It's only a matter of time before Rivera has plenty of company at Yankee Stadium. Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, said that the new stadium was designed to host many things beyond baseball, and he cited the Pinstripe Bowl and a recent NHL game as part of that initiative.
The soccer field at Yankee Stadium will run horizontally, and the mound will need to be stripped each time NYCFC has a home game. The mound area will be just off the sideline, two feet and 10 inches off the field, and the closest corner will have eight feet and nine inches of clearance from the wall.
The soccer club will play at home 17 times a year, and the grounds crew will have to lay the field and strip it in time to re-lay the baseball field. Levine said the team has done its due diligence and believes the schedule won't be a problem, and he's excited about the prospect of top-class soccer.
"I've always said that Yankee Stadium is the greatest place in the world. Every athlete, every performer wants to play here," Levine said. "When we entered into the partnership with Manchester City, we said we were all in. And we are all in. To develop this franchise with this kind of management team, with all of us working together -- these two great organizations -- it's going to be a championship franchise."
Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost filled the crowd in on some of the finer points. Trost said the mound will be lifted up and stored each time the field is restructured, and he said it's possible to use special lights to grow grass at night in order to ease the field rehabilitation process.
Normal capacity at Yankee Stadium is 49,642, and Trost said that the grandstand and terraces will be closed off for most home games during the MLS season. Normal capacity for MLS games is expected to be 33,444, and Trost said the grounds crew will have plenty of time to fix the field.
"The field conversion takes about three days. Could we do it in two and a half? Yeah, if we work around the clock," said Trost. "Taking the field and putting it back for baseball? Same thing. Three days, but we can push it in two and a half. ... We're analyzing that when it comes to the schedule."
NYCFC hasn't signed any players yet, but its entry into the league has been meticulously plotted. Claudio Reyna, the team's director of football operations, and head coach Jason Kreis were on hand Monday, and both seemed enthusiastic about the chance to start out in Yankee Stadium.
Reyna, one of the great players in American soccer history, served as captain of the US National team during his career and played in the Premier League for Manchester City. He finished his career with New York Red Bulls of MLS and can't wait to bring a new team to life in the Bronx.
"Growing up locally in New Jersey, I certainly never would've imagined that a professional soccer team would be calling Yankee Stadium its home," said Reyna, a native of Livingston, N.J. "Yankee Stadium has always felt like an institution to me. I can't think of a more iconic place or venue for us to play our home games, and I want to thank the Yankees' organization for being so welcoming."
Kreis, a former MLS MVP in 1999 and a decorated coach in his second career, knows what it takes to reach the league's highest level. He led Real Salt Lake to a MLS Cup title in 2009 and back to the title game in 2013, and he's confident that it won't take long to bring NYCFC to that level.
"I'm thinking today I live a pretty charmed life," said Kreis. "I work for two of the greatest sports franchises in the world, and then I find out I get to coach soccer next year in one of the all-time greatest stadiums in the world. And I'll be doing all this in the greatest city in the world. I'm extremely excited about the opportunity and very much looking forward to being out there on the sidelines next year."
Tim Pernetti, the former athletic director at Rutgers University and the current chief business officer for NYCFC, confirmed that eventually the team would like to move to a new stadium. But there's no timeline, he said, and for now, Yankee Stadium will make an incredible first home.
"It's been no secret to anybody that our plans all along were to be in a first home while we pursued a deal to do a soccer-specific stadium in the five boroughs," said Pernetti. "We are continuing to do that. We're conducting the same thorough search looking at sites and developing that plan.
"Our goal is to be in a soccer-specific building as soon as possible. At the same time, we're not going to create artificial deadlines based on pressure that comes from different directions. We're only going to get one shot to do that, so I think we're going to take the time necessary to get it done."
MLS will expand by two teams -- New York and Orlando -- next season, while Atlanta was confirmed last Wednesday as an expansion city for 2017 and a new Miami franchise is expected to begin play either in '17 or '18. The league has said that it could have an additional team by 2020, and Pernetti hopes to help spearhead the growth of The Beautiful Game in America.
"I think the expansion is exciting," said Pernetti. "As you look at the league, it's a great testament that this sport is continuing to grow dramatically all over the world. The fact that there is an appetite from some of the most successful people in professional sports in the United States to continue its growth speaks volumes about where the league is headed. We're taking our role in this thing very seriously. We're going to create a greate experience for our fans, create a great product on the field."