Another New York Team. Why?
Coming back from a two week trip from New York City, I desperately was looking for any signs that the city needed, wanted or deserved a second MLS club. I travelled through the subway system observing New Yorkers and walked through all the Boroughs from my base in Queens trying to see how football mad New York was. I wore out a pair of Adidas trainers doing so and it was well worth it. I had to see for myself if New York was or wasn't anymore soccer crazy than lets say Indy or Tulsa or Miami.
2012 has been an extremely exciting hodge podge of news coming from the City that Never sleeps in the soccer department. The word “Cosmos” has been thrown out more than a Carl Sagan Marathon on PBS. By the time I was in Queens, the weird news that Manchester City was in the running to place a club in the City limits was all over the rosey colored world of Cosmos blogs and the world wide web. But as soon as the rumor started getting some traction the good folks in Abu Dhabi squashed the rumor only to have some journalist squash the squashing by saying the deal was already in the works. Ah! The silly season!
I'm not one for going to a place and not trying to immerse myself into the environment. I took the subway everywhere. I talked to people in pubs. I went to places where soccer was being played. And at the end of it all I didn't see any reason why New York should get a second MLS team.
New York already has a team and it's not properly supported by the fans. The New York Redbull may be in New Jersey but no one said being a fan would be easy. I was always got the impression from New Yorkers that going to Harrison to watch The Redbulls play from New York City “proper” was like going on a death march to Columbus with high heels on. So I decided to go on that journey and to my surprise, it was relatively simple. I took the F train from Union Turnpike to WTC and then the PATH to Harrison. The whole trip was done in less than two hours. There have been times where I was stuck on the freeway for an hour and half going to Carson from Glendale to watch the LA Galaxy, so I didn't think much of the trip and didn't find it too tiring. I had a conversation with a sports fan in a pub in Queens (where I did most of my “research”) and his opinion was that a New York club in New Jersey was never going to work. I reminded him of the Giants and the Jets to which he replied “No Soccer Club!” It worked with “the Cosmos in the (old) NASL” to which he replied “That's different!”
That's what I got from a few people. They would trek to New Jersey for American Football but for American Soccer it had to be convenient. Doable at a moments notice. Taking no more effort than just showing up, watching the match and then going home. Fair Enough!
In Queens I saw a few “Lets Bring Pro Soccer to Queens” posters hanging over subway entrances and in Soho I actually stumbled across a Cosmos sticker someone had affixed to a lamp post. However there really wasn't much else to report. Maybe it was the wrong time of year.
On my way to The Bronx, by chance I saw a practice session at a park. It was a local squad running drills and playing keepy uppy. The guys were all Ivorian and I had no problem talking to them. I kicked a stray ball back to a player and got back the now often heard “Nice pass.” “Nice pass” is a polite way of saying “I can tell you once played soccer but you've obviously lost your touch” Not bothered I asked them about local soccer and what it was like playing in New York. Most of the players were happy talking about English Premier League and La LaLiga but surprisingly not one of them paid much attention to The Redbulls or MLS. When I mentioned the Cosmos the lads just looked at me if I was speaking another language.
The same day I headed to Arthur Avenue a very cool, timeless Italian neighborhood. I sat in a restaurant and talked soccer with some old patrons. They were surprised that I knew so much about Serie A and we spoke about Roma and Lazio. After my coffee, I thanked the people sitting there for a great conversation and went out to explore. Among the butchers shops, bakers shops and pizzerias I stumbled across a Soccer Shop. Through the window I saw more Napoli merchandise than I could ever imagine. The young man who was minding the shop invited me to come in and take a look around. Who was I to say no? I walked into the small shop and had a look. There was an older man there and he asked me if there was anything I was looking for. I told him I was from Los Angeles and I wanted to see if there was anything here that I couldn't get back home. The man behind the counter responded with “LA? But you're from England?” So we chatted about Manchester United and Wayne Rooney and the older gentleman asked me who my favorite team was to which I replied “Palermo.” Suddenly his eyes opened up and he started talking a mile a minute. I ended up buying a bunch of Napoli merchandise and left the store with handshakes all around and a hearty farewell.
As I left the store I noticed two things. No MLS merchandise and the only thing with NY on it were a few items that said Yankees. So as I left The Bronx, I got the impression that soccer was appreciated there but not American Soccer.
That was the case just about everywhere I went. Staten Island, Manhattan, Long Island. People loved soccer and kids played soccer but as we all know playing soccer and watching LaLiga doesn't mean that folks will actually go to a match in America.
Eight and half million people call New York City home and all the Redbull Organization have to do is fill up a 25,189 seater stadium in New Jersey. Mathematically this should be an easy assignment with the likes of Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry in the current squad. Queens has a population of 2.2 million and MLS Commissioner, Don Garber wants to build a 30 thousand seat stadium right in Flushing Meadows Park. Will 30 thousand folks from Queens actually go watch soccer if it's in their backyard?
If Redbull can't fill up a stadium how well would another team do?
I was talking to a old timer in Queens about getting the Cosmos back and he said something that struck me as oddly true “We tried that and it didn't work.” The old NASL had the Cosmos originally playing in NY “proper” for 6 seasons.Then from 1977 to 1984 they played in New Jersey to huge crowds. What's all the fuss about going to New Jersey? New Yorkers did it before. To quote Cosmos goalie, Shep Messing “We transcended everything, every culture...we were European, we were Americans...We were everything to everybody.” So in the 70's the New York team which played in New Jersey in front of 40 thousand fans were “everything to everybody” but in 2013, New York needs a team in the city limits because no one in their right mind from Queens can support a team in New Jersey.
Major League Soccer has one true derby. LA Galaxy vs ChivasUSA. Back in the day Los Angeles had the Rams and the Raiders in the NFL. Now it has the Clippers and Lakers in the NBA. The Angels (kinda) and Dodgers in MLB. Around America, other city rivalries brew. Mets and Yankees in New York. White Sox and Cubs in Chicago and probably a few others. The one thing about these “derbies” is that one team is always much better than the other with the exception of some freakish seasons. Derbies may work in Europe but they don't work in America. One team almost always gets the lions share of the accolades, trophies and fans. ChivasUSA, LA's second team has been a prime example of why it's better to have one team in an area. Placing another team in NY may have the same results as the ChivasUSA experiment. Low attendance, losing records and no trophies which essentially damage the league more than help it. Now imagine another team in New York with the attendance figures of ChivasUSA. How would that appear to the rest of the world?
On one of the countless hours that I was on the subway I noticed a few things. I was walking around NY with my friend Jaime. He and I played on the same indoor team together what seems like a million years ago. I was happy to have someone to talk to as I was having a hard time trying to strike up conversations with the locals. The F train is not the District Line. I mentioned to Jaime that Soccer is the biggest thing in the Universe. But nothing is as big as New York. That's why a soccer team in New York won't work. On the subway going into Manhattan you see stockbrokers and bankers with $1000 suits sitting next to window cleaners and students. Hipsters standing in front of women with fur-lined coats and Louis Vuitton handbags. All of them waiting to get out and walk into the city that no matter how big or rich or famous they became will always overshadow them. No person is as big as New York. No soccer team is as big as New York. Perhaps that's the reason Pele played in New Jersey. Even Pele would be overshadowed by New York and who can the new New York team get that's bigger than Pele?
Rather a romantic notion and not one to base a business decision. But it came down to what the old timer told me back at the pub in Queens. “We tried that and it didn't work.” American Soccer tried Soccer in New York “proper” and to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald “There are no second acts in American lives.”
No matter what is written, MLS is hell bent on getting a team into the city. Will it be successful? Who's to say? Will it be tough to fill up the stadium? I think it will be. Will it “transcend everything”? Only time will tell.