For the second straight season, New York City FC will split its home matches between its traditional home venue and that of its cross-river rival.
Yankee Stadium will host nine NYCFC home matches this year with the club’s eight remaining games set for Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, according to the 2021 Major League Soccer schedule released Wednesday. The number of matches in the Bronx could rise to 11 depending on a potential Yankees’ postseason schedule.
After playing two CONCACAF Champions League games at Red Bull Arena before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its season, NYCFC played five home league matches in Harrison upon MLS’ return to home markets last August with Yankee Stadium unavailable during a truncated baseball season. The club returned to the Stadium in October for its final four home contests, but continued complications because of the coronavirus pandemic and the baseball schedule, plus MLS' plans for a full 34-game campaign, necessitated a dual-venue solution for 2021.
NYCFC opens at DC United on April 17 before its home opener April 24 against FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium. The club’s first Red Bull Arena match is scheduled for May 22 against Columbus Crew SC. The club expects to allow up to 20% capacity for the home opener and other matches in the Bronx, with mandatory COVID-19 testing for all attendees, but an exact number of tickets available has yet to be determined as staff needs and other facility issues are sorted out. For matches at Red Bull Arena, the club expects to follow the same health and capacity guidelines used for Red Bulls home games.
Tickets will be sold on a per-game basis in order to allow for changing health and safety guidelines in both states as the season progresses. Fans with City Membership, the club’s season-ticket program, will have priority access to each game at both venues before tickets are made available to the general public.
"As our players have said many times during the pandemic, we have greatly missed our supporters and it is inspiring to all of us that we will once again have you cheering the team on beginning with our home opener on April 24 at Yankee Stadium," said club CEO Brad Sims in a news release. "We will continue to follow medical and local government guidelines and are committed to creating a safe environment – while we enjoy the same passionate NYCFC atmosphere we have all missed so much."
Several factors played into the club once again reluctantly making Red Bull Arena a part-time home, many related to the ongoing pandemic.
Typically, MLS begins its season in early March, giving NYCFC a chance to squeeze in a few home games before the Yankees return from spring training. But the league delayed the start of the season first to early April and later to its current April 16 start date in order to ensure fans would be able to attend in as many markets as possible, eliminating the early-season window in which NYCFC is Yankee Stadium’s sole tenant.
Yankee Stadium’s availability to NYCFC also was limited because of MLB’s COVID-19 protocols, which require additional time to ready the stadium before and after each MLS match. The club sought to utilize Citi Field, where it planned to play four matches in 2020 before the pandemic complicated the season. However, the limited number of dates available in Queens means the club would still require trips to Red Bull Arena, so the club opted against splitting the schedule between three sites.
Additionally, this season’s MLS calendar was constructed with the intent of a balanced schedule throughout the season with each team playing roughly the same number of games at any given point. In years past, NYCFC often unbalanced its schedule by squeezing a series of home matches on a single Yankees road trip with the rest of the league catching up down the road. With two venues, NYCFC should remain on pace with the rest of the league barring unforeseen scheduling issues.
"While it will always be our number one priority to play as many games as possible at Yankee Stadium, due to a number of unavoidable and complex factors including a delayed start to the season, we needed to engage a secondary venue," said Sims in a news release. "While we acknowledge that this is certainly not ideal, our ultimate goal is to win games and compete for championships – there’s nothing we or our fans want more. Red Bull Arena proved to be a good alternate venue for us in 2020 and we are confident that it will be again in 2021. Though it makes it much more challenging for us to maximize games at Yankee Stadium, we fully support MLS’ approach to try and create a more standardized and equitable schedule for all teams and know this should make for an even more competitive, entertaining and high-quality 2021 season."
NYCFC has been one of the league's best home teams since debuting in 2015, continuing the trend last season despite using two home venues by going 3-1 at Yankee Stadium and 4-1 at Red Bull Arena.