Major League Soccer fully intends to play some sort of season upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, which begins this week in Orlando.
What that truncated campaign would look like, and where it would take place for New York City FC, remains uncertain.
NYCFC chief executive Brad Sims said Monday the club is working with the league to determine potential alternate venues should Yankee Stadium and Citi Field be unavailable.
“For us to play games at Yankee Stadium in the past, essentially the team needed to be on the road for seven days. Three changeover days, one day to play, and three changeover days back,” Sims said during a media conference call. “So, we're anticipating that's going to be challenging and we're engaged with MLS on what alternative venues could be.”
NYCFC has called Yankee Stadium home since it opened play in 2015 while searching for a site upon which to build its own home ground. Over the years, timing conflicts with the Yankees, who own a minority stake in NYCFC, have led to unfavorable scheduling situations or entire conflicts for the soccer team. City has hosted matches at a handful of other venues in the area when necessary, including Citi Field, which was the site of an MLS Cup playoff match last year and was scheduled to host a series of regular-season matches before the pandemic halted the season.
As a tenant of the baseball clubs, both of whom will try to squeeze in their own 60-game season before fall, NYCFC already is looking for backups. That includes Red Bull Arena, the soccer-specific home of the rival Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey, which hosted City for a pair of Champions League home matches earlier this year after a long, losing battle with CONCACAF for approval on a site within the five boroughs.
“It is one of the sites we’re looking at,” Sims said of Red Bull Arena. “We’re looking at multiple sites and all of them have kind of their pros and cons. The reality is, as much as they’re our primary rival and it’s painful to play there, we have to have this balance. From a sporting standpoint, we look at things through the lens of winning. We are a club that we believe is built to win this year, and winning games is important. And playing on proper pitches in nearby proximity to where our players live in our current environment we’re in is something we have to look at.”
Not having to pay rent at Yankee Stadium thus far has been one of the club’s largest cost savings during the league’s shutdown, during which Sims said the club has been able to avoid cutting or furloughing staff. No rent, however, doesn’t cancel out the complete lack of ticket revenue. With that in mind, whether fans are allowed in the building, and how many are allowed in, could influence where the club plays any potential matches in 2020, Sims said.
Sims said the club was happy with the performances at Red Bull Arena in the Champions League — a win over Costa Rica’s AD San Carlos and a loss to Mexico’s UANL Tigres. But it wasn’t necessarily a huge hit with fans, some of whom boycotted the first match because of the location.
“We have a lot of confidence playing [at Red Bull Arena], but there are a number of factors to consider and we’re going to consider it with all the other alternatives we have, not the least of which is whether we can play with fans or not.”
Even for clubs with their own stadiums to work with, MLS already will have to consider other competitions such as the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League into their scheduling plans, Sims said.
“It's been out there that the focus is somewhere in the 16-to-22 game range and I think that they're looking at most likely, as I think MLB is doing as well, probably intra-conference focus to keep travel reduced. There's going to be more weekday games, and it's just very challenging for them, I'm glad I don't have that job.”
As for its own stadium? NYCFC confirmed in February it was nearing a deal with local developers to build a venue in the South Bronx near Yankee Stadium. On Monday, Sims couldn’t say whether the plan will have to be altered because of the pandemic.
“It's hard to say whether the timeline has been impacted at all. I think that no one knows that yet, but I think that everyone's attention, both the club and all of our partners and projects, was in the right place over the last four or five months,” Sims said. “We were in a great spot, we believe that we still are in a very positive spot, but when the pandemic hit for us, our focus went immediately to people, community, fanbase. Same focus for our partners on the project, and local elected officials, and rightfully so. Major infrastructure projects when a pandemic's hitting is not your top priority, it's health and safety of the citizens that you represent.”
And once that’s secure, Sims believes a stadium project could help with the area’s economic recovery.
“We feel like we're positioned well for our project to be part of the New York comeback story. Obviously, more to come, we have to continue to engage with the community. There's a well-known, well-documented community approval process which we will 100% be going through so that dialogue with the community leaders and local elected officials will start up in more earnest here going forward.”