New MSL soccer team to play at Stadium in 2015

Mariano Rivera was back at Yankee Stadium this week, but instead of appearing in the capacity of closer he was more of a starter. Rivera was introduced Monday as the first season-ticket holder of the Major League Soccer expansion team, NYCFC, which will play its first season of 2015 at the Stadium.

The franchise, which was created in a partnership between the Yankees and Manchester City of England’s Premier League, hopes to build a soccer-only facility in New York City eventually, but for the time being its 17-game home schedule will be in the Bronx.

“I’m proud to be the first one,” Rivera told a press conference gathering at the Stadium. “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.”

Manchester City and Liverpool will oppose each other at the Stadium in July, one of several matches that have been played at the Stadium in recent years. The Stadium has also been the site of the popular New Era Pinstripe Bowl as well as other college football games, National Hockey League matches featuring the Rangers, Islanders and Devils and musical concerts.

“I’ve always said that Yankee Stadium is the greatest place in the world,” Yankees president Randy Levine said. “Every athlete, every performer wants to play here. 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.”

The soccer field at the Stadium will run horizontally. The mound will have 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 grounds crew will have to lay the field and strip it in time to re-lay the baseball diamond. 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.

Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said the mound will be lifted up and stored each time the field is restructured and added that it is possible to use special lights to grow grass at night in order to ease the field rehabilitation process.

Capacity for baseball at the Stadium is 49,642 but is expected to be 33,444 for soccer because the grandstand and terraces will be closed off for most MSL home games.

“The field conversion takes about three days,” Trost said. “Could we do it in two and a half? Yeah, if we work around the clock. 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.”

Claudio Reyna, a native of Livingston, N.J., and the NYCFC’s director of football operations, said, “Growing up locally in New Jersey, I certainly never would’ve imagined that a professional
soccer team would be calling Yankee Stadium its home. 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.”

“I’m thinking today I live a pretty charmed life,” said head coach Jason Kreis, the 1999 MSL Most Valuable Player who in his first stint as a coach led Real Salt Lake to the 2009 title. “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.”

“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 Tim Pernetti, the former Rutgers athletic director and now the chief business officer for NYCFC. “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 next season with New York and Orlando and will add Atlanta in 2017 and possibly Miami that year or the next.

“As you look at the league, it’s a great testament that this sport is continuing to grow dramatically all over the world,” Pernetti said. “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 great experience for our fans, create a great product on the field.”

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