After months of drawn out speculation, Major League Soccer announced that its 20th franchise team would be based in the city that never sleeps, New York. Aptly named New York City FC, the team will join the ever growing MLS in 2015, giving them just enough time to construct a stadium at Flushing Meadows and a team to play in it. Both shouldn’t be an issue for the club as its parents a sports marriage made in heaven between English Premiership side, Manchester City and US sporting institution, the New York Yankees. Both teams have agreed to join forces to own and operate NYC FC, as it will be soon be known.
It’s a bold move by Manchester City and in particular its billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan, who believes that investing heavily in sport, especially soccer will help to sell the concept of Abu Dhabi to foreign visitors. Whether this is the right strategy or not to adopt is another question, but his so far $1.5 billion investment he has made into City since acquiring them in 2008 shows how serious he is. Expanding their reach into one of the fastest growing leagues on the planet makes a lot of sense, and at a cost of only $100 million it looks like a bargain for the sheikh. New York City FC will have the aspirations of its western colleagues, the LA Galaxy when it formally launches in 2015 but will have considerable more clout to execute against them. Mansour and the Yankees will play a pivotal role in the building and quick expansion of the team, its network and the overall brand, in what could eventually cost them a combined $500 million to implement. The majority of this other expense will be a brand new state of the art stadium to be built in Flushing Meadows, currently the home of US Open tennis but soon NYC FC.
MLS Chief Don Garber could not be more pleased, proclaiming that the deal will prove to be a transformational moment in the MLS and will elevate the league to new heights. Quite the statement from the man who less than nine months ago sat firmly on the fence as to where the new franchise would play its football. San Diego, Detroit, Baltimore and Las Vegas were all in the running apparently but there was always only going to be one winner for Garber when New York entered the race. For the MLS, it’ s a city that makes sense- 19 million people, primarily foreign immigrants from soccer loving nations, wealthy enough to buy into the new franchise and its dream and all living in an already sports mad city. The question really is why would the MLS not pick New York?
The existing New York based franchise, the Red bulls could have been forgiven for being slightly annoying with the tone of Garber’s announcement as its seen as the second encroachment into their turf in the past year, following US soccer bosses decided to revive the Pele inspired Cosmos from their 30 year sabbatical and place them into the national league as of next season. But the Bulls know how to play the game and have been quick to release a statement welcoming the new franchise and helping to build up excitement about the city’s newest rivalry. Their management team know that time is precious and that they will have to ramp up their plans to strengthen their stranglehold on the eastern league sooner rather than later before the NYC FC hurricane blows into town.
But their new neighbours certainly won’t be taking things easy until 2015 with a lot of the work already underway, starting with the appointment of its first member of staff and new Director of Football Operations, Claudio Reyna. New Jersey born and raised, Reyna is a familiar face in New York and across America after a successful footballing career in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg), Scotland (Rangers), England (Sunderland, Man City) and the US (NY Red Bulls) as well as 111 caps for the US, most of which as captain. Referred to affectionately in Europe as Captain America, Reyna is considered to be one of the best players ever to be produced by the US. In his new role, Reyna will need to muster all the strength he can as he starts to build and construct not only the first team and the coaching staff but also the network of affiliated clubs and partnerships needed for the club to be ready by 2015. He will have the financial backing of Mansour and the door opening appeal of the Yankees which should help make his new challenge that much easier. Reyna will follow a blue print laid out by Mansour and City CEO Ferran Soriano, who see their new club as the first of many around the world. Soriano’s holistic vision is to have a City franchise on every continent, much like Dutch club Ajax has done. Ventures in Asia, Mexico and Australia have already been mooted and steps taken to spread Mansour’s football reach out across the globe.
For New Yorker’s, the new franchise will be yet another draw for this sports crazy city. If NYC FC can attract big name stars from across the world, using the pull of New York as a catalyst, then we can expect to see great things from this team in the future. The older New Yorkers will remember a time when they had a team full of stars, one in which Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia turned out regularly to wow the fans and bring success back to the city. The Cosmos were kings in their day, the team to beat and the franchise to emulate. Mansour and the Yankees will be hoping that NYC FC can take over that mantle and once again make New York the capital for football in the United States.