Chelsea and Manchester City highlight soccer-fueled week
For a moment, on a wet, cold, and blustery Memorial Saturday in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium became a soccer haven. For a moment, there were more international stars on the field than there are on the Yankees active roster. For a moment, two different shades of blue had priority over pinstripes and a diamond turned into a pitch (not referring to a thrown baseball). For a moment.
Wrapping up a two-city American tour that included St. Louis on Thursday, Manchester City FC defeated Chelsea FC 5-3 Saturday, sweeping the two game international friendly series. Both games amounted close to 80,000 fans combined, an opportunity for the closeted and unspoken soccer nuts to make their presence felt. Out of the pantheon of American sports, soccer made its biggest push into the national spotlight by invading two sacred cathedrals that house America’s national pastime. One could argue St. Louis is the capital of baseball, and New York the capital of the world. What better way to prioritize a marginalized sport than by covering up dirt and base paths with sod in two cities with revered baseball tradition?
Well, it’s not the worst idea. In fact, while the Yankees have been on the road in Baltimore and Tampa Bay relying on Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay, soccer became a whole week’s discussion in New York. The 100 Million dollar acquisition of a new MLS team for New York City purchased by Manchester City and the Yankees last week seemed like a perfectly timed advertisement. NYCFC and the rest of the 39,462 in attendance got a chance to see the Abu Dhabi United Group’s best product take on Chelsea right in front of the Yankees’ brass. This would be a supposed microcosm for New York soccer fans, screaming for a Man City owned team in a potential home in Yankee Stadium. The latter is still up for debate.
“It’s amazing, they’ve done wonders,” said Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart. “We’ve come out before on a few pitches where they’ve stitched things together. They’ve done a great job, the same as in St. Louis.”
“I think ideally you want your own stadium, your own home. It's good to keep this place a natural baseball stadium. First and foremost, that's what it is. They're looking to build a stadium and we can move on from there.’’
Regardless of their field, that microcosm could mean lots of boos, too. Before the match Man City donned NYCFC warm-ups that may have elicited more animosity than the jerseys underneath. The crowd in effect clearly supported Chelsea, roaring long before game time to highlights of their UEFA Champions League victory last year. They beat Bayern Munich who stole the crown back this year, displayed on the Jumbotron before the match. Chants of “Let’s Go Yank-ees” switched to “Chel-sea,” aided by a wave and Chelsea faithfuls reciting the name of Jose Mourinho, their former and now returning manager. Both teams were sporting interim managers with unknown futures, ready to finish their season and embrace a few months off.
It was a highly potent offensive attack for Team Samsung and Team Ethiad Airlines. Pardon my cynical sensibilities here, but it is one of the more glaring differences between international and American sports, besides NASCAR of course. I am not opposed to everything in the English Premiere League though, like the idea of relegation. Much has already been written about the possibly historic bad seasons both the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are having, fitting into categories the infamous 1962 (40-120) Mets team still holds. In England each year the bottom three teams in the standings get relegated to a lower league, losing money and sponsorships and players, and three new ones come up. How’s that for punishment. What if that happened in Major League Baseball? The Marlins and Astros are already fielding AAA teams at best.
There are many problems with that theory, namely owner’s money and its engrained tradition with the sport. The other side of the coin however is that the Marlins and Astros will get the top pick in the draft and have another chance to gain helpful additions and promote some parity in baseball that EPL soccer seriously lacks. Staying out of the bottom three is oftentimes a cause for celebration for some Premiere League teams. By the end of this season, 5th place in the AL West just means spring training isn’t too far away.
Saturday’s match proved just how exciting soccer can be when both offenses are in sync and in constant attack mode, especially on a shortened field width. Garreth Barry opened the scoring on an easy deflection followed by two Samir Nasri goals, one that sent Man City ahead 2-0 into the half. Ramirez led the attack for Chelsea with two goals of his own, but Chelsea never led during the match. A brilliant goal off a free kick from Juan Mata tightened the game at 4-3 in the 82nd minute and made the crowd erupt into rededicated cheering. It was short-lived however once City striker Edin Djeko powered a long shot past keeper Petr Cech in the remaining minutes.
“Fans here and in St. Louis watched two great games, lots of goals, lots of attacking football. I‘m sure there’s a few defensive coaches not too happy about that,” said Garreth Barry.
“It’s really exciting, something all of us boys like to rub in to the U.S,” said Hart. “MLS is growing and growing and growing and for Manchester city it’s the same thing. We’re growing as well so it’s good to do it together.”
If anything, these two games were just an exhibition to showcase talent and connect with American fans. Barry didn’t seem too proud of beating Chelsea twice over the weekend, well aware of the little implication the London rivalry has in a postseason across the pond. Still, much of the attention seemed placed upon the addition of the new MLS team and how the addition could impact Manchester City in the long run.
“It’s a massive step for Manchester City getting involved with a club in the MLS. Nothing like that’s been done before, so it’s actually exciting times for the club,” said Barry.
The temporary sod will come off for next week and then will be re-applied for a matchup between Spain and Ireland on June 11th. Will the grounds crew have to get used to these switches? Only time will tell. Will keeper Joe Hart consider joining the team?
“I’m quite happy where I am at the moment. Never say never, but I’m hopeful the league will grow.”