After this past weekend, New York City is clearly a soccer town. There are no ifs, no ands and certainly no buts about it.
The only butts are those in the seats over the past couple weeks to see the New York Red Bulls and New York City F.C., along with the NASL's New York Cosmos, play each other in a most unique set of circumstances. This will be capped off on Wednesday night when, for the second time in as many years, the Red Bulls will play the Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup.
Sunday saw an announced sell-out of 48,047 at Yankee Stadium when "City"lost, 3-1, to the Red Bulls, a match bested off the field for what was a scintillating atmosphere. Just 12 days before that, it was the Cosmos besting "City"in front of a sold-out Shuart Stadium at Hofstra, marking the second straight U.S. Open Cup campaign where they've beaten one of the area's MLS sides.
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That we've seen nearly 60,000 fans in two matches turn out to watch New York's soccer teams with yet another fixture this Wednesday night proves that soccer is now not only growing in the tristate area but is viable.
Last summer's World Cup and the United States national team's survival from the "Group of Death"underscored how much the American player has grown over the past two decades. That the support at home for the tournament was unbelievable was not surprising given the ethnic breakdowns in this country. But that the red, white and blue generated such strong emotions and followings as well as television ratings is what made people take notice.
A sold-out Yankee Stadium on Sunday and a packed Red Bull Arena in May for the first meeting between "City"and the Red Bulls is proof that not only is the sport viable but thriving.
It used to be only international teams that would generate such interest in this area, with the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona routinely selling out old Giants Stadium. But now, the development of MLS into a solid league with a high-caliber of play has led to atmospheres such as Sunday afternoon. Minus the odd configuration of soccer played in a baseball stadium, the atmosphere was that of anywhere in the world with nearly 2,000 Red Bulls supporters traveling en masse to the game, and opposing supporters chanting and singing at each other the whole match.
It was the world's sport in New York City, comprised of two teams from the area.
The match drew a .2 rating on ESPN with 297,000 viewers, the third highest MLS broadcast of the year. The other two matches ahead of Sunday's? One involved "City"and the other the Red Bulls. And they say New York doesn't care about soccer.
Then there is this nugget showing mainstream acceptance: On Tuesday "City"announced that Pepsi is now the official provider of soft drinks and snacks at home games. That Pepsi is throwing its clout behind New York City F.C., with such a partnership deal is yet more evidence that the sport has battled through to go mainstream.
That the Cosmos, the Red Bulls' opponent on Wednesday, completed the spring NASL season as the league's champions and that they boast a lineup that could easily compete in MLS only shows that top soccer has come to New York City. They've also shown growth off the field, with the club growing its season ticket base and showing improved attendance.
But moments like this prove that there is a market not just for the sport but the league in the craziest sports landscape in the country. If "City"and the Cosmos could find their own home just like Red Bull Arena (and the Cosmos' Chief Operating Officer is the talented Erik Stover), then who knows how mainstream this sport can grow not just in this city but nationally.
It's only a start, but its a great way to kick things off for the world's sport in the world's greatest city.