New York is now a soccer town.
Be prepared, Joe Six-Pack, the largest city in the nation – a city that boasts two professional baseball teams, two basketball teams, two NFL teams and three hockey teams is now getting into the kick of things. The metropolitan area now has three soccer teams – two in MLS and one storied club in the NASL – and a city that supposedly didn't care about the sport is suddenly filled with a passion for what the world considers it's greatest game.
The evolution of soccer in New York City over the past three decades is remarkable if not meteoric. After the folding of the original NASL early in the 1980s, soccer was relegated to a place where it was solely played in ethnic neighborhoods and by schoolchildren. Watching the sport or following it was nonexistent outside of enclaves who followed teams from the old land. But the 1994 World Cup United States national team featured four players from north Jersey, three of whom hailed from Kearny and it was in the faces of John Harkes, Tony Meola and Tab Ramos that the sport took its next step.
From the growth of MLS, a league that nearly folded several times during its opening decade, there is now an enthusiasm for the sport in this area that is undeniable. There are the New York Red Bulls, with their own stadium just minutes from the historic fields in Kearny where Harkes, Meola and Ramos played. Their jewel of a stadium, Red Bull Arena, has seen the likes of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill call it their home and attendance at the facility is among the best in the league.
The success of Red Bull Arena and the franchise's investment into the team, including a new training facility, has paved the way for New York City FC. With the backing of the New York Yankees as well as England's Manchester City, the team has walked into a temporary baseball stadium home and spent millions on star players, sold 15,000 season tickets and could well sell-out Yankee Stadium for their home debut this weekend.
And all this says nothing about the New York Cosmos, who continue to grow their fanbase in the NASL this offseason. They lured Raul, a legend of the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, to their roster and appear to be a team with serious ambitions, one that could easily compete in MLS.
It is hard to ignore any of these three teams and the rise of the support into the mainstream of the New York City sportscape. That three successful, ambitious and well-followed clubs are now within a 50-mile radius of each other is a testament to the increasing acceptance of soccer in the tristate area.
That, in 1999, the team formerly known as the MetroStars would struggle to get a couple thousand people into cavernous Giants Stadium but now has a $250 million home that is among the best venues for any sport in the country shows this growth. Or that a team like the Yankees would throw their vast resources behind a team, no matter how undesirable it is to play soccer where a baseball mound is, shows the upside to soccer.
And even that the Cosmos, resurrected from dormancy, are closing in on a stadium of their own, shows where the sport has come and where it is going.
So move over, resident New York teams, and make room and welcome soccer to its rightful place in the greatest city in the world. It's here to stay.