The last time David Villa played at Yankee Stadium, the Republic of Ireland were being taught a lesson in football by a Spanish team you wouldn’t have thought was in decline.
That was the summer of 2013. On Sunday — if appearances are to be believed — the diminutive striker was spearheading a project heading in the opposite direction.
Just over 40,000 very curious fans arrived dressed in a lighter blue than the Yankees seats of the still relatively new ballpark in the Bronx.
After months of mostly negative press, there was little to suggest that this well-funded operation is not here to stay. Not only are they riding on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm for the game in this country and in this city, it was clear the New York City FC brand itself was being occupied forcefully by the first top level football club to take up residence here since the 1980s.
Wielding a wrecking ball of belonging, the game day atmosphere was a well targeted, well thought out event. After all that went wrong, this was an opportunity to tighten the grip on the fans who had made the effort on a blustery March day.
The elephant not in the room was Frank Lampard. No matter how many ways they PR their way out of it, this home game against New England would have been all the glitzier had the Premier League veteran lined out for the first home game of the season. There were only about 6,000 seats unsold and it’s not unfair to suggest Lampard would have ensured a sell out.
But plenty has been said and written about that. The club was successful enough at playing the cards they were dealt — Villa being their ace.
It was a poor game lit up by his first half goal; a deep run from the left wing, a quick one-two, a fortuitous bounce of the ball and a beautiful finish which he half-dinked, half-curled to the far corner. The great players enjoy more space and more time than the mere mortals and that goal summed up what Villa can expect this year in this league.
Win: check. Captain and star player scoring their first ever goal at home and celebrating at home base: check. And so the job of every other staff member of this fledgling unit of the Man City/Yankees sporting partnership was to keep everything else ticking along.
New York City FC have been working night and day on their Game-Day-Experience for months now. Villa might be more vital than anyone in ensuring strong attendances but the boys and girls working the promotional controls did some great work wiping out some of the bad PR inflicted upon the new Major League Soccer team over the winter months.
You can always tell a football club is thinking things through properly by the calibre of song they opt for at full-time.
I always enjoyed Cork City’s wins at Dalymount Park all the more when Sting’s voice on The Police track spilled out from the PA system: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing.”
When the Yankee Stadium DJ dropped an extended edit of “Native New Yorker” by Odyssey, I was happy to drop all pretense of impartiality .
“What? No Sinatra, Marty?” joked one club media official to another as the long intro of the 1977 disco track boomed out into the grey Bronx sky.
Normally, the Yankees players and fans leave the stadium with “New York, New York” on repeat as their soundtrack. So that was off the agenda.
Of course, everything else that wasn’t nailed to the walls had to be replaced by anything identifiable with the soccer tenants who will be taking up residence there for at least the next two seasons. Especially the memorabilia which was usurped thoroughly by New York City FC merchandise on the ground floor mezzanine.
In came the indigenous music of the city and a lovely pre-game nod to the local amateur soccer scene: a three-minute video montage narrated by Michael Rapaport — a more self-conscious bearer of choreographed New York braggadocio you’d be hard pressed to find.
The big screen graffiti graphics and carefully thought-out placement of their new set of ‘hardcore’ in the cheap seat bleachers behind the goal in centre field — all of it demanded authenticity in a world where brands get one shot at anchoring themselves in the public consciousness. So here they are, new native New Yorkers, brash and confident and wholly inconsiderate of the feelings of the New York Red Bulls out in New Jersey. Noisy neighbours are a New York tradition and the Manchester City offshoots will relish the role.
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