Maybe it’s fitting that nearly a year to the day that New York’s nomadic New York Islanders finally opened their brand new home at Belmont Park, the area’s other nomads, New York City Football Club (NYCFC), finally put roots down on a place of their own.
Wednesday’s official announcement of the planned redevelopment of the Willets Point section of Queens centered around a new 25,000-seat soccer stadium for NYCFC was a monumental day for the City. The implications for the project go well beyond sports, but from the perspective of sports, it was an important day as well.
Even before NYCFC ever stepped out onto the pitch, their quest for a home all their own had been marred at every turn Plans to develop a stadium in nearby Corona Park quickly were met by community opposition, plans in the Bronx fell through and they even bid on the same land at Belmont Park as the Islanders at on point to try to build a home.
You guessed it, that crumbled too as New York State selected the Isles’ bid for what would become UBS Arena.
Islanders fans have loved to say they’re the redheaded stepchild of New York sports teams, but that title has been held by NYCFC and its supporters. The soccer club has been forced to play at Yankees Stadium while the hunt continued and when the Yankees were in town they were dispatched to Citi Field or Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey — the home of their chief rival, the New York Red Bulls.
If that wasn’t enough, Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s has been utilized for matches and they’ve had to travel to Hartford Connecticut as well in the past. Even during this year’s playoff run, there had been the need for contingency plans because the Yankees and Mets were both in the MLB playoffs and a Red Bulls playoff run could have further complicated things.
Luckily they avoided that, but suffice it to say those days will soon be coming to an end.
“Our journey in New York had been incomplete. We didn’t have our own home, our own stadium in which to play,” NYCFC vice chairman Marty Edelman said. “(Our fans) would need new GPS coordinates for games week to week in different locations. That incomplete condition ends today… We have come home to Queens. To Willets Point… The journey is over, but it’s just beginning.”
For more on NYCFC and its new stadium, visit AMNY.com
The astonishing thing is that upon completion of the to-be-named NYCFC stadium it will be the first professional soccer-specific stadium built in the five boroughs. Soccer’s popularity has continually grown year after year and it isn’t hard to find fans packed into a local pub on a weekend morning watching an English Premier League match, but a home for a professional soccer club has been hard to come by in New York City or even on Long Island.
Now soccer will have its “cathedral,” as MLS commissioner Don Garber called it, in the city limits. Wednesday’s announcement was nearly a decade in the making, but after being shuttled from stadium to stadium — and winning the city’s only championship since 2012 — there is no club or fan base that deserved to celebrate Wednesday’s news more than NYCFC.