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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

May 28, 2016
Perhaps NYC FC should build its team around its pitch

Patrick Vieira's men have struggled mightily for points at Yankee Stadium this year.
Patrick Vieira's men have struggled mightily for points at Yankee Stadium this year.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

As soccer fields go, Yankee Stadium is barely adequate and I think I'm being nice about that.

As soccer teams playing on their home field, New York City FC gets a failing grade.

Only seven points out of a possible 21 (a 1-2-4 record) just doesn't cut it, especially when you have grabbed 10 out of 18 road points (3-2-1).

So, what's the problem?

City isn't built for a shorter, narrow field. It's as simple as that.

At 110 X 70 yards, it is the smallest field in the 20-team league.

When the team was put together by sporting director Claudio Reyna and then head coach Jason Jason via the MLS expansion draft in late 2014 and Designated Player selections, that apparently the stadium dimensions weren't taken into account.

When Patrick Vieira took over for the fired Kreis last year, he added technical and speedy players to the mix and used an innovative attacking system. That's fine, but it just hasn't worked out at the stadium, at least not yet.

I have written about the Rochester Lancers -- the first pro soccer team I covered -- many times in the past and I would ask you to indulge me one more time.

When Don Popovic took over the reins of the team in 1976, he looked at the cramped and bumpy, Holleder Stadium field and decided to build his team around a big, physical defense and good goalkeepers (Jack Brand and Shep Messing, to name but two). And oh yeah, he did not have much of a budget to work with, so he used his wits to build a competitive side.

In 1978, the back four averaged around six feet and 180 lbs. when the alignment of Jim Pollihan, Nick Mijatovic, Miralem Fazlic and Don Droege played.

Between some speed merchants up front and a technical midfield that combined long and short passing and a physical side on defense, the Lancers were a difficult side to beat at Holleder back in the day. If my memory serves me right, they nickhamed it "Fortress Rochester."

Teams did not like traveling to Rochester for many reasons. Playing on that field and trying to navigate the Lancers' tough defensive style was always near the top of the list.

The Lancers never won a North American Soccer League title during Popovic's tenure, but they did reach the 1977 semifinals before Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer and the rest of their Cosmos teammates put an end to their championship dreams.

Let's face it. It will take NYC FC at least another three years before a soccer-specific stadium in the city will be built; and knowing how difficult it is to build any thing, particularly a stadium, in NYC, it probably will take longer.

Until then, the team might want to acquire some players and implement a style that that is more advantageous to accruing points.

Now, I'm not saying go totally defensive and forget skill -- every team is different and NYC FC needs some star power playing in New York City -- but Vieira should find a way to make the field work for the team and not the other way around.

Who knows?

Perhaps City will get out of its home-field blues -- it will have an opportunity to start when it hosts Orlando City FC Sunday at 4:30 p.m. -- and the team finally will acclimate itself to the stadium.

But until the club wins at home on a regular basis, the stadium will be at the top of everyone's list when NYC FC fails to make the grade or get the points.
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