MLS planned for this moment since its inception. And the arrival of a second team in New York City warranted the patience required to make it happen.The payoff arrived when the pictures hit the wire on Tuesday: MLS commissioner Don Garber with a beaming smile on his face with Manchester City chief executive officer Ferran Soriano on one side and New York Yankees president Randy Levine on the other.
Such a snapshot probably exceeds every reasonable expectation held back in the days when the Cosmos dominated the conversation and the increasingly skint Wilpon family tried to stake its claim. New York City FC – change of plans and public outcry pending, of course – may take up residence in Queens some day, but it will operate with money better suited to Manhattan.
Garber waited for the right investors and eventually forged a dream partnership between the billionaire backers of City and the well-connected kings of New York. This mooted $100 million deal to create NYCFC combines limitless resources with political capital, a mixture that will prove helpful as this new club attempts to build a stadium and captivate a city.
It is the second point that perhaps proves most alluring about this decision, even in the most crowded sporting marketplace in America. MLS forever strives to increase its relevance in the mainstream and justify its existence in a country where matches involving the top clubs in the world are readily available on television every weekend. Its pursuit of general acceptance in a still skeptical landscape veers toward the unseemly at times, but it is not one iota misplaced here. The right club in New York City can aid those endeavors significantly and plot an improved and more expansive course for the future.
For better or for worse, the Red Bulls have failed in their attempts to chart that path over the past few years. The absentee owners in Austria still plunge ample funds into their advertisement-cum-soccer club to capture attention and receive a return on their investment, but their considerable expenditures cannot fix the location of the stadium (a hindrance to city dwellers who shudder at the thought of taking the PATH out to Harrison), the seemingly perpetual mismanagement or the star-crossed history of a team still yet to lift its first significant title.
Red Bull executives and supporters will rightly question NYCFC's favored place in the scheme of things and the claims of the people backing it. So too will the fans of several other baseball teams and football clubs and perhaps more than a few people with a keen awareness of human rights violations. Those noticeable issues and the difficulties of the past deserve due consideration, but they do not infringe upon the rather inescapable logic of cashing in the league's last significant franchise chip on a new outfit headed by well-heeled investor/operators with deep links to New York City and the sport on the whole.
New York City FC must take advantage of its inherent strengths – its operating and political capital, plus its ties to one of the strongest sides in England – to hit the ground running and vanquish any thoughts of potentially catastrophic failure or underachievement. Hurdles, miscalculations and missteps often prove costly in the competitive New York environment, as MLS has found in its lobbying efforts for a new, soccer-specific stadium within city limits over the past three years.
Locating the proper place for a new ground represents the first task on the agenda, even with the prospect of Yankee Stadium as a fallback option for 2015 and 2016. Garber and Soriano backtracked a bit on the currently designated location in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in their public comments on Tuesday and opened the door to other potential plans. Soriano rather astutely suggested that he wanted to place the stadium in a (presumably transit-accessible) location where the community would embrace the new team.
As the club sorts through its nine-figure stadium deal (and sketches out a plan to spend the stacks of money it will eventually generate), NYCFC also needs to create a structure designed to capture the appropriate attention. It will have the backing of perhaps the city's most powerful brand, one of the nation's most successful regional sports networks, and one of the world's best soccer teams to create its own image. NYCFC must find a way to lean on those assets appropriately without appearing as a lesser offshoot of either of its primary investors and set out a cohesive infrastructure designed to quell internal chaos and strife before it affects its operations.
Most of the finer points – the coach (a critical hire), the inevitable Designated Players (acquired on loan from City or signed from other clubs), the initial squad (one that should not lean too heavily on the parent club for identity's sake) and the youth development system (perhaps one of the enticements for this deal all along) – will then follow. The majority of those decisions need to succeed to limit the potentially harmful hitches along the way and place NYCFC in a position to thrive in 2015.
NYCFC's mere existence constitutes a fillip for MLS right now even as the new club navigates through those minefields. Its arrival will line the league's coffers, provide a stream of positive press to obscure the farcical developments with Chivas USA and strengthen the currently weak bargaining position ahead of television negotiations for the contracts set to expire at the end of 2014. As the process unfolds, NYCFC will also spark further dialogue within the Board of Governors about the financial commitments and the rule changes required to increase the standard of play and push the league toward its stated goal of joining the world's best leagues by 2022.
Garber labeled NYCFC's arrival as a “transformational development that will elevate the league to new heights in this country.” It certainly could join David Beckham's arrival on these shores in that category at some stage, but it now constitutes a financially motivated decision garnished with the promise of greater and wider returns down the road.
NYCFC must rise to the considerable challenges ahead to ensure its long-awaited inception produces the substantial inroads sought in the nation's largest city and ushers in a period of extended and exponential growth for a league already on the rise. Anything less will see this opportunity fall agonizingly short of the grand impact desired when the idea first emerged all those years ago.