Yankee Stadium may be “The House that Ruth Built,” but he sure didn’t build it for soccer.
New York City FC is playing its inaugural season at the latest home of baseball’s New York Yankees while continuing to seek a permanent facility of its own. Seattle Sounders FC will play there for the first time Sunday.
And while the Sounders sounded excited about visiting such hallowed ground in a sight-seeing sense, they were considerably more skeptical about it in a soccer-playing sense.
“You kind of circle certain games on the schedule, and this is one of the away ones that you’re looking forward to,” defender Brad Evans said. “It will be pretty cool, pretty surreal. ... I think all the guys are excited. A lot of history just with that club alone. It will be interesting. But the field, it’s not going to be ideal.”
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New York City FC has maintained that the field meets the FIFA minimum of 70 yards wide and 110 yards long. However, few players seem to believe that, and Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said it actually measures 68 by 106 yards.
The baseball diamond’s infield dirt is covered with natural grass, and the Sounders didn’t expect footing problems. But they are treating the size as the kind of issue that could affect play, as it did in past years at Buck Shaw Stadium, the former home of the San Jose Earthquakes, and CommunityAmerica Ballpark, which Kansas City shared with a minor league baseball team.
“It’s kind of similar to how San Jose used to be back in the day: tight field, chaotic,” defender Chad Marshall said. “You’ve got to be focused at all times because the ball can change ends really quickly. … (They want) us to try to still try to be wide, make the field as wide as you can, not make it all down the middle and make it tough for (Seattle forwards Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins) up top. It’s about still using whatever width we can get.”
A total of six goals have been scored in the four games played so far at Yankee Stadium. New York scored two goals in its home debut, but no one has scored more than one since.
The Sounders prepared by setting up cones to reduce the size of their practice field.
“It just makes the game a little more of a bang-bang game,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “It allows you to press a little bit more, which they like to do at their home field. The field’s also short. … It’s still going to take some time for them to adjust when they actually get on the field.”
Soccer considerations aside, Schmid and several of his players said they have never been to Yankee Stadium and are excited to set eyes on the place.
That, of course, is something that Babe Ruth never got to do, as this Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, replacing the iconic ground that had been home to the Bronx Bombers of the 1920s.
However, the current stadium is just next door to that previous hallowed ground, and many architectural features — including the classic frieze roof line — has been replicated in the new building.
“The tradition’s great,” Schmid said. ... The history and so forth, obviously that’s something that we’re looking forward to. To me, there’s like iconic buildings and stadiums in different sports, whether it’s Fenway Park or a Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium.”