Wednesday was Media Day at Yankee Stadium for New York City Football Club and GotSoccer went along. With President of Football Operations, Claudio Reyna, coach Jason Kreis and select players seated at tables, media members circulated around the room in search of a quote.
With Sunday’s home opener rapidly approaching after an especially brutal New York City winter, the condition of the shared Yankee Stadium playing surface was bound to be a topic of discussion.
Recent remarks by N.Y. Yankee players insured as much, with Gold Glove first baseball Mark Teixeira bluntly saying of the ground where he makes his living, “it’s going to suck.”
GotSoccer asked Chris Wingert what he thought of the issue, and not surprisingly the veteran defender was too smart to further fan the flames of the controversy.
“As an athlete,” Wingert began, “I think it’s just something I can’t concern myself with. I have no control over how good or poor the field will be.” The Long Island native added, “we played on turf last week (in Orlando), we’re going to play on grass this week. We play on different fields throughout the season, and that’s not something I have any control over.” Wingert concluded, “I just try to focus on what I can control, and that’s doing my best in whatever the conditions are.”
Members of the Fourth Estate were unable to gauge the quality of the field for themselves, the pitch was strictly off limits. However, the back page of Thursday’s New York Daily News featured an aerial view, showing the field to be in worrisome shape.
Kreis echoed Wingerts remarks, telling the Daily News, “I haven’t looked. I don’t plan to. My mother told me not to worry about what I can’t control, and I don’t think they’ll put me on the grounds crew.”
That the much touted Yankee Stadium grounds crew is currently doing yeoman’s work to ensure that the filed will be in the best possible condition is undoubted. Still, anyone who watched last week’s opening MLS games in Philadelphia and Washington DC saw that Mother Nature can be a tough foe for even the most professional crew.
With Sunday’s home opener rapidly approaching the playing field wasn’t the only topic on the agenda for New York City’s newest sports franchise, and GotSoccer spoke to three of the biggest reasons that the club began its MLS journey with a 1-1 draw last week in Orlando.
Josh Saunders shook off the effects of a scary collision with a goal post to backstop NYC to the draw, Spanish superstar David Villa, quiet for much of the game, set up the New York goal, and Mikkel, call me Mix, Diskerud scored that first ever NYCFC goal.
The 34 year old Saunders was bloodied from Sunday’s collision, but when GotSoccer pulled up a chair the keeper said simply, “I feel fine,” when asked about his health.
Despite the newness of the club, Saunders calls his team, “an experienced and intelligent group, and we know how to play the game.” A two time MLS Cup winning goalkeeper with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Saunders was beaten just once by Orlando, denied a win and a shutout on a deflected free kick from Orlando star Kaka.
The veteran shrugged off the disappointment, saying “what are you going to do? You can’t change it, the ball bounces funny sometimes, and you use it for motivation.”
New York’s U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud’s performance against Orlando earned the Norwegian-American a spot on the MLS Team of the Week, and his goal was one of five nominated for Goal of the Week, although his fellow national teamer Clint Dempsey claimed the prize.
Diskerud is enjoying the experience of playing on a team that is starting from scratch. “Yeah, not a lot of soccer players get to experience that,” Mix told GotSoccer, “unless you’re born in 1901 or something.”
Diskerud got a laugh with that answer, but he quickly turned serious acknowledging that, “it’s definitely difficult, but I love it. You have to build friendships quickly, connections on the field, and everything has to be done fast.”
One of the most important connections has already borne fruit, it was some clever interplay between Diskerud and Villa that resulted in NYC FC’s first ever goal.
Although much in demand, Villa, Spain’s all time leading goal scorer gave GotSoccer a moment just before he headed back out into his new city.
Villa’s translator was unnecessary when GotSoccer asked if spending time in the city has been helpful. “Si, sis, si,” was Villa’s answer, before the translator stepped in to add, “it has definitely helped a lot to get some time to get used to the city and to get to know the club.”
Unlike NYC’s other high priced DP, Frank Lampard, Villa avoided controversy, cutting short, rather than extending his overseas loan, coming to New York after playing just four games of a 10 day contract for Melbourne City.
While Lampard angered NYC FC fans by staying with Manchester City until the summer, Villa became the face of the new franchise, and a role model for his new teammates. The superstar seemed a bit uncomfortable with the notion, saying modestly, “I’ll continue to work hard, so if they look up to me I need to set an example as captain, and to continue to work hard for the team.”
Sunday at 5:00 PM Villa will lead NYC FC out onto the Yankee Stadium pitch against 2014 MLS Cup runner ups New England Revolution.
It will be just the first of 17 regular season home games for the Yankees new tenants. Hopefully the story on Sunday and throughout the season, will be the product on the field, and not the field itself.