Just three months into the 2022 season, New York City FC have already called six different venues home. The wanderer lifestyle is one NYCFC and its supporters have been forced to get used to, as the team haven't played consecutive home matches at the same venue since the middle of March. Impressively, the club’s home form has remained excellent regardless of the setting, but the couch-hopping has reached jarring new levels.
With soccer-specific stadium progress seemingly nonexistent at the moment, this nomadic existence looks set to be the norm for the foreseeable future. The US Open Cup run has given Belson Stadium, the cozy turf-pitched soccer stadium built atop a parking garage on the St. John’s campus, its moment in the sun as a first-team venue — with less-than-stellar reviews from home and opposing managers.
As the home stadium shuffle shows no signs of stopping, what better time than now to create an extremely subjective, non-scientific ranking of every place NYCFC has called home for a competitive match?
First, I’d like to ward off some of the inevitable scoffing and outrage this post will inspire. I’m heavily weighting the NYCFC fan’s experience. It is undeniable that any ranking of NYCFC venues from an on-the-field, playing perspective should have the grass pitches in soccer-specific stadiums in the very top spots, with converted baseball fields and plastic surfaces battling it out at the bottom. For this list, I’m focusing more on what it feels like to be in the stands, the general vibe of NYCFC’s home matches, geography (since, incredibly, California is somehow involved in this), and my personal biases.
With all that hopefully sufficiently explained, please try to be gentle and not give in to the urge to yell at me as I rank all the couches NYCFC has crashed on to date.
8. ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL
Technically, all of MLS could claim this as a “home” arena, save for Nashville who didn’t actually participate due to COVID cases. We can thank the weirdly unnecessary made-for-TV MLS Is Back bubble tournament for this quirky reality. The fields themselves seemed nice enough, but the decision to hold a congested-fixture knockout tournament in the middle of the summer in Orlando (hello, 9 am kickoff times!) still looks bizarre in retrospect. Considering the dubious circumstances surrounding this literal Mickey Mouse Cup and the fact that it was fan-free, it comfortably lands at the very bottom.
7. Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, CA
The beautiful venue looks to be an incredible atmosphere for all the LAFC and Angel City FC matches, and, hey, NYCFC still have never lost in the building since it opened. The small fact that it’s 2,800 miles away from New York, though, cements the low ranking. The concept of New York City FC hosting a match in Los Angeles feels far too surreal, even if CONCACAF Champions League has made for some weird playing situations for NYCFC since their first involvement in 2020. This beats Orlando since, at the very least, fans could attend, even if it required a Herculean away-day-style effort to get there.
6. Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, CT
Connecticut doesn’t sound so bad when it’s there or California. This frequent site for international matches up in East Hartford is a traffic-y two-hour drive from the city, with no viable public transit option. The length of the trek means there’s been no real home field advantage at play when NYCFC has visited, which was magnified to an extreme degree during the CONCACAF Champions League meeting with Guatemala’s Comunicaciones FC.
The pitch and professional-sized facility would push this far higher in the rankings if not for the fact that it’s prohibitively far from where the vast majority of NYCFC fans call home. This also could score some sort of bizarre bonus point for being one of the two home venues where NYCFC has won while being both the home and away team.
5. Belson Stadium at St. John’s University, Queens
This aforementioned soccer-specific, parking garage-topper of a stadium can only hold around 2,600 fans and features a turf pitch that the manager hates due to its (?) extreme dryness. It’s been a regular host for the club’s youth squads, and now NYCFC II are using it as their home in MLS NEXT Pro.
As a youth or NEXT Pro team venue, it’s defensible, but as a place for first-team matches? Not ideal. Not an easy place to get to via public transportation, with severe limitations in terms of amenities, capacity, playing surface, and TV sightlines for those not in the building. It’s not the most major league of settings, even if it’s on par with many other US Open Cup or lower-division home venues elsewhere in the country.
4. Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
On a purely emotional level, it should be last in this ranking. The home of NYCFC’s most hated rivals and an all-too-frequent house of horrors in Hudson River Derby matches, calling this “home” is the toughest of pills to swallow.
Ultimately, it’s a fine soccer-specific stadium. The other stadiums I’ve ranked above can’t approach its quality in terms of the pitch, sightlines, and all those great soccer-specific stadium things. But it’s a farce playing as the “home” team here. The club’s identity is supposed to be tied up with playing in New York City, a concept that has obviously been severely stretched. It’s the one venue that most repels fans, with the historically-significant CONCACAF Champions League match against Seattle Sounders the only time there was something resembling a decent turnout (6,413 announced attendance) for a Harrison home fixture.
No matter how many times the “it’s easy to get to Red Bull Arena from New York City” line gets repeated, it will not change the fact that NYCFC fans (and many other potential live soccer attendees in the area, even some who would call themselves Red Bull fans) have resoundingly said “no” to making the trip.
3. Jack Coffey Field at Fordham University, Bronx
This might feel too high for a place that’s only hosted one NYCFC match, and nearly six years ago to boot. But to me, it also stands out as the ultimate “what might have been” as a place for (some) home matches.
First the negatives: A turf American football field (that I’m fairly certain ex-manager Patrick Vieira ripped following the team’s one match there) on a college campus (so, some similar problems to Belson Stadium) that’s pretty far north in the Bronx, lacking the convenience of Yankee Stadium’s southern positioning. On the flip side, though, it’s significantly larger–7,000 capacity–and aesthetically more pleasing than the other college stadium on this list.
In that one NYCFC match, it looked far better on TV for non-attendees than Belson does, and it’s easier to reach via public transit. Playing there meant fans were in proximity to the culinarily famous Arthur Avenue for pre- or post-match eating and drinking, a massive upgrade compared to what’s usually available near other NYCFC venues.
Despite the pros, it’s all for naught thanks to the ugly scenes that played out between some New York Cosmos and NYCFC supporters during the one 2016 US Open Cup match held here. It’s not clear if Fordham forever banned NYCFC from playing there, or if the club hasn’t pursued the site for more matches of its own choosing, or what exactly the circumstances are. But I do wonder how things might have been different had that 2016 match not been marred by stupidity, because this could have been a decent spot to turn to when the club’s preferred in-city stadiums were unavailable.
2. Yankee Stadium, Bronx
It’s the closest thing to home that there is, and that there might be for a long while. The one constant venue since the club’s inaugural season, the team boasts a dominant record here in regular season matches dating back to 2017 (50 wins, and only seven losses). The stadium and its surrounding pre- and post-match hangout spots are deeply intertwined with the DNA and culture of the club at this point.
But the once-electric game day atmospheres have been a bit harder to come by lately (thanks, pandemic/endless stadium shuffling/baseball stadium fatigue/choose your own reason), and the field itself remains a narrow eyesore that can be tough on viewers both at home and in the stands. These shortcomings are unavoidable and undeniable, and haven’t changed since 2015.
What has changed, though, is the fan’s perception of the NYCFC-Yankees relationship. It seems as though a severe, possibly parking space-inspired case of Yankees Fatigue has set in. Perhaps even that much-bantered-about championship banner has contributed to an increase in dissatisfaction with the club’s House that Ruth Built tenancy. So while this is the place most indelibly linked with NYCFC until an actual soccer-specific stadium materializes somewhere in the five boroughs, at the moment, it falls short of being the team’s most desirable home field.
1. Citi Field, Queens
It’s impossible to keep Citi out of the top spot, despite the nostalgic, sentimental draw of Yankee Stadium. There are just too many points on which it now beats its fellow baseball stadium across town.
The converted pitch fits a little neater in the outfield at Citi Field than it does at Yankee Stadium, so while no baseball field makes for a Good playing surface, it might be marginally better in Queens. Citi definitely makes for a better viewing experience if you’re not at the match, thanks to broadcast cameras actually positioned properly for the sport being played. The stadium food is far superior at Citi than it is at Yankee. The years of Yankee Stadium-dominant home scheduling make matches played at the home of the Amazin’ Mets feel novel and slightly liberating.
While the attendance figures remain pretty even between the two baseball stadiums, anecdotally, the atmosphere seems livelier at Citi. The stink of that 2019 MLS Cup playoff failure is all but washed away, with NYCFC unbeaten in the building since that October 2019 defeat (albeit in just 3 matches). At the moment, I think this is where NYCFC fans feel the most at home, and with Willets Point still mentioned as a potential future stadium location, the momentum may continue to build for Queens to fully supplant the Bronx as NYCFC’s home borough.