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Monday, May 20, 2024

MLS Finally Gets Its Own Piece of the Big Apple

  • New York will get a soccer-specific venue with plans approved for it in Queens.
  • More than a decade of searching for a site has sent the club all over the metropolitan area.
NYC-Mayor-Adams-speaks-at-NYCFC-trophy-presentation
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly 30 years into its existence, MLS is officially getting a soccer-specific stadium in the largest U.S. city, ending more than a decade of the often-frustrating pursuit and rising questions about whether it could or would ever happen.

NYCFC gained Thursday formal land-use approval for a $780 million, 25,000-seat stadium at Willets Point in Queens, near both Citi Field and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The city council approval follows an initial announcement of the stadium plan in November 2022. An opening is now targeted for ’27. 

“This is just a rich moment of history,” said New York mayor Eric Adams (above). “Just think about how people said it was not possible. Everyone tried before. Willets Point has been an eyesore for so many years. … We scored a major goal for New York City.”

The vote gives a key sense of stability for the team, which since its 2013 debut has played home games at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and Red Bull Stadium due to not having its own venue, all the while suffering through suboptimal sight lines playing in a baseball facility or competing in the home of its key local rival, the Red Bulls. 

Extra Time for New York

During that time numerous other MLS markets have developed their own soccer-specific facilities, pushing the league forward both on and off the field. Among the key points in the long and winding road toward the new NYCFC stadium:

  • 2011: Even before MLS formally awarded New York a second franchise to join the Red Bulls, the league looks at building at Pier 40 in Manhattan, but it runs into local opposition.
  • 2012: The league looks at placing an “NY2” franchise at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, also in Queens. Again, area resistance scuttles the effort, with objections focused on building on existing parkland.
  • 2013: A nine-acre complex in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, is proposed. This site is considered for nearly two years, and actually nears a formal agreement under then New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, was far less enthusiastic.
  • 2015: Soon after the demise of the Bronx plan, NYCFC turns its attention back to Manhattan, and looks at Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex. 
  • 2017: A site adjacent to Belmont Park, just outside city limits in Nassau County, is considered. Later that year, a competing bid from the NHL’s Islanders for the land prevails, and the site is used for what is now UBS Arena.
  • 2018: The team looks again at the South Bronx, with separate parcels at the Harlem River Yards and Bronx Terminal Market considered. Community support again proves to be an issue, as are development specifics such as parking. 
  • 2022: NYCFC unveils the Willets Point stadium plan, including a 49-year lease and a $4 million annual payment by the team to the city. 

MLS, however, has been no stranger to such elongated stadium efforts, and Audi Field in Washington, D.C., similarly required more than a decade from original proposals to formal opening. 

“The approval of a new world-class stadium for NYCFC is a historic step for MLS and soccer in our country,” MLS commissioner Don Garber posted on X. “As a native New Yorker, I couldn’t be prouder to bring more of our soccer to your doorstep.”

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