Patrick Vieira: “We’ve been really careful with the options that we had and tried to choose the best one for the football club.” (Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
PURCHASE, N.Y. — New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira Wednesday said that playing in East Hartford, Conn. against the Houston Dynamo Sept. 23 was the “best option for us.”
NYCFC and the Dynamo will play at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field at 3 p.m. that Saturday, the same time the game was to be played in the Bronx.
The Major League Soccer club was forced to move out of Yankee Stadium for that date because the Yankees are playing the Kansas City Royals at the ballpark in a make-up game two days later. Stadium ground crews need three days to convert the soccer pitch into a baseball field.
“We’ve been really careful with the options that we had and tried to choose the best one for the football club,” Vieira said after training at SUNY-Purchase Wednesday morning. “But when we are talking about the football club, we’re talking about the fans as well. We believe this is the best option for us.”
Rentschler Field is 118 miles away from New York City in central Connecticut.
“You just have to prepare for the game like it is a home game,” Vieira said. “Of course, it is not a home game. But to have a good field to play at the same time, that was really important to us. Sometimes things happen that is difficult. we have to deal with it on the sporting side and hopefully the fans will turn up and support the team.
City knew about the Yankees’ make-up date six weeks ago and contacted several stadiums in the metropolitan area about the possibility of playing that day. The team did not want to move the date because it would force the team to play three games in a week down the stretch run, a club spokesman said.
NCYFC signed a contract to play at the field with University of Connecticut, which calls Rentschler home for its football team, last week.
Vieira indicated that he had input into what stadium was chosen, but he did not have the final word.
“Yeah, of course, but this is not a decision that I am taking by myself,” he said. “It is the club making the decision because every department is really important because of course we want the fans to be happy. We want, the players and myself, we want to play on a really good field. So we take every aspect of the game into consideration and then we make a decision. But we make a club decision.”
Rentschler, which has a capacity of 40,642, is home to the UConn football team. The stadium also has hosted several U.S. national team games for the men and women, including a World Cup qualifier.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has played at Rentschler twice. Most recently he was a member of the U.S. side that defeated Ghana, 2-1, in a warm-up match for the CONCACAF Gold Cup July 1.
“There is rich tradition there as well,” Johnson said. “It is a good field, a good atmosphere so we’ll embrace it for the 23rd.
“It’s a historic stadium. For UConn, it’s a great field. It’s a bigger stadium. It has a little bit of a soccer feel to it so it’s great. I think it will be fantastic.”
Though it will go down in the books as a home game for NYCFC, it will be a challenge to get as many as City fans there as there usually are at Yankee Stadium, which is serviced by public transportation.
Johnson wasn’t certain NYCFC will lose its home-field advantage.
“There’s no saying there won’t be many fans at the match,” he said. “It’s too early to start speculating what the match may look like. The fans will be there, the fans won’t be there. At the end of the day, it’s a home game for us. We look forward to having the support we have had this season from our supporters. I think that’s the best way to approach it.”