By Michael Lewis
QUEENS, N.Y. — For one day, at least, Citi Field will become City’s field.
New York City FC Sunday will hold its final regular-season home game away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, a ballpark the team has called home since joining MLS in 2015.
It was not immediately known how well or poorly the players took to the baseball field during a Friday training session.
The players and head coach Patrick Vieira met with the media prior to practice and the press was allowed to watch the first 20-30 minutes of the session.
The early reviews were positive.
“It looks nice from afar, but we’ll have to see after training,” forward Jack Harrison said.
“It’s good,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “I will be able to tell you a little bit more after the training session, but we have a good feeling. The way we arrived this morning, the way the people welcomed us was quite really warm and it was nice to be here.”
“It’s a beautiful stadium,” forward Rodney Wallace said. “I’ve never been here before so being here for the first time is great. The pitch is in great condition. I’m sure that [Sunday] the crowd will turn up and we’re going to make this feel like it’s really our home.”
Standing on the sidelines, some reporters thought the field looked immaculate or pretty close to it.
As of Friday night, about 18,000 tickets had been sold for the game. Approximately 2,000 general sale tickets were still on sale. Soccer capacity on Sunday will be about 20,000.
City has been forced out of the stadium due to the Yankees’ surprising postseason success in the American League playoffs.
Which puts Sunday’s encounter with Columbus Crew SC at vital importance. A win will keep NYCFC in second place in the Eastern Conference and help the team avoid playing in a mid-week play-in game on either Wednesday, Oct. 25 or Thursday, Oct. 26.
If the Yankees reach the World Series, the first two games would be played in Los Angeles Tuesday, Oct. 24 and Wednesday, Oct. 25. The first game at Yankee Stadium would be held on Friday, Oct. 27.
To switch from baseball to soccer and vice versa, the Yankee Stadium grounds crew usually needs 72 hours.
Considering Yankee Stadium has hosted countless World Series games, the 72-hour switch-over might be thrown out the window because it might take even more time to spruce up the stadium for the grandest event in baseball. Entering Friday’s Game Six of the AL Championship series, the Yankees have participated in 40 World Series and have won the championship 27 times.
So, it is possible NYCFC could make a return engagement here.
Citi Field will be the third stadium NYCFC will call home this year. The club also was forced to play a home match at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. Sept. 23 due to a Yankees’ make-up game two days later. City played the Houston Dynamo to a 1-1 draw that Saturday.
The field has been laid out from the outfield to the third base line and it appears more fans will be closer to the action at the Mets’ home as opposed to Yankee Stadium.
Citi Field has hosted four soccer matches since opening in 2009, all international friendlies.
NYCFC players are becoming experts sizing up new fields that will be become the team’s temporary home.
“You’ve got to take into consideration the field conditions the way things feel,” Wallace said. “You’ve to get used to it. At the same time, we really don’t have much time. So we have to get going and anything that we don’t prefer really has to be erased. At the end of the day, we have to make this our home.”
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s concern is mainly a pair of 18 by 44 yard boxes on opposite ends of the stadium — the penalty areas.
“Eight years in I’ve played in a lot of different venues whether it’s for club or country,” he said. “You play on different types of surfaces in different stadiums. It’s just about making whatever adjustments are necessary. You have a warm-up, you have a training session here as well. We’ll have a good opportunity to prepare.”
So, what did Johnson look for on the field?
“Maybe where on the field where it is moving, if it’s a fast pitch or a slow pitch. Things like that.”
And then there’s the weather.
“It could be anything on the day,” Johnson said. “It could be wet, it could be raining, it could be snow, whatever the conditions could be, subject on what the weather will be on the day. We’ll do are best to prepare.”
Added Wallace: “I’m sure that [Sunday] the crowd will turn up and we’re going to make this feel like its really our home.”
More like NYCFC’s home away from home.