Matias Almeyda shouts some instructions to his team. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX — Let’s just say San Jose Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda is not too fond of the House That Ruth Built.
After his Quakes dropped a 2-1 decision to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon, Almeyda questioned why Major League Soccer teams are playing in a baseball park, especially one that is the smallest and narrowest in the league.
Yankee Stadium’s soccer field measures 110 by 70 yards. Most MLS pitches are 120 by at least 75.
After the game, this reporter asked Almeyda about the challenges of playing in such a small and narrow area.
“My way of viewing football and I have experienced in different parts of the world, I think that’s a point they should have in consideration because there’s regulations for measurements,” he said through an interpreter outside the Earthquakes locker room. “In other countries, if you don’t have a regulation field, you don’t play. The system of play changes and we play football. We don’t play baseball or basketball, so we need football stadiums. The measurements are different.
“It’s a great stadium, but it’s a small-sided field. It’s not real. It stops being realistic before the game even starts. I think if this league wants to be the best in the world, they shouldn’t allow this when there are other wonderful structures. But accepted this the moment I signed a contract. But there are details that I am noticing within these nine months that should be improved. I still congratulate the opponent because they beat us, and I celebrate football the way they play. If it was a larger field, the spectacle would have been a lot better because we could have easily played on a ping-pong table as well.”
Almeyda isn’t just your run-of-the-mill coach. His soccer resume is quite impressive, having coached a River Plate (Argentina), Sevilla (Spain), Lazio, Parma, Inter and Brescia, among other clubs during his 28-year coaching career. So, he has been around the block and knows his soccer grounds and pitches.
Now, before you think Almeyda is a sore loser, read the praise he had for NYCFC, which overcame a one-goal deficit with a pair of late first-half goals to keep its Eastern Conference lead.
“I am left with positive things,” he said about his team’s performance. “My way of seeing football, we played against a team that plays the best football. They have a collective style, a style that’s well defined. A young team with dynamic and mobility. And they try to play a football that I personally like. That makes think that our team was at the same level as them. We have a few games left. We have to keep going with our system and this mentality, keeping in mind the opponent we played against. It was a competitive game and maybe a draw would have been more fair. But results aren’t about justice, it’s more taking advantage of an opponents’ mistake or getting the benefit of every team, whether it is collective or individual.”
Almeyda felt NYCFC has played the best football in the league. That is pretty damn big praise, considering the Los Angeles Football Club, which has run away with the Western Conference crown, plays in the same division as the Quakes. Entering Saturday’s action, LAFC (19-5-6, 63 points) already had clinched its conference title and leads its nearest competitor by 17 points.
“I still congratulate the opponent because they beat us and I celebrate football the way they play,” he said. “I told this to their coach and assistant coach. When you analyze this team, they are the team that plays the best football in the league because they don’t have big-name players. They have collective play. They have players who are very good collectively. They have youth and that’s a future this league deserves. So, I applaud teams that beat us or play this way.”