When Citi Field was used by NYCFC in 2017. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
New York City FC will try to forge a new definition of home-turf advantage Wednesday night.
Top-seeded NYCFC will hosts No. 4 Toronto FC in an MLS Eastern Conference not at their home ground, Yankee Stadium, but at another baseball park — Citi Field in Queens at 7 p.m. (FS1).
Major League Soccer teams used home field to their advantage in the first round of the playoffs this past weekend by posting a 5-1 mark, with Minnesota United the lone home team to lose, 2-1 to the LA Galaxy.
City has played at Citi Field before a 2-2 draw with Columbus Crew SC Oct. 22, 2017. That was a regular-season game. Wednesday’s match — two years and a day to that contest — is a playoff game with no tomorrow. If the teams end regulation tied in the single-elimination tournament, extratime and then penalty kicks will be the next two determining factors as to which team advances to the conference final.
A partisan crowd is expected at Citi Field, although the pitch might not be as familiar to NYCFC as Yankee Stadium is. Officials are expected to make the dimensions the same as the stadium.
“I don’t care what stadium we play as long as our home fans are there because New York fans have a good feeling for when the club maybe is in trouble and they give us a little push,” NYCFC captain Alex Ring said. “They have helped us a lot this year. I hope like all season they will show up.
“We’ll make it a spectacle and give it our all like we have all season.”
City was forced to schedule the game at the Mets’ ballpark because the Yankees were in the Major League Baseball postseason and arrangements needed to be made well in advance for another site. As it turns out, the Yankees lost to the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series and Yankee Stadium can be used for other events now.
NYCFC, which captured the conference crown, entered the postseason on an eight-game unbeaten streak, but has not played since a 2-1 win at the Philadelphia Union Oct. 6 due to a first-round bye and the FIFA international break.
That’s a 17-day layoff, which could threaten to stall any team’s momentum.
“We have to be ready. No excuses,” Ring said. “One game to advance to the next round.”
That would be next week in the conference final. If Citi wins, the team will host the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Atlanta United and Philadelphia Union at Yankee Stadium Wednesday, Oct. 30.
“We have shown a lot of character, especially in the beginning,” Ring said. “A lot of people had written us off before the season started. On the first six games many people had written us off. even when we were playing well people really didn’t believe in us.
“We always believed in ourselves, the club believed in us, the fans believed in us. That’s the most important. We always known where we wanted to go.”
That would be to MLS Cup on Nov. 10.
“I’ve been thinking about the final and cup a lot,” Ring said. “It’s very close.”
NYCFC will need to win two games to reach the MLS Cup at two venues — at Citi Field Wednesday and at Yankee Stadium next Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a tough job, very hard and we’re going to need every support we can get,” Ring said.