By Michael Lewis
Has there ever been eight days in the offseason that has been packed with so much soccer news, some earth-shattering news, in the New York metropolitan area?
Well, for all my years covering the beautiful game here, I can’t remember anything near that because five, that’s right, five, area teams had some pretty big news.
It shows how much soccer has grown here over the past decades, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
* On Thursday, Nov. 14, Queensboro FC announced it will kick off its USL Championship tenure for the 2021 season.
* On Monday, Nov. 18, Sky Blue FC and the Red Bulls announced that the National Women’s Soccer League team will call Red Bull home for next season.
* On Wednesday, Nov. 20, the New York Cosmos announced they would return in 2020 as the National Independent Soccer Association accepted the team’s application to join the league.
And finally, on Thursday, Nov. 21, there were two big bombshells:
* New York City FC sporting director Claudio Reyna announced he was leaving the club to take on a similar role with Austin FC, an MLS expansion team for the 2021 season.
* And then the Red Bulls announced that two icons and legends — team captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips — won’t return for 2020.
Interestingly, the subject of stadiums popped up in just about every one of my takes on the five clubs:
Bradley Wright-Phillips (Photo courtesy of MLS)
Red Bulls supporters are probably still in mourning day after learning that the great BWP and Robles won’t be back in 2020. As we have all learned the hard way, professional sports can be a brutal and cruel business, and soccer is no exception. A team jettisoning not one, but two fan favorites on the same day can be devastating. Some fans will bounce back because it is their team. Others might not ever recover. Just wondering how this might affect attendance next year concerning a team that has had difficult filling beautiful Red Bull Arena.
There were rumblings before the season whether Wright-Phillips might be have seen betters. While the groin injury slowed him down and kept his production to a stunning goal, there probably are not many teams looking for a 34-year-old forward these days. But as we have learned, all you need is one coach believing in you. Perhaps BWP can be super-sub. Or perhaps this is the end of the line.
Goalkeepers have played into their late 30s and even into their forties, and the feeling here is that Robles has something left in his tank. Will be interested to see if any other MLS side will try to sign the 35-year-old keeper. The move opened up the door for Ryan Meara to finally get an opportunity to secure the No. 1 role again. As a rookie in 2012, the former Fordham University standout secured the starting position before a hip injury sidelined him midway through the season. At the tail end of the season, the Red Bulls signed Robles and you know the rest of the iron goalkeeper’s history.
So, what does the double departure mean for the Red Bulls? They’re looking to jettison some salary and to get younger. While their Academy has produced some solid talent, the team hasn’t brought in a big-name player since Thierry Henry left in 2014. Given their recent history, I am not certain the Red Bull hierarchy in Salzburg will be willing to spend big money on another name player.
Center back Aaron Long, who has become a regular on the U.S. men’s national team, might a candidate to wear the captain’s armband. Of course, he must stay with the team. Long has generated much interest across the Atlantic, especially in England.
One last thing: Just wonder how the departure of Robles and Wright-Phillips will affect the locker room, particularly matches. Robles and BWP were among the most accommodating players not just on RBNY, but in the league.
Claudio Reyna (USA Today Photo)
Did Claudio Reyna see problems ahead for NYCFC or the writing on the wall for him with the team? The bottom line is that the first American associated with the team when it was unveiled to the world in 2013 is gone as the former U.S. men’s national team captain moved on from being City sporting director to a similar position with Austin FC. Reyna is familiar with building an expansion team as the Texas team won’t start until 2021.
NYCFC lost a former U.S. national team captain who is a high-profile name and familiar to just everyone who knows soccer in the metro area. David Lee, a respected talent evaluator in the league, was promoted to succeed Reyna.
Reyna’s departure came almost two weeks after Dome Torrent left the team by mutual agreement despite winning the Eastern Conference crown (NYCFC was eliminated in the conference semifinals by eventual MLS Cup semifinals Toronto FC).
Definitely not a good look for a team that many supporters feel is a mess. A new coach must be named ASAP.
Earlier this week, NYCFC announced that it will begin pre-season training Jan. 11. As of today, that is only 50 days away.
Perhaps it is ready to announce a successor, perhaps Giovanni van Bronckhorst as the new coach. Usually when there is a new coach, he brings in players he prefers. Every coach has done that, which means we might be in for a roster revamp.
City has some other issues as well. The elephant in the room is Yankee Stadium. Great place to watch baseball, not so great to enjoy a soccer game. The best seats in the house are behind the goals. The club will start its sixth season at the stadium with no new venue announced. And even if a soccer-specific stadium in the city is announced tomorrow, it will take a minimum of two, three or even four years to get built. You know how slowly things get done in city.
Red Bull Arena. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
Sky Blue FC
After years of calling Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J. home, Sky Blue FC will play at Red Bull Arena next season. Finally. Yurcak was far from being a perfect venue for a professional soccer team, from that it was far from a metropolitan area and difficult to get to and an inadequate and small stadium.
Now, there will be no or fewer excuses, for the team in terms of attracting fans and for the area’s women’s soccer supporters not to watch NWSL action.
If this team can’t get at least 10K for every home game when playing in northern New Jersey, then I don’t know what else will save this franchise.
While the team was far from the second coming of the North Carolina Courage, Sky Blue FC did make some improvements this past season after the disastrous 2018 campaign. Looks like this squad is pointed in the right direction, but only time will tell.
Cosmos captain Danny Szetela applauds the crowd. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
The Cosmos will get to play another day and season in a new league as National Independent Soccer Association accepted their application for 2020. U.S. Soccer still has to give its stamp of approval for the Cosmos.
NISA is the third division in the American soccer professional pecking order, not exactly where the Cosmos want, but it is a place to play, much to the delight and relief of their supporters. And the league is home to some familiar foes, including Miami FC, Detroit City FC and Chattanooga FC.
Speaking of a place to play, no decision has been made on which venue they might call home in 2020. They competed at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Long Island. Many fans would love to see they return to Rocco B. Commisso Stadium in Manhattan on a regular basis.
Bottom line: The Cosmos have got a league to call their own.
David Villa (Photo courtesy of Queensboro FC)
Queensboro isn’t the first pro soccer team in Queens, but it ready is to establish roots there and promises to call that borough home for many years to come.
The club won’t begin until the 2021 USL Championship season. It will play at a 7,500-seat stadium at York College and selected matches at Citi Field, with hopes of finding a permanent home in the not too distant future.
What makes this club unique is that it calls a specific section of the city home, not having New York in its name. In case you were wondering, Queens has a population of around 2.2 million, which would make it the fifth largest city in the United States.
F.C. New York, the last team to play in Queens (at Belson Stadium at St. John’s University) in 2011, was a disaster on so many levels.
This new club finds itself in a different orbit as it is owned by New York entrepreneur Jonathan Krane and one-time NYCFC great David Villa.
There is still a lot to be done, which includes signing a head coach, coaching staff and players. So, expect a lot of news from the club in the coming year.
The irony is that Villa, who will retire after his J-League commitments end in January, just might be the biggest name in all of NY/NJ soccer. Good for Queensboro FC, perhaps not so good for the Red Bulls and NYCFC because both teams need a name player or two to help propel them on the field and draw fans.