By Cesar Diaz - NEW YORK, NY (Aug 8, 2012) US Soccer Players -- With all the international soccer friendlies that has taken place over the past few years, it was only a matter of time before the New York Yankees would get involved. You might remember some years ago when the Yankees partnered with Manchester United to offer each others merchandise in their respective team stores. The venerable baseball club's connection with soccer might be downplayed, but it certainly exists.
As part of the World Football Challenge, Yankee Stadium agreed to host to two friendlies. The first took place on Sunday, July 22, 2012 between Chelsea FC and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). The second, a meeting of European giants Real Madrid and AC Milan, kicks off later tonight.
Friendlies in my opinion are nothing but a series of glorified and entertaining scrimmage matches. What value they have is as much about awareness and identification as the soccer on display. By coming to America, it’s a great way for these international clubs to attract both current and potential supporters.
Over the years I’ve grown to dislike these friendlies for a couple of reasons. They're competition for the American game when they don't involve an MLS team and usually disappointing when they do. What’s interesting about tonight’s Real Madrid - Milan friendly is that it’s more accessible to watch on cable television that the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup between three-time defending champions Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. The friendly is on ESPN2, easily available and found on most cable packages. The Open Cup final is on GolTV, normally requiring fans to purchase a separate sports package of channels.
What we'll see on ESPN2 is familiar to fans of Sporting Kansas City, a baseball stadium converted for soccer. Kansas City spent three seasons playing at an independent minor league stadium with all of the issues trying to make soccer work in a facility built for a different sport. That's a throwback to the old North American Soccer League era where baseball stadiums were used in places like Chicago and New York. The original Cosmos once called the original Yankee Stadium home. That venue was rebuilt in the mid-1970's with the Yankees spending the 1976 season in the new facility. The current Yankee Stadium has been open for business since 2009.
It's not just the conversion taking place for soccer. It's the use of a hallowed facility even if it's adjacent to where the original once stood. I wanted to know how where they going to convert a baseball diamond field into a 110 yards x 70 yards pitch. I wanted to learn how much more grass would be needed along with the removal of the dirt on the mound. I wanted to know how an elite baseball team would cope with their home stadium being used for a different sport during their season.
It’s not often I get to interact with a PR Department who works for the richest MLB baseball team and third overall sports franchise in the world. It’s not often you shake hands with individuals who are wearing their World Series championship rings. I believe they were surprised I was more interested in talking with their grounds crew than with the competing clubs or Mariano Rivera who was there to for the ceremonial coin toss.
From my conversations both in person and online with several of their staff, they made it clear that they wish to have more friendlies at Yankee Stadium because they believe the venue is an excellent place to watch matches for the fans. Considering the accessibility to get there they may have a point.
It took 2-3 days to convert the field for the first friendly. The dirt removal was no easy task because they had to use a tractor to smooth the dirt in between the bases and pitcher's mound. I like to think that it was my line of questions that led to so much official coverage of how they got the job done. One surprising remnant of the primary tenant was the protective netting behind home plate. There's not the same risk of getting hurt by a foul ball in soccer.
While a baseball stadium may not be an ideal place to host a professional soccer game, the conversion is, frankly, amazing. Though it might have seemed like a guest being polite, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo's postgame comments likening the venue to a European setting made sense. There's something special about seeing soccer at Yankee Stadium, and who would've thought we would be saying that this season?
Cesar Diaz is a freelance writer for several online soccer publications. If there's a soccer topic you believe needs to be written about, please feel free to contact him. Easily approachable, you may contact him atCDiazNYC@gmail.com and @CesarDiazNYC.
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