Major League Soccer finally announced its schedule on Wednesday after a series of delays caused by pandemic protocol changes and labor agreement disputes during the offseason. For the second year in a row the fixture list will be unique and geographically-narrowed due to COVID-19 protocols, but one of the more intriguing features of this year’s league program involves the home of your New York Red Bulls.
Long revered as one of the jewels of MLS stadia, Red Bull Arena will be hosting eight to eleven “home” matches for New York City FC, a local barnstorming team loosely affiliated with English club Manchester City. Known by short as NYCFC, they are entering their seventh season as the league’s temporary guest side, following in the steps of Chivas USA as MLS looks to keep its schedule balanced and perhaps probe at future possibilities for a more structured second club for the New York metropolitan region in the future.
Much like the Harlem Globetrotters or an improv troupe, NYCFC uses the hyperreal branding identity of a street-level New York City institution while simultaneously setting up its events throughout the country. Known for their light blue kits and civic-minded fans, NYCFC have made traveling to different sections of the Tri State Area a hallmark of their inclusive identity, and have been versatile in staging their operations in a variety of spaces.
The New York Yankees allow NYCFC to rent their hallowed stadium in The Bronx for many games as part of a repayment plan for the loan the Yankees fronted in 2013 to help establish the project. But this hasn’t stopped NYCFC from branching out into other community partnerships throughout the metro area, including one with the rival New York Mets to rent Citi Field in Flushing for some of the team’s most high-profile games. The ragtag side known by their unique cult fanbase as “the Pigeons” has even flown out to Connecticut to play matches at Rentschler Stadium in Hartford, while the team set up shop at Fordham University’s Coffey Field for a 2016 cross-promotional cup match with similar traveling project New York Cosmos.
Of course, many of these baseball and collegiate football venues are far less than ideal for soccer, even of the semi-exhibition variety. This has led NYCFC to increasingly splurge on borrowing the plush facilities in Harrison in recent years, culminating in Wednesday’s announcement of their most extensive use of RBA yet. This has led to some cutbacks on the hiring of players, with team manager Ronny Deila remarking earlier this month about not yet having a full squad assembled for the team’s upcoming tour dates.
Coming on the heels of friendlies arranged with teams such as West Chester SC and New Amsterdam FC, the matches against The Boys In Blue will also continue the emerging focus from the Red Bulls on developing ties with smaller local clubs. The game will also provide local fans some of their final opportunities to see NYCFC fullback Chris Gloster in action as he nears his retirement.
Much like the Red Bulls must share some of their top talent with international teams, so they must also be generous with access to their top-class home stadium. So long as the arrangement doesn’t involve any permanent adjustments to the stadium visuals or result in chronic fatigue to the healthy grass surface, the Red Bulls should be able to shoulder the burden of lodging neighbors in need.