New York City FC was never going to make a quiet entry into Major League Soccer. The team was unveiled as the top American league’s 20th franchise 12 months ago under a blockbuster ownership duo of the New York Yankees and Premier League club Manchester City, funded by the billions of Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Mansour. And ahead of their first ball kicked in anger at the start of the 2015 season next March, they appear close to unveiling their first major signing: World Cup winner and all-time leading scorer for the Spanish national team, David Villa.
Strong reports in Spain claim that the 32-year-old forward will leave Spanish champions Atletico Madrid when his contract expires this summer and has agreed to a three-year contract. While it also believed that NYCFC have failed in an attempt to lure Villa’s Spain teammate Xavi and are continuing to try and secure the signature of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, it is clear the team wants to make an immediate impact in MLS and in what has become an increasingly crowded soccer market in New York City.
Competition for supporters will come from fellow-MLS-franchise the New York Red Bull as well as the recently revived New York Cosmos, currently playing in American soccer’s unofficial second-tier North American Soccer League. The Red Bulls, who have a 25,000-capacity soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey, had an average attendance of 19,461 last season.
NYCFC will hope that the fact that they are the only MLS side in New York City’s five boroughs will automatically make them a big draw for soccer fans. MLS has received plenty of criticism, however, for allowing NYCFC to have a franchise without having concrete plans for a soccer-specific stadium, something that commissioner Don Garber has previously stressed as being crucial to the league’s success. With their difficult search continuing for a venue to house a stadium, NYCFC will play at least the 2015 season at Yankee Stadium, although they have denied reports that their stay at the Bronx stadium has already been confirmed for three years.
It means in their first season the team will have 33,444 seats to try and fill, the second largest capacity in MLS. Only the Seattle Sounders have proved capable of getting fans in the seats on a regular basis. Director of football, and former United States national team and Manchester City midfielder, Claudio Reyna has stressed a desire to develop local talent and the team has hired coach Jason Kreis, who stressed a team-first ethic when at Real Salt Lake. Yet, it has always been clear that they would also be trying to make an instant impression. Reyna said during a recent fan Q&A event that the team plans on using all three of their Designated Player spots, which allow franchises to exceed the regular salary cap. And he also revealed that they were hopeful of having signings confirmed this summer.
Villa now looks like being the first of them, and an exciting one, too. A broken leg suffered when playing for Barcelona in December of 2011 has reduced some of his physical attributes, but he showed with 15 goals for an Atletico Madrid side that won the Spanish title and came within two minutes of winning the Champions League that he can still be a quality contributor. In MLS, his finishing skills will certainly still standout.
NYCFC will be able to bolster their roster with players from the expansion draft, which they will enter with the other 2015 expansion team Orlando City, and the Super Draft, in which all MLS teams will participate. But with 21 teams now competing for players, Kreis has spoken of his concerns of a dilution of the talent pool available locally. Therefore, NYCFC are sure to take advantage not only of their financial pulling power, but of the global scouting network of Manchester City. The team is also likely to take several young players form the Premier League champions on a loan agreement.
Kreis will have his work cut out to create that team unity. But the marquee DP signings will be crucial to creating that initial buzz and attracting the causal soccer fan, perhaps skeptical of the quality of MLS as well as the idea of supporting a team so closely connected to a club that may well be rivals of one they already follow from afar in England’s Premier League.
The signing of a player who could yet arrive having just eight months earlier lifted the World Cup would be an impressive way to start.