With New York City FC set to play its first game in 2015, it seems Major League Soccer (MLS) is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sports franchises in the United States. The New York City FC is the the twentieth team to join MLS and the second to represent the state.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced last year that English Premier League team Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees are partnering to create the second soccer team in New York City. The addition of New York City FC soccer means MLS has officially doubled the number of teams in the league over the last decade. The increase in the number of MLS teams is being met with an equal increase in game attendance across the U.S. While not much is known yet about the fledgling team, it is likely that New York City FC's location in NYC (along with crosstown rivals NYC Red Bulls) will provide a huge boost to the popularity of professional soccer in America.
The NYCFC Badge
Badge designs were submitted via My.NYCFC.com, including the photo pictured.
Each entry will be featured as a pixel in the final NYCFC badge, and you still have the chance to submit yours. Fans also still have the option of submitting their own badge designs to become a pixel of the official New York City FC team badge mosaic to be revealed later this spring. The final Club badge mosaic will allow fans to zoom in to find their own design permanently displayed within the shield. NYCFC held a vote for the Club's official team badge, based on two designs by Rafael Esquer. The big reveal will take place in New York City on March, 20.
Bringing Another Team to New York
Plans for the twentieth MLS expansion team have been in the works since 2010, when Garber announced the league's interest in providing the existing New York City Red bulls with a crosstown rival. Over the three years following that announcement, up until the final reveal in May 2013, Garber and MLS President Mark Abbott worked to find sponsors as well as a potential venue space. The project, nicknamed NYC2, finally came to fruition when Manchester City was awarded majority ownership of the New York FC soccer team.
While it has yet to sign any players, NYCFC has announced it will be led by Jason Kreis as head coach, formerly of Real Salt Lake, and former Manchester City FC center Claudio Reyna as Director of Football. In preparation to heading up what is likely to be one of the most funded teams in the MLS, Kreis is spending time shadowing the coaching staff at Manchester City FC -- one of the largest teams in the English Premier League. In addition, a team of 36 scouts is working to create the team's first roster.
The Starting Lineup
Kreis has indicated that the team will likely sign three designated players. The designated player rule is one of the ways MLS has been able to grow in popularity so quickly over the years. It allows MLS teams to pay a certain number of players above the set salary cap.
This rule has allowed teams to attract international soccer superstars such as Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry and David Beckham. Not only do such players attract audiences, but they also lend a sense of legitimacy to a league that is still very new by international standards. The New York City FC soccer team is rumored to be looking at players such as Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o, Barcelona midfielder Xavi, and Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic as possible designated player candidates.
As far as potential stadium venues are concerned, no official plans have yet been announced, though rumors suggest Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens is a likely candidate for a stadium location. Corona Park is already a strong draw as it is not only the largest park in Queens, but also the site of two World's Fairs and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open tennis tournament. The team plans to play in a temporary space for its first season in 2015.
The Rise of MLS
The burgeoning popularity of MLS is quite astonishing considering the league's origins. Unlike the big four leagues in the U.S. - MLS did not develop naturally as the result of increased interest in the sport from within the country's borders. Instead, the creation of a national soccer league was mandated by FIFA as a condition for the U.S. to host the World Cup in 1994.
In just 20 years, MLS has risen to become one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. Since 2000, average game attendance has seen a 35 percent increase from 13,700 to 18,600. In addition to an increased number of MLS tickets being sold, soccer in the U.S. has seen a marked increase in the number of self-identified fans. Polls conducted by ESPN surveyed 18,000 people in 2012, more than a third of whom described themselves as MLS fans, a 33 percent increase since 2002.
Perhaps more interesting, and more valuable to the league, was the 43 percent increase in those who call themselves avid fans from 2002 to 2012. Currently, just above 7 percent of the U.S. are avid fans of MLS. As a result, the MLS had the fastest growing avid fan base, defined as those fans who are "very interested" in the sport, of any national league between 2002 and 2012. The league is currently being led by the Seattle Sounders FC, whose average game attendance of 44,038 was the highest in 2013.
As the league continues to grow in size and popularity, with another new team - Orlando City FC - in the works, sports fans can expect to see more coverage and exposure of American soccer in the sports media.