NYCFC is About Man City, Not MLS

New York City FC isn’t about helping MLS, but about helping grow the City Football Group brand
by Herb Scribner   |   Saturday, January 03, 2015

Blue City – column on New York City FC (NYCFC) & the NYC area soccer scene.

Frank Lampard will not join New York City FC to kick off the 2015 MLS season. It was announced Wednesday that the 36-year-old English midfielder’s time with Manchester City FC will extend until the end of the English Premier League season, which means he’ll likely be out of MLS action until late May. Manuel Pellegrini’s latest comments also hint that Lampard could be with MCFC next season, too.

Lampard staying with Manchester City makes sense for, well, Manchester City, since Lampard has been one of the top players on the team and in the EPL this season. He’s won them games on multiple occasions. On Thursday, Lampard buried another late goal to give MCFC the win over Sunderland. He clearly helps Manchester City in their quest for this season’s EPL title.

But therein lays the problem: Lampard’s role shouldn’t be to help Manchester City. It should be to help NYCFC and MLS grow. But because City Football Group, which now rivals Red Bull for global soccer club dominion with Man City, NYCFC, Melbourne City FC in Australia and Yokohama F-Marinos in Japan, made this move, it shows NYCFC is really about its ownership group and brand — not about helping MLS.

It was Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer who said it best about a month ago to BBC.

"For (Lampard) to have any kind of delay in joining Major League Soccer from the beginning, the initiation of this club, would be a disastrous proposition," Martinez told BBC. "It's going to be an interesting tug of war and I think that will define how the City football group operates. … You don't want to be a satellite club. Lampard is perhaps the crowning jewel of this organisation already.”

Martinez also said many Chelsea fans flocked to see Lampard play when he played for the London club, which is a sign of the Englishman’s drawing power. So it leaves little room for debate that Lampard, at 36 still a world-class midfielder with a big name, would draw fans to Yankee Stadium. But because he won’t be joining NYCFC, some of those fans will now turn their backs. And even if the fans come — NYCFC has, after all, sold 11,000 season tickets — Lampard’s return won’t be treated with much applause. We saw this back in 2009 when David Beckham came back to the LA Galaxy in the middle of the MLS season and was greeted with a chorus of boos.

And then there’s the competitive aspect. As Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins showed upon their entry into MLS, there’s a learning curve to getting the right rhythm with the league, even with international stars. Lampard’s is used to fast and physical play in England, so he may have an easier time adjusting than say players from Latin America that have to deal with culture shock, a new language and much more physical play than back at home. But any player’s insertion into an in-form or recently gelled team will cause team chemistry to change. For New England that was an advantage with never-say-die competitor Jermaine Jones adding to a good squad mentality, but for NYCFC in its inaugural season, it could very well be harmful.

With all the hype surrounding the club, missing the playoffs would be a sign of failure, and could damage the already rickety reputation NYCFC has in MLS. City Football Group has put NYCFC in this position with this move. And a weak NYCFC doesn’t help MLS grow. NYCFC is being billed as a world-class club to be. How would it look for a club with that amount of potential prestige to fizzle out and not make the playoffs? Though unlikely with NYCFC’s DP and drafted talent, we saw it happen in 2014 to an upgraded Toronto FC with lots of money, brainpower and hype behind it.

Manchester City extending Lampard’s loan is a smart move for that club to keep pace in the EPL title race and help the City Football Group’s worldwide brand. But it won’t help MLS or NYCFC. In fact, as Martinez mentioned, it makes NYCFC into a satellite club, akin to the relationship between Chivas Guadalajara and Chivas USA — the little brother who gets the toy when the older one is done with it, maybe. It tarnishes the reputation of MLS and potentially off-puts New York City fans who have a club in their town in the Yankees that is world-class and a flag-bearer for an entire sport.

The wealthy owners of NYCFC must feel they can seemingly afford to come out the gates and get this wrong. Their wealth and newness, though, does not apply to how much fan loyalty they have in storage in New York. Nor should MLS get another blackened eye after the Chivas USA mis-play and potential slip in Miami, which doesn’t help its image amongst domestic sports and international soccer leagues.

NYCFC done right with a uniquely local identity (strike 1), glitzy soccer stadium (strike 2) and big-time players, can be an icon for MLS. It should not let itself look like a reserve club, like a MCFC2. Unfortunately it is beginning to look more and more like that is the case.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.