Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Curious Case Of The NYCFC Pinball Pitch

Much fuss has been made about New York City Football Club playing their home games at Yankee Stadium. There have been complaints from Yankees players about it ruining the infield and the mound. Opposing fans have joked about it. The Third Rail have chosen to embrace it, singing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the 70th minute of play.

Some see it as a temporary annoyance for the land lord and the renter. Others see it as a unique novelty soccer setting. Regardless, it’s not without controversy.

Potential Controversy: Field Dimensions

The FIFA regulated dimensions are 110 – 120 yards long by 70 – 80 yards wide. Stade Saputo has the largest pitch at 120 x 77 yards; the most common field size in MLS is 120 x 75 yards. put together a nice info-graph of the stadiums and there dimensions here.

The club announced the field as being 110 x 70 yards, the minimum legal field size. That has come under question with Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes claiming the NYCFC pitch dimensions to be 106 x 68 yards. If true, the NYCFC field would violate the field dimension regulations in both being too short and too skinny. New York Daily News broke this story, but it’s unclear how Sporting KC came up with these dimensions. One would think if someone from the club measured it during warm ups or in a training session on site, then that would have been stated. New York City FC has not allowed media members onto the field to measure it this season. Facilities chose to cut the width of the field slightly to keep the pitching mound from being in play for soccer matches.

It is unclear what the FIFA (or US Soccer) punishments are for playing on an illegally sized pitch. Is there a fine for each league match played with an undersized pitch? Is the match forfeited by the ‘cheating’ home side? Furthermore, are the punishments more severe for a greater infraction? To be fair, MLS has had field dimension discrepancies in the past and nothing came of it.

Vermes’s statement at present is nothing more than an accusation. This will certainly be an interesting topic going forward as more MLS teams make their first visits to Yankee Stadium. But until Don Garber, Sunil Gulati, or Sepp Blatter send in the Yard Stick Police, the NYCFC field stands innocent until proven guilty.

Home Field Advantage: Pinball Soccer

Regardless of the legality of the field dimensions at Yankee Stadium, the advertised 110 x 70 yard field is the smallest in MLS. Only RFK Stadium and Providence Park are as short. The next shortest is Century Link Field at 114 yards long. No MLS stadium has as skinny of field. PPL Park is next on the list at 72 yards wide.

As was seen in the two home matches so far, this field is perfect for counter attacking. Turn overs are more costly due to the field’s length. There are fewer release valves on the wings as the pitch isn’t wide enough for outside players to spread out. Getting caught with men up field leaves one open to a counter attack with the opponent closer to goal. Patrick Mullins’s goal in the home opener demonstrated this perfectly: one turnover in the final third, three touches, and suddenly David Villa was off the to races to deliver an easy tap in for Mullins. It took six seconds Jeb Brovsky’s first touch interception for Villa to get to the top of the box. Six seconds.

This back-and-forth style of play that suits this field is like a pinball machine. Attack, defend the counter, then counter yourself. Even with vising teams practicing the week of, the pace of play will be difficult to simulate in training. Head Coach Jason Kreis would be wise to style his play to fit the field. Doing so would provide a tremendous home field advantage. It’s a bit like Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym and having the benches on baseline at the ends of the court. It could even be compared to the home field advantage Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids have in playing at altitude, or any of the MLS teams that play on turf.

The corner of the field with the baseball diamond will also take some adjusting, though it will be less significant than the field dimensions. A little less than one quarter of the field overlaps with the baseball diamond. Defending left backs and attacking right midfielders will be most affected, but only for a half each match. One could compare it to a visiting left fielder at Fenway Park fielding line drives off the Monster for the first time.

With the legality inquires and home field advantage of the setup at Yankee Stadium, the curious case of this oddball pitch is anything but boring.


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