Is NYCFC’s Stadium Ready to Ramp Up?

New records shed light on the push to finalize development details before NYCFC’s stadium proposal begins public review.

It’s safe to say this year hasn’t gone according to plan—including the one set of plans NYCFC fans have been waiting years to see finalized. In February, NYCFC CEO Brad Sims confirmed reports by The Outfield and the New York Times that the club was preparing to go public with a stadium proposal in the South Bronx, just south of Yankee Stadium. “In the coming months,” Sims wrote in an open letter, “we will take further steps to formalize our participation in the public approval process.” Instead, those months brought a global pandemic, mass protests over the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a brief murder hornet invasion, even a James Sands assist.

But through it all, the developer Maddd Equities and its army of consultants have been working behind the scenes to move the stadium plan forward. New public records shed light on two longstanding challenges—relocating the GAL Manufacturing factory and removing a highway ramp—that have occupied developers as they get their ducks in a row before entering New York City’s public land use review process, which restarted this month after a six-month hiatus.

The Major Deegan Ramp

Ever since NYCFC first looked at building a stadium on the GAL site in 2013, the nearby Major Deegan Expressway ramp has stood in the way. Last October, The Outfield reported that Maddd had hired Tonio Burgos & Associates to lobby for “an update of the East 153rd Street ramp,” an early sign that plans were heating up again.

Though stadium work has gone quiet for the last six months, new public records obtained by The Outfield show Tonio Burgos and other parties have made progress in conversations with the state department of transportation about ramp changes—but plans aren’t yet final and, as of last month, a critical ownership question remained unsolved.

Images from a presentation by NYCFC’s stadium development partners to the New York State Department of Transportation.

Unlike a 2013 plan that would have removed the northbound entrance ramp to Major Deegan, Maddd’s current proposal would eliminate a southbound offramp at Exit 6 and shorten a southbound onramp, removing the ramp option at East 153rd Street. Planners have examined traffic data from game days as well as normal patterns, and are finalizing agreements with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) that would ensure NYCFC and the Yankees would not play at the same time.

Developers have proposed turning a large portion of the existing highway ramp into a pedestrian walkway from the soccer stadium to the Harlem River waterfront. “Activating the waterfront” was a key recommendation from last fall’s Urban Land Institute panel that studied the possibility of a stadium development along the River Avenue corridor. “Any stadium or rezoning should ensure there is safe and prominent pedestrian and bike access over or under the highway down to the waterfront,” a member said at the most recent meeting of the local community board. “We cannot and should not have to rely on the Metro North station to cross over to the waterfront or walk through a mall parking lot.” 

A preliminary sketch for the pedestrian walkway that would connect the stadium to the riverfront.

Developers first presented ramp plans to the state department of transportation late last year, followed by a more formal proposal in May of this year. When the department replied with comments in July, they highlighted a problem: the question of who would own what was left of the highway ramp. Developers had proposed that NYSDOT would retain ownership of the pedestrian bridge west of the Metro North tracks, as well as the decommissioned Major Deegan ramp. “We would have no interest in owning or maintaining a bridge which is not open to public traffic,” the department replied. 

Though developers have stayed in touch with government agencies, the ownership question remained a sticking point as recently as last month. “The ownership issue will need resolution,” a NYSDOT official wrote in an internal email last month. “City claims to support this project, but per EDC does not want the long-term responsibility of ownership. I can’t see where any State Agency would want this property long term. I think we need to directly contact City Agencies to ascertain interest in the property.” 

“We had proposed to transfer to NYC but they have no interest in owning the ramp. We need to discuss ASAP on our approach,” another transportation official wrote in an email on August 26. Representatives from NYSDOT and NYCEDC did not respond to requests for comment.

Relocating the GAL Factory

A highway ramp isn’t the only thing that needs to go to build NYCFC’s stadium. The GAL Manufacturing elevator parts factory sits squarely in the proposed stadium footprint—there’s a reason it’s referred to as the “GAL site.” But while the New York Times has reported that Maddd and NYCFC are in contract to purchase the factory, the company’s search for a new home has been an ongoing issue. 

In May of last year, emails showed David Quart of the development firm VHB working with NYCEDC to find a relocation site for GAL. (Quart has since registered as a lobbyist for Maddd and worked on the ramp issue.) Last November, GAL brought on its own lobbyists, from the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, to lobby on the subject of “Procurement – Construction & Economic Development Benefits.” According to an email obtained by The Outfield, the firm reached out to the Bronx Borough President’s office in January to request a meeting about relocating GAL within the borough to keep its hundreds of jobs nearby.

“As you know, quiet efforts are underway to plan for the major redevelopment of properties south of the Stadium, which would include a new soccer stadium at the site of GAL Manufacturing factory and offices, and surrounding properties,” a DHC lawyer wrote. “GAL’s property is the lynch pin of this $2B development plan, that I’m told will include the creation of 1,200 jobs, hundreds of affordable housing units, commercial uses, as well as the noted soccer stadium.”

A representative for GAL declined to comment for this story. The Bronx Borough President’s Office did not respond to requests for comment. 

The Road Ahead

NYCFC and its partners still have some loose ends to tighten up before the stadium plan is likely to enter public review. The Outfield has not been able to confirm whether any formal meetings have been held to resolve the Major Deegan ramp ownership issues. The Federal Highway Administration will have to sign off on any plans involving decommissioning an off ramp. And finding a new home for GAL remains a key issue, though the company’s own involvement in the search seems like a sign that it’s ready to relocate from the stadium site. 

In an email dated February 3, Quart laid out a timeline that included reaching a ramp agreement with NYSDOT in the final quarter of 2020, with a published environmental statement and ULURP certification—steps that would take the proposal fully public for the first time—to follow in the first quarter of 2021. The roadmap included completing land use review in the fall of 2021 and beginning construction in early 2022.

So maybe 2020 still won’t bring any good news on the stadium front, but Sims’ statement that the pandemic may not have set back the development timeline remains plausible. If we can all just survive this forsaken year, maybe we’ll finally see some public progress toward a home for NYCFC. ❧

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Image: Presentation from stadium developers to NYSDOT

A Structure Takes Shape

Will less possession and more compact defending be building blocks for Ronny Deila’s NYCFC?

Zero point three. That’s how many goals per game NYCFC was averaging in its last six matches coming into Sunday evening’s tilt against Toronto. Two goals in six games. It felt like the nets were still responsibly quarantining.

So after an offensive explosion spat out three goals, seven shots on target, and two more late ones off the crossbar, you might have wondered what changed at the attacking end. Did Ronny Deila switch up his strikers’ tactics? Was it the return of Maxi Moralez that gave our hapless front line a shot in the arm?

Here’s a theory: What really propelled NYCFC to the quarterfinals was Deila’s defensive structure and counterpressing.

Two weeks ago, Deila told reporters that his aim was to bring more “structure” to NYCFC: “When the ball is there, I want you there.” For that kind of coaching to work, every player needs to internalize his instructions in a dizzying variety of situations. But on Sunday evening, the orders were clear. Limit Michael Bradley’s touches, cut off access to Alejandro Pozuelo, and wait.

NYCFC’s defensive shape focused on denying Michael Bradley and Alejandro Pozuelo.

Deila ran the team out in a typical 4-3-3 that defended as a compact 4-4-2; after Ismael Tajouri-Shradi left early with an injury, Maxi Moralez took over the No. 10 role and joined Taty Castellanos at the tip of the defensive shape. The two Argentines sat directly in front of Bradley during Toronto’s buildup, taking turns applying light pressure on the ball while the other cut off the passing lane to Bradley at the base of the midfield. At the edges of the middle line of four, Jesús Medina and Alexandru Mitriță marked Toronto’s fullbacks to funnel any balls out wide backward. Alex Ring and James Sands anchored the middle, keeping an eye on Marco Delgado and Nick DeLeon and looking to turn any balls through the middle into quick turnovers and counterattacks. But the key man for Toronto was Pozuelo, a DP attacking midfielder deployed as a false nine with Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola hurt. Deila gave Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens free rein to leave the back line in pursuit when Poz dropped off the front line to receive.

The defensive structure paid off. Even though Toronto had most of the possession, Bradley was limited to his fewest touches of the tournament, and both he and Pozuelo had their lowest passing accuracy all season. Ring and Sands were a destructive force, combining for seven tackles and seven interceptions while sparking dangerous counters that produced chances at the other end.

The clips below show a sampling of the ways NYCFC disrupted Toronto’s buildup while denying Bradley. Sometimes it’s Chanot stepping forward to cut out a linebreaking pass, like at 0:07 and again at 0:45, when he comes all the way past the midfield line to force Pozuelo into a loose pass that Mitri picks off on the run and slides to Medina for a big chance in transition. Maxi’s man marking job on Bradley is on full display in the sequences at 0:37 and 0:56, forcing Toronto’s center backs to try and fail at creating from the back. Again and again, the turnovers NYCFC earned in its disciplined mid block launched its best attacks. 

Against the side with the most passes per game in MLS is Back, NYCFC ceded possession in a departure from the typical “City way” of controlling the ball and building from the back. Sean Johnson sent nearly all of his goal kicks long, and the team looked to generate chances off of turnovers high up the field. Two of three goals came in transition.

Should we expect more of the same in the next round? The jury’s still out on exactly how Ronny Deila wants to play, and at this point we can’t even be sure whether possession is part of the plan. Through six MLS games, Deila’s NYCFC ranks smack in the middle of the league for share of passes played, one spot above its quarterfinal opponent, Gio Savarese’s Portland Timbers.

Unlike Toronto’s ball-hungry style, Portland is perfectly happy to sit back in a 4-2-3-1 and strike on the counter with quick combinations between attacking midfielder Diego Valeri and left winger Sebastián Blanco. Valeri often pushes up alongside the striker, Jeremy Ebobisse, while Blanco comes inside to open a lane for left back Jorge Villafaña bombing up the left. It could be a busy night for Anton Tinnerholm and whichever one of Chanot or Sands (who’s finally starting to garner some attention beyond the five boroughs) gets the nod at right center back. Once again, the result will hinge on NYCFC’s defensive instructions and a structure that’s still coming into view. ❧

Image: Paul Guillaume Lemoine, Architectural Ground Plan

NYCFC’s Stadium Still Has One Stakeholder to Convince: the Bronx

After years of social distancing from community leaders, are developers ready to reach out?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays in May, Vanessa Gibson and Diana Ayala, New York City’s councilmembers for the districts surrounding Yankee Stadium, have donned masks to hand out food to Bronx residents with an organization called Bridge Builders Community Partnership. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has dropped by. Each week, Ayala and Gibson’s posts on Facebook and Twitter about the food distributions have taken care to mention one partner in particular: the real estate developer Maddd Equities.

Charity seems to be a new passion for Maddd Equities’s owner, Jorge Madruga, who as a 12-year-old boy on a boat fleeing Cuba decided to pocket half the Juicy Fruit gum that his uncle gave him to hand out to his fellow refugees because, according to his business partner Eli Weiss of Joy Construction, “it didn’t come naturally to just give it away.” In the last few weeks, Maddd’s Twitter account has received kudos for Covid-19 aid work from U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez as well as Gibson, whose former chief of staff recently joined Madruga’s company. The flurry of social media attention is unusual for the developer, which despite its big real estate deals and generous campaign contributions only tweeted twice last year to an audience of 24 followers.

Why might Maddd Equities want to raise its public profile now? Besides good corporate citizenship during a crisis, there’s also the reason the developer has in common with another partner in the food distributions, New York City Football Club: they’re trying to build a soccer stadium as part of a billion-dollar development on the border of Gibson and Ayala’s districts. Maddd declined to comment for this article.

NYCFC’s food distribution in the Bronx is linked to its stadium partner Maddd Equities. 

In February, NYCFC President Brad Sims confirmed reports that the club was “actively involved with MADDD Equities” on a stadium project that was nearing the public approval stage. In the coming months, Sims wrote, the club would engage “in meaningful public dialogue with community residents, civic leaders, supporters, and local elected officials to obtain critical feedback on the details of this proposal.”

According to the developers, that dialogue was already well underway at the time. They told the New York Times that, unlike previous plans for a soccer stadium that had withered under community criticism, this time “they began with community outreach and sought input long before they presented any concrete proposals.”

But while the stadium project appears to be gathering necessary support from city and state agencies, local leaders aren’t quite on the same page. At a Bronx Community Board 4 board meeting two weeks after the Times’ February stadium update was published, District Manager Paul Philps wasted no time in addressing it. “What I would say about this article is that there’s a lot of misinformation in here. I’ll be very clear, they’ve been meeting with lots of city agencies, but they’ve not been meeting with the community or the community board as of yet,” he told residents gathered at the Bronx Museum of Arts.

“In reading the article, it gives the impression that there’s going to be a public process,” Philps said. “I think in there they say that construction will not begin until at least 2022. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is almost March of 2020 and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s highly unlikely.”

Weiss told the Times that the stadium had reached “a moment in time where the stars have aligned. And by the stars, I mean all the people involved.” But in an interview taped alongside Madruga just weeks earlier, on December 18, Weiss said the project was “in the very nascent stages.” “There have been discussions with the city and with the stakeholders that there could be enough excess land there where a stadium could be put in,” he said. “But I think the concept comes back to excess land.”

NYCFC’s developer partners were asked about the stadium (starting at 8:17) in a December interview.

That land lies in Ayala’s council district. Speaking to The Outfield in February, she sounded less than convinced. “I think that the soccer stadium people and the city, they’re going to have their hands full in trying to really persuade the community that this is something that is in their best interests.” Ayala characterized her meetings with Maddd up to that point as very high level, and emphasized that she would have to hear from her constituents and small businesses before backing a proposal. “This one is really something I would like to take my time with,” she said. “Because you know there’s real potential here, but there’s also a little bit of risk and so I want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable.”

Winning over Ayala and Gibson will be vital if the stadium development enters New York City’s lengthy land use review process. “By tradition,” according to one ULURP explainer, “the Council usually follows the lead of the councilmember in whose district a project falls.” (Maddd and Joy also have affordable housing and retail developments in the works just north of Yankee Stadium, in Gibson’s district. “We like the commercial corridor of River Avenue,” Weiss said in the December interview.)

Some community stakeholders doubt the developers’ interest in local needs. Cary Goodman, the executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, told The Outfield that he met with Madruga about a potential stadium almost two years ago, when Madruga intimated that he wanted the BID’s fullest cooperation and inclusion. That was the last time Goodman heard from Maddd on the subject. Last year, the BID took it upon itself to demonstrate the community’s needs by surveying local business owners and residents about what they would want from a new soccer stadium.

Bronx Community Board 4 likewise acted without input from developers when it sponsored an Urban Land Institute panel on the stadium plan in October. ULI Executive Director Felix Ciampa spoke to The Outfield when the panel published its report in March. Although the ULI group met for only two days, Ciampa said that community board sponsorship allowed the panel to represent the community and voice its broad concerns. He noted the panel’s finding that, in addition to a stadium, the proposed development could bring employment opportunities to the area. The full footprint, which includes plans for housing, retail, and a hotel, could complement the mixed-use development at Bronx Point by allowing increased access to the River Avenue corridor, he said.

“River Avenue has wonderful potential as a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use corridor with new affordable housing at anchor points at each end,” the ULI panel wrote.

“The great thing with working with the community was they have a plan,” Ciampa said when asked about the disconnect between city agencies and the South Bronx. “They have a plan and a strategy and a set of recommendations for the vision they have with their community.”

It’s unclear whether the community’s vision is aligned with the stadium developers’ plans. “The city has been meeting with the development team for close to two years and no one has really reached out to us at any level until we engaged ULI on the technical assistance panel,” Philps told the Commercial Observer in March. “It would have been nice to be engaged a little bit sooner.”

In the first lobbying reporting period of this year, Philps and Community Board 4 were named for the first time in the disclosures of CFG Stadium Group lobbyist Geto & de Milly and Yankees President Randy Levine. (The Yankees are part owners of NYCFC, and Levine has been a key player in the soccer stadium push.) Newly released filings from March and April show Maddd and Joy shifting their attention from city officials to the state legislature, where Maddd’s powerhouse lobbyist Stanley Schlein has been in touch with New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie regarding Bronx real estate development. At the same time, Tonio Burgos, which has been lobbying the state’s transportation department on the critical step of removing a 153rd Street ramp to build the stadium, added the MTA to its list of targets. On May 18, Maddd registered a new lobbyist, David Quart of VHB, who was last seen swapping stadium plans and discussing the GAL factory’s relocation with NYCEDC in mid-2019.

Reached by email, Sims told The Outfield that while “wider work on the stadium has continued” amid the pandemic, NYCFC and its stadium partners have had “many other important things to focus on during these challenging times.” Sims added: “I am proud of the significant impact that our team, along with a number of our partners, have made, in conjunction with NY Common Pantry, to provide relief locally in the South Bronx.” ❧

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Image: Ernest Lawson, Spring Night, Harlem River

A First Look at NYCFC’s Bronx Stadium Plan

And signs it may be closer than you think.

On July 30, 2018, a team led by the developer Maddd Equities met with the NYC Department of City Planning to lay out a neighborhood-wide vision for a stadium project near Yankee Stadium. The new stadium would be soccer-specific, home to New York City Football Club. NYCFC, City Football Group, the Yankees, and a host of construction companies, law firms, and lobbyists were already on board. They had a big-name architect. There were renderings.

In the year and a half since the presentation, NYCFC’s stadium search has zeroed in on that South Bronx location, known as the GAL site. Now, for the first time, The Outfield can share early images of the stadium plan obtained via public records requests. And though NYCFC and city officials have kept quiet about stadium progress, previously unreported records suggest things may be further along than fans think.

The Stadium Plan

The project that Maddd Equities pitched city planners in the summer of 2018 aligns with details that The New York Times first reported a couple weeks before the meeting: a 26,000-seat soccer stadium anchoring a multibillion dollar development to include, according to the Times, “a park, a hotel and conference center focused on soccer and sports, shops, office space, a school and as many as 3,000 affordable apartments.” The newly obtained slides below show where many of those elements would fit into the proposal as it looked at the time.

The project’s July 2018 scope, revised from an earlier proposal dated March 30, 2018, stretched from parking lots north of the GAL Manufacturing elevator parts factory, where the stadium would sit, and continued nearly half a mile down River Avenue, where several blocks zoned for manufacturing were slated to be rezoned and developed for commercial and residential use. Those rezoning applications, which would trigger a long public planning process, have not yet been filed.

Sprinkled throughout the slide deck were tantalizing glimpses of the stadium itself: a partly covered rectangular structure with the corners lopped off to fit its peculiar triangular footprint.

These are not the first architectural renderings to emerge from NYCFC’s seven-year search for a home. They’re not even the first ones associated with Rafael Viñoly Architects, listed as “Stadium Architect” in the presentation. That firm, which keeps offices in New York, Manchester, and Abu Dhabi, has designed training facilities for Manchester City and NYCFC. Rafael Viñoly was also the architect listed for a $700 million NYCFC stadium proposal at Harlem River Yards, whose leaked renderings caused a stir last year before the club declared that it was “not an active site.”

But unlike Harlem River Yards, the GAL site is still very much in play. And while details may have changed since city planners saw those early sketches, recent lobbying filings and public records obtained by The Outfield show that NYCFC and its partners are still working to build a soccer stadium on the same site in the Bronx, right where the images show it.

The Public Records

On October 30, 2019, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute held a Technical Assistance Panel to discuss Bronx community development needs. The panel operated under the assumption that a stadium would be built on the GAL site, and the ideas presented at the TAP meeting bore similarities to Maddd Equities’ presentation, including an emphasis on affordable housing. Though the manager of the local Bronx community board, Paul Philps, noted at the meeting that no formal stadium proposal had crossed his desk, records show that the plan has continued to receive quiet attention from city government.

In an email obtained by The Outfield dated July 1, 2019, Nate Gray from the NYC Economic Development Corporation talked soccer stadium with David Quart of VHB, a planning, design, transportation, land development, and environmental firm. After rattling off traffic considerations, programming and uses, and local community partnership opportunities, Gray added, “Once you have had a chance to digest with the team, we should talk about a follow up meeting at the appropriate time.” Gray and Quart did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether “the team” referred to NYCFC or the project team.

Included as an attachment to that email was a map of the stadium development that identified a particular plot along the Harlem River as “GAL Manufacturing Relocation Site.”

Finding a new home for GAL Manufacturing has long been an obstacle to building an NYCFC stadium where the factory stands. Although Maddd Equities reportedly reached a binding agreement to secure the GAL property in 2018, a May 2019 email from Quart to the Department of City Planning made clear that GAL was still looking for the right relocation site, and that the city itself was involved in the relocation effort. That process may have been one cause for delay for the stadium project.

You won’t hear much about delays—or anything else—from NYCFC. A club spokesperson declined to speak on the record about GAL site stadium plans, referring The Outfield to the club’s routine statement that it “is actively pursuing a permanent home in NYC and exploring several options, including working with Maddd Equities in the Bronx.”

Behind the scenes, though, NYCFC’s partners have been meeting with city officials about specific details surrounding the development. Public filings show that the law firm Akerman LLP, which was listed as “Land Use Lead – ULURP” in Maddd Equities’ stadium presentation, focused its most recent lobbying for Maddd on “South Bronx Master Plan – Block 2490, Lot 1 in the Bronx.” Block 2490, Lot 1 is better known as 45 River Avenue, one of the underused parking garages at the heart of the stadium plan.

Since 2014, a client registered as “CFG Stadium Group, LLC” has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to Martin Edelman, who sits on City Football Group’s board and signs his own lobbying registrations, and Geto & De Milly, whose website touts the company’s experience “handling public affairs for New York City’s newest Major League Soccer team, the New York City Football Club.”

On October 29, Edelman registered a brand new lobbyist for CFG Stadium Group: The Hayes Initiative, a PR firm that advertises its ability to handle “high pressure, politically sensitive, and confidential issues” as well as “making an announcement about a community improvement in your neighborhood.” Anthony Hayes, who signed the registration, did not immediately return a request for comment on the nature of his relationship with NYCFC.

Whatever its reasons, NYCFC’s silence around its stadium maneuvering seems to have caught on. On June 18, in the lead-up to the fall ULI TAP planning session, an employee at the Department of City Planning emailed a ULI representative. “How much of the briefing book and other materials will be made public? i.e. posted on a website or otherwise publicly available,” he asked. “We just wanted to see as the applicant’s stadium proposal is still at a sensitive stage.” ❧

Image: Development Conversation, NYC Department of City Planning, July 30, 2018

NYCFC Stadium Plans Gather Steam in the Bronx

New records show preparations for a soccer stadium near Yankee Stadium.

There’s smoke rising in the South Bronx, and it’s not coming from the Yankee Stadium smokestacks. Although a deal to build a soccer stadium next door to New York City Football Club’s current home has yet to be announced, a drumbeat of local activity—including records obtained by The Outfield—suggests the club’s days of playoff games at Citi Field may soon have an end in sight.

For more than a year, developers and officials in the Bronx have discussed the possibility of a soccer stadium just south of Yankee Stadium, on a site long targeted by NYCFC. New public records, lobbying disclosures, and an upcoming planning meeting show increasing preparations for a stadium development at the same subway stop where the club now plays.

The Return of the GAL Site

In May, an NYCFC fan named Alexander Schaefer noticed a mention of a “pending soccer stadium development” in the minutes of a general board meeting of Bronx Community Board 4. The community board oversees a section of the South Bronx around Yankee Stadium where NYCFC has sought a home of its own as far back as 2013.

But the latest stadium push was underway well before fans caught wind this spring. The plan appears in Community Board 4’s minutes as far back as October 2018, when a general meeting discussed a potential soccer stadium centered on a parking garage and adjacent properties at 153rd Street and River Avenue. In February 2019, a CB4 planning document for fiscal year 2020 noted “the potential development of a soccer stadium” among a number of developments that “underscore the critical need to develop the 153rd Street Bridge.”

If that address sounds familiar, it’s because NYCFC has been here before. The location—often referred to as the GAL site, after GAL Manufacturing Corporation, whose 100,000-square-foot factory occupies part of the proposed stadium footprint—has been one of the club’s targeted stadium sites since before its inaugural season. An earlier proposal there received outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blessing but fell apart in 2014 after parties failed to come to terms.

Parcels outlined in red could be part of a stadium development at the GAL site.

The map above outlines properties that could be part of a stadium development at the GAL site. In 2018, the developer Maddd Equities announced a binding agreement to buy GAL’s central parcel with the goal of developing an NYCFC stadium and affordable housing there. The New York City Parks Department owns the triangular property to the east, between 153rd Street and River Avenue, where the parking garages mentioned in Bronx Community Board 4’s meeting minutes have suffered from financial problems. According to public records, other properties outlined in red are owned by BTM Management and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

When Maddd Equities announced its agreement with GAL last summer, NYCFC would confirm only that the proposed development was one of “several options” the club was pursuing. But as planning activity around the GAL site increases, that search appears to be narrowing.

The GAL elevator parts factory is at the heart of a possible Bronx soccer stadium site.

“You’ll Hear it From Me First”

New York City Councilwoman Diana Ayala, whose district includes the GAL site, has publicly downplayed plans for a stadium there. At a May meeting of Bronx Community Board 4, Ayala described the 153rd Street location as just one of three NYCFC was considering in the Bronx and Queens, though she acknowledged that the club appeared to prefer the GAL site.

Ayala assured community board meeting attendees in May that if there was news about a stadium development in their neighborhood, they would hear it from her first. Her office did not respond to recent requests for comment.

Through a public records request filed with Ayala’s city council district, The Outfield learned that Ayala has been discussing Bronx soccer stadium plans since February 2018. In October 2018 she met with a group including Cary Goodman, the executive director of 161 Street Business Improvement District, to navigate community concerns around a plan to combine a soccer stadium with affordable housing and retail developments. Though details of the plan were not yet fleshed out at the time, the named developer was Jorge Madruga, the founder of Maddd Equities.

Following Goodman’s meeting with Ayala, he requested a report from the city’s Independent Budget Office on Ayala’s behalf to assess the prospective impact of a new stadium in the area. Last week, Goodman’s 161 Street Business Improvement District published the results of a survey of local businesses’ attitudes toward a soccer stadium development. According to survey highlights Goodman provided to The Outfield, 67% of respondents said that a stadium was “a good idea” and 36% would like it to be paired with affordable housing, as Maddd Equities has proposed.

At the May community board meeting, Ayala told The Outfield that if Maddd Equities and NYCFC presented a stadium proposal, she “would be happy to hear them out.” She said she knew Madruga’s company by reputation as a good developer that “gets communities,” citing its affordable housing plans.

A public records request returned emails and meeting invitations from January 2019 between Ayala and Charles Samboy, a Bronx representative of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, with the subject line “MADDD Equities – Soccer.” Neither Samboy nor Ayala responded to requests for comment on the content of the meetings.

The Bronx Lobbying Shift

As recently as 2018, NYCFC still appeared intent on pursuing a stadium deal in Queens. New York City records from last year show the club’s lobbyists, Martin Edelman and Geto & de Milly, targeting Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who in 2017 called the possibility of a soccer stadium at Willets Point “very realistic.”

This year, NYCFC abruptly shifted its lobbying efforts to target Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on the subject of “issues in connection with [a] proposed sports facility.” Diaz was an early proponent of a Bronx soccer stadium and in 2013 wrote a public letter to Don Garber urging MLS to build a home for NYCFC in the borough.

Maddd Equities may have begun its own stadium lobbying push even earlier, around the time it announced its deal with GAL in July 2018. Records from that period show that Maddd brought in two new lobbyists to target officials on the subject of “Affordable Housing and Associated Real Estate in the Bronx.” One of the developer’s new representatives was Stanley K. Schlein, a “heavyweight” longtime lobbyist for the New York Yankees who lobbied Diaz regarding a soccer stadium on the Yankees’ behalf in 2014. (The Yankees are a part owner of NYCFC.)

During the most recent lobbying reporting period of 2019, Maddd Equities paid Tonio Burgos & Associates $20,000 to lobby on the insignificant-sounding subject of an “update of the East 153rd Street ramp.”

Recent records show Maddd lobbying about a ramp connected to the GAL stadium site.

How many ramps are on East 153rd Street? Exactly one: the same northbound entrance ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway whose removal was part of the earlier GAL site stadium proposal in 2013. Maddd Equities and Tonio Burgos & Associates did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the most frequent targets of Maddd’s 2018 lobbying efforts was James Patchett, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. In response to a request by The Outfield for records involving a potential soccer stadium in the South Bronx, NYCEDC withheld documents on grounds that their disclosure “would impair present or imminent contract awards.” The corporation did not describe the contracts.

NYCEDC’s response to a request for records involving a South Bronx soccer stadium.

Stadium Planning Goes Public

This week, stadium planning around the GAL site will receive its most public airing yet at an event conducted by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute. Earlier this year, ULI approached the Bronx Department of City Planning to offer “technical assistance panels” on land use challenges. The department “thought immediately of CB4’s interest in planning work around the Yankee garages/proposed soccer stadium area,” according to a March 13 email from DCP Bronx Borough Director Carol Samol to Paul Philps, the district manager for Bronx Community Board 4.

The technical assistance panel will be a two-day event, starting with a tour of the GAL site and stakeholder interviews on Tuesday, followed by a public meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 1501 Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, where the panel will present its findings.

Among the panelists is Neil MacOmish of the architecture firm Scott Brownrigg, which released a statement touting MacOmish’s background in sports stadiums and his selection as a panelist “to inform the design and lead the community engagement of the new soccer stadium in New York City.”

“We think ULI would bring a good neutral voice to planning work in the area,” Samol wrote to Philps in her email, “especially as the project becomes more real.” ❧

Image: Franz Kaisermann, Inner View of the Colosseum

What Does NYCFC Have in Gary Mackay-Steven?

The Scottish winger had a solid first start, but is Mitri blocking the path to his best position?

NYCFC’s pair of summer transfer window newcomers made their first start for the club last Thursday evening against the Houston Fighting Tommy McNamaras, and while Eric Miller may still have a role to play this season as a backup fullback, it’s Scottish international Gary Mackay-Steven who’s expected to help the playoff push. But will he? After all, his stats in Scotland weren’t great last year, and it wasn’t obvious how a guy who likes to play as a wide winger would help a team that doesn’t typically employ any.

After cutting tape of Mackay-Steven’s every touch against Houston, I’ve got some good news: it looks like the Pigeons have added another potent offensive threat to their arsenal.

The Houston Game

Mackay-Steven started as a right winger in the 3-4-3, where he kept mostly to the sideline and cut inward on the ball to support the attack with his preferred left foot. Maybe the infield turf or lack of an offensive-minded right back on the overlap played a part, but he looked a bit uncomfortable playing on the right. The bright spots came from his off-ball movement, as GMS continuously made himself available in threatening spots, creating a number of chances. His best of the night came in the space behind a lead run by Jesús Medina, and the shot was headed for the back of the net if not for a desperation block by a Dynamo defender.

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Even when they weren’t the preferred option, Mackay-Steven’s trailing runs were neatly timed. Below, Rónald Matarrita sends a dangerous goalmouth cross that Héber should probably have put into the back of the net. But at the same time, GMS provides another dangerous option in the space behind the runners, where he finds an opening at the top of the box.

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But too many times GMS’s off-ball work just wasn’t recognized, with Medina often the culprit. In the clip below, as soon as Medina turns on the ball Mackay-Steven starts a diagonal run in behind Houston’s back line. There’s plenty of space to loft a ball in front of the keeper, but Medina hesitates and opts for a backpass instead.

Mackay-Steven’s game changed for the better not long after Taty Castellanos got subbed on at 58′, as Dome responded to Houston’s deep ten-man defense by flipping Alexandru Mitriţǎ to the right and GMS back to his more natural left winger spot.

“When I say play wide and when you arrive one-v-one and cross the ball, he tried to play in that way,” Dome Torrent said of Mackay-Steven after the game. Operating for about half an hour on the left side, GMS did just that, bombing up the wing and creating separation to launch dangerous balls into the box. He connected on six of six crosses from the left side after the switch, including three key passes.

Looking Ahead

Mackay-Steven’s wing play against Houston provided plenty of danger, but familiarity with teammates takes time, and Dome Torrent promised after the game that we’ve yet to see the best of his new winger. Moving forward, Torrent’s quandary will be how to best use GMS along with the other offensive weapons at his disposal. With the uncertainty surrounding Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, NYCFC’s top two choices at winger right now very well may be Mitriţǎ and Mackay-Steven. But both like to play on the left, even though they have differing tendencies. While GMS likes to stay wide and send left-footed crosses into the box, Mitri prefers to cut inside and shoot on his right.

Last Thursday, we saw Dome initially opt to have Mitri on the left and GMS on the right, each with instructions to cut in on his preferred foot. But the second half switch put Mitri on the right and Gary left as natural wingers, providing width and crossing the ball against a low ten-man block. This change was quite effective against the Dynamo, but is it something Dome will revisit? Was it just because there were no outside backs in that makeshift second-half formation to provide the width with overlapping runs? Or was it because Castellanos had taken the field and provided a target for crosses?

Trying to figure out how to arrange your winger talent is a good problem to have, and one Torrent will definitely tinker with from game to game (and in game, too). Whichever side he plays on, we’ll definitely be seeing more of GMS. ❧

Image: Hendrick ter Brugghen, Bagpipe Player

Colorado 1-2 NYCFC: Young Americans

Versatile defensive midfielders are NYCFC’s future—and maybe the USMNT’s.

Is this really NYCFC? For four seasons, the club hoarded international slots and rushed green cards through to pack its rosters with as many foreign players as possible. But Saturday night in Denver, the standout young players whose influence and flexibility shaped the game were NYCFC’s two United States Olympic team hopefuls, Keaton Parks and James Sands.

They weren’t the only young Americans on the field. The matchup was rightfully billed as Jonathan Lewis’s revenge game against the club that just couldn’t find a place for him on the pitch. Just six minutes into the game, he showed exactly what NYCFC fans had seen in flashes over the last two and a half seasons: Lewis was played in behind Sebastian Ibeagha (who tried and failed to commit a tactical foul) and zipped to the endline before cutting the ball back to assist a tap-in from the 16-year-old homegrown Sebastian Anderson.

The quick Rapids strike aside, NYCFC controlled the game on its way to a 2-1 victory over a mostly lifeless Colorado side, even before Anderson’s reckless challenge on Rónald Matarrita in the 34th minute reduced the hosts to 10 men. And in some happy news for a squad that’s suffered from absences lately, Sands’ return brought positional and tactical flexibility to help unlock the Rapids’ defense.

Colorado seemed completely okay conceding possession to NYCFC, absorbing pressure in its half, and trying to burst out on the counter. Dome Torrent anticipated the low block and rolled out the familiar 3-4-3 with Keaton and Ebenezer Ofori patrolling the middle of the formation. NYCFC counterpressed the Rapids’ back six hard, looking to force turnovers high and create chances before Colorado could regain an organized block.

After the red card the Rapids showed no more signs of threatening, so Torrent pushed Sands into the midfield, leaving Ibeagha and Alexander Callens on the back line. Sands gave NYCFC a reliable hub to circulate possession, and he kept the possession alive that allowed Maxi to find Héber for the equalizer.

The shift to a back four also sent Keaton farther upfield, where he got more involved in the offense than he’s been lately. He showed off his ball skills in the attacking third, picked out runners to jumpstart attacking moves, and snuck in some great off-ball movement to offer an unexpected goal-scoring threat.

Keaton Parks provided an offensive spark.

Sands slipped back to center back in the 63rd minute when Alexandru Mitriţǎ returned from the injured list, bringing Ibeagha off. The Romanian international took full advantage of Colorado’s reluctance to close down to do what he does best: dribble and shoot.

NYCFC found plenty of room to shoot from distance.

Mitri’s heater to grab the late lead set up a nail-biting finish with more heart attack-inducing set piece defending on NYCFC’s end, as Keegan Rosenberry nearly leveled the score in stoppage time off a dangerous free kick. It would have been a heartbreaking finish to a game where the run of play was all sky blue.

Dome Torrent is left with several tough lineup decisions this week. Parks has all but sealed his place in the starting eleven over the last month, as his knack for maintaining possession and finding runners in stride opens up the offense for Moralez in front of him. Then there’s the familiar question of how to use James Sands: is he best as a defensive midfielder or a central defender? Including the Americans in the lineup gives Dome the freedom to reshape his team on the fly, and Saturday night that versatility won out. ❧

Images: Freedom Train Crosses America

NYCFC 0-1 Portland: No Big Loss

The unbeaten streak is over and everything is still okay.

Missing five starters in the Bronx on Sunday evening, NYCFC largely outplayed visitors from the Pacific Northwest for the second game in four days, but just didn’t have enough firepower this time to overcome a Portland Timbers team that had decided against rotating its attack.

NYCFC generated plenty of attacking possession, but with three of the team’s top goalscorers unavailable (Héber, Alexandru Mitriţǎ, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi), the starting front three of Maxi Moralez, Taty Castellanos, and Rónald Matarrita struggled to find the final pass to put the ball in the back of the net. And it didn’t help that the back five was missing Sean Johnson, Alex Callens, and James Sands as an opponent once again took advantage of NYCFC’s disastrous high line against free kicks. Sebastián Blanco’s scramble to put home a botched Sebastien Ibeagha set piece clearance turned out to be the game’s only goal.

Dome Torrent elected to start in a 4-3-3, deploying Mata as a right winger and Maxi more or less at left wing, though the Argentine often dropped deep to initiate the offense. But with a defensive-minded midfield trio of Alex Ring, Ebenezer Ofori, and Keaton Parks, NYCFC was unable to mount serious threats through the middle (and Ben Sweat’s cross attempts continued to leave a lot to be desired).

At halftime Torrent switched back to the 3-4-3, with Matarrita dropping back to his favored left wingback spot and Sweat moving inside as the left center back. It almost worked. NYCFC attacked up the wings, switching the field with long crosses, but couldn’t find the decisive run to challenge Timbers keeper Steve Clark. Though the Pigeons generated two-thirds of their 1.5 expected goals in the second half, the equalizer didn’t come.

NYCFC’s crosses in the first (left) and second (right) halves.

When NYCFC wasn’t attacking the endline, possessions tended to sputter out: Alex Ring missed the final pass, Taty Castellanos got in the way of it, or Keaton Parks dribbled into trouble, too hesitant to pull the trigger. Portland focused on marking Castellanos out of the game and nobody else in blue offered the off-ball movement for a killer run.

Ring and Parks struggled in the final third.

With just four outfield players on his bench, Torrent’s only sub was Jesus Medina for Matarrita at 68′, prompting a switch to a more attacking 4-2-4 where Parks pushed high up the pitch and Sweat swung back out to left back. Playing as an inside right forward, Medina had arguably his best overall shift of the season (though that’s really not saying much).

Despite the loss, it wasn’t all bad for NYCFC. Portland fielded a strong lineup—minus Diego Chara, who came off the bench—but couldn’t win control of the game from NYCFC, which earned 67.8% possession and 1.51 expected goals to the Timbers’ 0.79. As for Dome’s depleted squad, the cavalry’s coming: Johnson and Callens return from international duty this week, most of the injured list should be available by this weekend, and new acquisition Gary Mackay-Steven will be eligible against Orlando tonight. ❧

Image: Company School, Peepal Tree

NYCFC 5-2 Cincinnati: Maxi Moralez is Magic

How NYCFC’s playmaker led five attackers to the best offensive performance in club history.

It’s incredible what Maxi Moralez can do when put in the right spot. With several key players missing Thursday night in the Bronx, and his best bud Pep sitting in the club suite, Dome Torrent trotted out a lineup that put nearly every attacking player in the five boroughs on the pitch. The result was worthy of the coach’s old Man City days: NYCFC stuck five in the back of the correct net (and two more in the back of the wrong one) in a 5-2 rout of a struggling FC Cincinnati.

The offensive outburst produced the club’s highest expected goal output in team history and the most goals scored since the summer of 2016. But it was also only the second time NYCFC has scored more than one at home this season. Why the sudden explosion?

Certainly the opponent had a lot to do with it. Cincinnati’s inaugural season has been anything but encouraging. Heading into Thursday night’s game they’d lost eight of nine, had already fired their first head coach, and were missing several key players from an already shaky expansion roster.

But NYCFC’s offensive barrage was also thanks to Dome’s hyperattacking 4-1-4-1, which put Maxi in position to create behind a bunch of forward options—and boy did he use them.

With Alex Ring sitting deep, just in front of the center backs, Maxi and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi operated as central midfielders, each occasionally dropping back to receive the ball and bring it forward. Alexandru Mitriţă and Taty Castellanos played slightly higher and wider, hugging the sidelines until play entered the final third, at which point they’d cut in to combine with Héber’s hold up play and Maxi and Isi’s runs into the half spaces. On the game’s opening goal, Maxi drove to the end line and sent in a cross just outside the reach of goalkeeper Spencer Richey, where only Mitri could get to it, and the rout was on.

Six minutes later, Moralez received the ball on the attacking left side in way too much space and knifed his way into the center, giving Anton Tinnerholm’s backside run time to develop before providing the piercing pass that unlocked the second goal. Just twelve minutes after that, it was—who else?—Maxi who launched the buildup to the third goal with a beautiful longball onto the forehead of Castellanos, who headed it down to Héber, who played it in stride to a sprinting Tinnerholm, who found Tajouri-Shradi with plenty of room to pop off a near-post rocket for his fourth goal of the season.

Cincinnati’s shambolic defensive organization was on full display here. First, watch left back Justin Hoyte and center back Forrest Lasso allow Taty to split them and head down a pressure-free header to an unmarked Héber. Next, instead of closing down Tinnerholm when the ball swings out wide, Hoyte passes him off to the midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma, who’s trailing the play by a good 15 yards. By the time Ledesma catches up, he’s vacated a space at the top of the box for Tajouri-Shradi to stroll into and crank a shot with his preferred left foot. What Hoyte is trying to accomplish in this sequence is a total headscratcher.

By the half-hour mark, Maxi Moralez had orchestrated three goals in three different ways, and he didn’t slow down in the second half. For NYCFC’s gorgeous fourth he found Héber over the top of the defense, stirring memories of Andrea Pirlo to David Villa in 2016. Maxi’s knack for finding space for runners and combining in tight quarters set up the intricate fifth and final goal, which he finished himself. The star turn was a reminder of how important Maxi is to this squad and what he’s capable of with an effective center forward in front of him. Moralez now leads all MLS starters with 0.52 assists per 96 minutes, according to American Soccer Analysis, and has a goal or assist in each of his last five games.

If the top-heavy 4-1-4-1 had a drawback, it was the patchwork back line. Short on defenders due to injuries and international call-ups, Dome moved away from his lately favored 3-4-3, bringing on utility man Tony Rocha for a serviceable shift at left back. Alex Ring dropped very deep in the defensive mid hole, sitting just in front of the center backs to play destroyer. Without a partner for cover, Ring saw his most defensive action this season: three tackles, a clearance, a block, an interception, and a ludicrous 16 recoveries.

Alex Ring was a very busy man.

The 4-1-4-1 worked great against floundering Cincinnati, but will the formation stick around? It definitely packs a punch, and admit it, winning games 5-4 or 4-3 sounds like fun. Dome’s hinted that he may continue to tinker away from the 3-4-3 in the short term while he’s missing pieces. As long as we’ve got Maxi running the show, you get the feeling it’ll turn out okay. ❧

Image: Arnold Weylandt, Dreamland with Chevalier Ernest Thorn

Chicago 1-1 NYCFC: Sub-Optimal

The formation change made sense. The substitutions didn’t.

A month and a half ago, in Minnesota, Dome Torrent rolled out a new formation that dropped James Sands into the back line as a third center back and pushed Rónald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm further up the pitch. And for a month and a half, it worked. NYCFC entered the weekend’s game at Chicago unbeaten in six—including a win over the Fire at home last month—and finally looked like a team that might challenge for trophies. But what would happen when opponents started to adjust to the new look?

We got our answer on Saturday, and the verdict is: blah.

Torrent trotted out the 3-4-3 to start the match and quickly found out how Chicago’s Velko Paunović intended to attack it, challenging the Pigeons’ pace with longballs and well-placed throughballs. These probing passes would take advantage of the speed of Aleksandar Katai, Przemyslaw Frankowski, and C.J. Sapong to get behind NYCFC’s back three and wreak havoc in the 18-yard box.

NYCFC switched formations shortly after Katai beat the high line in the 21st minute.

While Pauno may have underestimated Callens, Sands and Chanot’s speed worried Torrent enough to return to a familiar 4-3-3, moving Sands into the midfield and holding Matarrita and Tinnerholm deeper, in traditional fullback positions rather than the wingback role they’ve grown to love. But though the switch to a back four was intended to shore up the defense, it led directly to Chicago’s goal. After a month and a half of getting used to having another center back in the middle, Callens and Chanot left a boat-sized channel between them that Brandt Bronico waltzed through to set up the game’s opener.

Top: NYCFC’s defense was comfortable in its man-marking during the opening 20 minutes. Bottom: After moving to a back four, Callens and Chanot left a gap between them that Rocha failed to fill.

But the bigger problem with the formation change was that it left a midfield of James Sands, Alex Ring, and Tony Rocha—guys nobody’s picking for their MLS fantasy teams for the sake of goals, assists, and key passes. NYCFC’s wingback-dependent offense all of a sudden lacked the width to generate quality chances. The only dangerous attacks came through moments of individual brilliance from Alexandru Mitriţă or when Maxi Moralez dropped deep to start the offense. The goal—a Mitri scorcher—combined both, thanks to Maxi’s uncanny ability to initiate in his own half and then teleport himself forward to make the final pass.

Dome had options to fix the offense. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Jesús Medina could have been brought on for Rocha or Sands to play a 4-2-3-1 with Maxi in the playmaking attacking mid role he excels at. Or Keaton Parks could have joined the midfield to help bring the ball forward. Instead, Torrent’s first sub—in the 66th minute, half the game after changing formations—was Ebenezer Ofori for Matarrita, leaving Alexander Callens at left back for the rest of the match. His second, at 78′, was Taty Castellanos for a largely ineffective Héber, though the reasons for the striker’s lackluster play lay in midfield. Tajouri-Shradi didn’t see the field until the end of regulation.

We knew the day would come when someone would challenge the 3-4-3 and NYCFC would be forced to adapt. A situational switch to the familiar 4-3-3 should definitely be on the table, but it’s only going to be effective when it suits the players on the field. An early sub in this one could have made that happen—if not at the time of the formation change, then at halftime after the team talk. Dome needed to pull the trigger and he didn’t. The unbeaten streak remains alive, but this one doesn’t taste good. ❧

Image: Jiro Takamatsu, Perspective Bench