This Fall, if sports continue as planned, the greater New York City area is set to have six professional soccer teams with two more on the horizon in 2021.
Currently this includes two MLS franchises, a USL reserve team, two clubs joining a recently established third division association, and one NWSL team.
Compare that to the autumn of 2010, where the only professional side in the area was the New York Red Bulls completing its first season in Harrison, NJ.
Within the five boroughs themselves, the Bronx is set to welcome its second professional team with New Amsterdam FC. The brainchild of a tech company CFO and a local soccer program founder, the team will play within the National Independent Soccer Association (3rd Division) this August and will call Fordham University’s Coffey Field home.
The team, which is named after New York City’s original colonial name, has been rumored for some time, with reports coming out in late 2019 about a new local team joining NISA. On April 20, 2020, the team was officially announced by the association as the 16th member in its history (14th when discounting two still-unnamed New England clubs).
New Amsterdam’s sporting director Maximilian Mansfield, a native German who grew up in lower Manhattan, has been keeping busy as word continues to circulate while sports as a whole are on pause due to COVID-19.
“The soccer community is so different,” he laughed during a phone interview. “They love this stuff and especially with everything being so dead we’ve probably gotten more traction than expected. It’s good to get the word out.”
The team has been one of NISA’s most recent announcements as the league presses on into its second season. Following a fall “showcase,” with eight teams split into two coastal conferences, and a single table spring season cut short by COVID-19, NISA has a lot riding on its second act. The association has been adding more well known clubs such as Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC, both powerhouses in national amateur soccer before going pro, to its roster with NAFC being the third non-established (no previous team fielded) team to join. It will be looking to following in the footsteps of fellow NISA member Oakland Roots SC, also a new team, which has sold out every match (both league and friendly) since its start last fall.
A former player in his own right with ties locally to the sport, Mansfield and the team’s founder, Laurence Girard, had been in contact with one another for a few years prior to this professional venture. Girard, the CFO of a tech company called Fruit Street, began to develop an interest in Mansfield’s efforts to aid city players in getting professional opportunities. After an attempt to do so overseas, a former prospect of Mansfield’s had begun to play for the Los Angeles Force, a NISA team, and before long the association and partners began to discuss plans.
Over the past few years, through his work and watching independently as a fan, he and his team have seen soccer grow within the area and think the time is right to sub in.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Mansfield said, referencing the growth of both amateur and semi-professional soccer within the greater NYC area. “I think we’re in the right place, (at the) right time. I think New York is thirsty for a club like ours.”
Soccer around the country has been growing with the prime example being Major League Soccer reaching 26 teams prior to its 2020 season. Both the second and third divisions also continue to grow especially in the area. The USL Championship (2nd Division) will launch Queensboro FC, owned by New York City FC legend and World Cup champion David Villa, while NISA has an additional club set to join the league this fall as the New York Cosmos return to professional play for the first since 2017.
Lower division amateur sides have been making waves in the NYC area in recent years as well. These are the types of teams that train and play games together in various area parks, almost always on weekends, by players who compete outside of a full-time job. The Cosmopolitan Soccer League (CSL), equivalent to a 5th or 6th division, had one team win the National Amateur Championship in 2017 (Lansdowne Bhoys FC, now known as Lansdowne Yonkers FC) and another qualified for the as-of-now still postponed 2020 U.S. Open Cup (New York Pancyprian Freedoms). More teams have also begun to join larger, national amateur leagues such as the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), and USL League 2.
Mansfield has made it clear that he hopes to have New Amsterdam’s roster filled nearly entirely by this sort of local talent. It isn’t uncommon to see lower division sides rely more on prospects from the surrounding area. NISA teams and those in the similarly Division 3 USL League One regularly have players rostered from within their home state or local colleges. But Mansfield wants it to go deeper than that.
“I think we’re going to surpass 50 or 60 percent of New York guys on our roster,” Mansfield said. “From the get-go we’ve said we want to run this (team) sustainably. We just firmly believe the talent is in our backyard.”
This sort of philosophy has been applied in other parts of the world with various big name teams.
In Spain, La Liga’s Athletic Bilbao has an unwritten rule that the club will only sign players who were born in the Basque area of Spain. Mexico’s C.D. Guadalajara, better known as Chivas, has been both praised and criticized for its policy of only signing Mexican players. The Ecuadorian C.D. El Nacional has only signed players from its own nation since its founding over half a century ago, earning it the title of “Puros Criollos,” or “Pure Natives.”
These teams have won their nation’s top leagues a combined 33 times and are all within the Top Four in most titles won within their league’s histories. However, all these examples rely on nationality or identity when it comes to roster selection while Mansfield and his group believe NYC players have simply been overlooked in the professional landscape.
“I wish there was an increase in local talent because it is there, but it isn’t relied upon, it isn’t trusted enough,” he said.
Both MLS sides that call New York home only have a handful of players from the city. The Red Bulls have three, four if you count Ryan Meara and his home of Yonkers, and NYCFC has two younger stars in Tayvon Gray and Justin Haak (both signed in 2019).
Local soccer talent is what Mansfield has worked with in his prior career and he hopes to bring that experience into the professional ranks. After earning a degree from Cornell University and while still playing in his free time, he slowly began a career transition which eventually led to the creation of the “The Fussball Project” (German for “The Soccer Project”). The program, which began in late 2016, aims to mentor soccer players post college in hopes of strengthening their chances to play professionally.
“The idea of that was to help inner city kids in New York get an opportunity to play at a higher level,” he explained. Currently, the program usually runs 10 day trips to Germany to ‘expose players to the culture of European football’ according to the program’s description. “We’ve taken talent from our backyard and gotten them pro contracts. Some think it’s naive to build a pro club based off of only or primarily local talent but the proof is in the pudding for us.”
Mansfield believes New York’s depth of talent will be both a value on the field and in the stands. He explained that seeing professional soccer players can be the same people fans can be neighbors with or seen walking local streets will build bridges.
“Having a roster player from New Amsterdam live down the street from you is a much more realistic pathway for a nine year old kid,” Mansfield said. “I think New York is a city that calls (out) things pretty quickly and I think us being authentic is going to be our biggest catalyst for growth.”
The key to this, he went on to say, is to keep close ties with leagues within the city limits. The Cosmopolitan Soccer League and Long Island Soccer Football League both have talented players and historically strong amateur sides. With over 50 teams spread across multiple divisions, Mansfield believes the possibilities for partnerships and talent scouting are plentiful..
“Maintaining ties to those leagues is going to be huge for us. Those are the guys that we don’t have to uproot and that we can give them an opportunity to showcase themselves.”
“Hypothetically if we wanted to play a friendly every single week for the whole fall and whole spring we could get top local teams that are within 45 minutes of us for a midweek game,” he explained further, detailing the benefits for both scouting and keeping the team’s players sharp during the season. “It’s pretty unparalleled, I’d say London is the only place that has a comparable saturation of top level pro, semi-pro, and amateur (teams).”
Another key factor the team will hope to use effectively is the location of home field. Coffey Field, located within Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus, is centrally located along multiple mass transit routes. With quick access to both local subway routes and regional Metro-North trains, along with bus and car parking, the team will hope to reap the same benefits other professional outfits in the city do.
“I think accessibility is always going to be a big thing in New York. We’re not a car driven city, some people really rely on mass transit.” (Looked at other venues, didn’t have a transit link).
Other soccer clubs, like the Red Bulls and Cosmos, have been criticized for the effort it takes some fans to reach weekly games. These complaints range from long drives out of the city, limited parking, and too infrequent or expensive train services for match days.
“Carlo Acquista, the (men’s soccer) head coach there, he made us really feel welcome right off the bat,” Mansfield also said. “He felt this was an exciting project for the community in the Bronx.”
That community will hopefully be the blue-collar, laid back fans Mansfield hopes latch onto New Amsterdam as “their” club. The kind of team where games are more than just weekend events to come and watch soccer, but also a place to see friends and family and possibly see some play on the pitch too.
When it comes to expected early results, Mansfield admits he has dreams that are laced with reality. He hopes he and the team can put together something that garners interest in the community and puts up positive results in a league packed with competition including the Cosmos, Detroit City, and Oakland.
“Our budget is not going to be that of other pro clubs,” he said. “We’ve gotta get creative and think outside the box while still putting an exciting brand on the field.”
“(We want an exciting) playing style and we want to be exciting within the league. We want to establish somewhat of a rivalry with the New York Cosmos which I think will happen pretty organically.”
One dream he does still hold onto is making a run in the second oldest continuously running national cup competition.
“We’d love to make a deep U.S. Open Cup run. We’d love to take down a couple historic names in the Open Cup and I think we’re capable of doing that.”
The last New York City team to win that competition was the Brooklyn Italians in 1991. The Red Bulls have been to the final twice, 2003 and 2017, but lost both times. The last non-division 1 professional team to win the tournament was the New York state-based 1999 Rochester Raging Rhinos side that beat four MLS teams (and the Freedoms) en route to the cup.
NISA currently intends to start its fall season in August. The four month competition is preparing to play with all options in regards to spectators (no fans, some fans, and capacity crowds).
A separate tournament, the NISA Independent Cup, for both league teams and “high level amateur clubs” is also being developed for closed-door play in late summer this year.
Featured Image: --- Note: Previously this article stated that the New York Pancyprian Freedoms were the last New York City team to win the U.S. Open Cup in 1983. This is incorrect, as the Brooklyn Italians won the tournament in 1991.