Major League Soccer pet project expansion team New York City Football Club was a sham from the moment that the concept became reality a year and a half ago. That fact alone is not what has caused feelings of frustration and even anger over the news that former Chelsea star Frank Lampard is currently as much of a NYCFC player as am I until his Manchester City duties are complete, if he even joins the MLS club at all. Intelligent American soccer fans, journalists, and columnists knew the reality of what NYCFC was all the way back in 2013, and yet we were told that we were paranoid New York Red Bulls/New York Cosmos supporters who were “scared” of competition, that we had no reason to believe that NYCFC was nothing more than a MCFC farm team, and a tool to expand the City brand in North America, and that we would all, in time, be proven wrong in doubting the legitimacy of NYCFC.
Turns out we were right all along.
Lampard, NYCFC, and Manchester City made headlines last week while many of you were wrapping up your holiday vacations, when it was announced that Lampard would remain with the Premier League outfit through the end of the of 2014-15 European calendar, making him unavailable for the MLS side until the summer; specifically July. NYCFC not having Lampard until the second half of the 2015 MLS campaign was hardly a surprise, as rumors of the player remaining with the Manchester mothership until May began swirling about as early as August 2014. It is the news that Lampard is more a City Football Group employee than he is a NYCFC player on loan to Manchester City that has some within the MLS club's fan base questioning their loyalties, as there is now little doubt that NYCFC as an entity is no different than a Triple-A affiliate of a Major League Baseball franchise except for the fact that NYCFC will offer what is, in City's vision, a minor league product at major league prices.
This was, if one is to read between the lines and to speak with knowledgeable individuals, apparently the plan all along. Even when NYCFC trotted Lampard out on promotional tours in New York during the summer of 2014, there was, in the background, a clause in place that would keep him overseas so long as City wanted him with the Premier League club. Lampard didn't have to push to remain in Europe anymore than a factory worker would have to push his boss to remain on the job for an additional hour without receiving any extra pay for doing so.
NYCFC using the Lampard name to sell tickets and merchandise while knowing that it was at least 50-50 that the player would remain with City for half of the 2015 MLS season is undeniably a questionable business model for unveiling a new team. That said, nobody should feel even a smidgen of sympathy for any person who spent money on anything NYCFC-related believing that Lampard would be linking up with the MLS club later this month for preseason activities. “Lampardgate,” as it is being called, is far from a one-off for an organization that continues to do zero favors for MLS or for North American professional soccer.
Remember that there was no significant public outcry for a NY2 to join the Red Bulls in the New York market leading up to the public introduction of NYCFC in May 2013. The “MLS to Queens” movement died a quiet death without coming close to establishing a franchise in the borough. Unlike when fans created a party atmosphere at the official MLS introduction of Orlando City Soccer Club in November 2013, there were no supporters at the NYCFC/MCFC/New York Yankees press conference. Local kids along with City players who visibly appeared annoyed to have to be at the event stood in place of adoring fans and banners rejoicing the arrival of NYCFC on that spring morning.
Outside of the $100 million asking price MLS requests for expansion teams, one that Manchester City and the Yankees happily paid, NYCFC to this day meets zero of the unlisted requirements for clubs entering the North American top-flight. The club had not pinned down a site for a soccer-specific stadium on that day that it was introduced, and that remains the case at the start of 2015. Yankee Stadium is the temporary home for a soccer team located in a metropolitan area filled with citizens and local politicians not at all sold on the notion of the region needing more than one soccer arena. “I have no reason to believe (NYCFC) are any closer to having a stadium site than they were (in 2013)," a MLS insider told me last November.
Any and all hopes that NYCFC wouldn't be Manchester City USA began to dwindle in November when the club's home kit was launched. The shirt is, minus the NYCFC crest and MLS patch, essentially a replica of the one City uses for home matches. One sporting the look at the soccer pub on a Premier League morning would easily be confused for a City supporter, which is problematic considering the MLS team is intended to draw customers who support Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and, yes, even Manchester United. No true fan of any of those EPL sides is dropping cash to dress himself in City colors.
Remember, also, that the Lampard debacle is not the first time that City Football Group has failed one of its so-called lesser clubs. David Villa, who will (probably) debut for NYCFC this coming March, was supposed to link up with A-League side Melbourne City for ten league matches in 2014, but he appeared in only four contests before he was recalled by New York for promotional purposes. CFG hung Melbourne out to dry in that scenario, and the same has occurred regarding Lampard and NYCFC. It is at the very least alarming that CFG views MLS and the A-League as being equal.
All of the worries and concerns about NYCFC had by reasonable observers two Mays ago remain intact this winter. Nothing has been done to erase the perception that the MLS club is merely a City marketing tool. NYCFC has no permanent home. The majority ownership of a professional sports franchise located in the most iconic sports city in the United States is run by individuals accused of being responsible for a country that was referred to as a “black hole for many basic human rights” back in July 2013.
“NYCFC: MLS' Own 'Plastic Franchise'” was the title of a piece I penned that saw the light of day on March 26th, 2014. Roughly ten months after that post went public, Empire of Soccer head honcho Dave Martinez wrote the following on what the Lampard fiasco has done to/for MLS: “MLS is looking as plastic and propped up as ever, quietly sitting in a $100 million dollar cash pool while City Football Group circumvents Fair Play rules to meet their own ends.” NYCFC cutting ties with Lampard immediately would not erase all of the negatively hovering over the club, but it would be a good start, not to mention one of the only positive things the team has achieved during its existence.
That would also be an act of those running MLS admitting that they made a massive mistake, which is why nobody should expect that move to be made anytime soon.