The rise of professional soccer in New York has been a fascinating and deeply beneficial change for the city. In addition to becoming two of the most recognizable clubs in the MLS, the Red Bulls and NYCFC have consistently been able to help local communities. Just recently, the Red Bulls have kept up their regular hospital visits by making virtual connections with patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The club has also been instrumental in helping to turn youth soccer into a growing phenomenon in Harlem. NYCFC meanwhile, in addition to regular community outreach, partnered with the Jackie Robinson Foundation just this month to take action in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
These are just a few examples, but they speak to the widespread positive impact the two professional teams continue to make in New York communities. What’s also clear, however, is that both clubs are well positioned to have a major say in the future of U.S. soccer, both domestically and on the international stage. Through the emergence of young players and ongoing community development, the Red Bulls and NYCFC will be right in the thick of what many hope will be a rising U.S. soccer culture.
Young Americans on the Rise
While the USMNT is coming off a fairly disastrous qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, there’s growing optimism that the program can piece together a very competitive squad for Qatar in 2022. Much of the talent behind that optimism is already competing in Europe, or else resides elsewhere in the MLS. But both the Red Bulls and NYCFC have been involved with some of the players who could suit up for USMNT in 2022 as well.
Tyler Adams is the most noteworthy name of the bunch. At 21, Adams — a New York native — is already making a name for himself as a midfielder on the rise for RB Leipzig. His celebrity status rose recently when he scored one of the most meaningful goals we’ve seen from an American player on the European stage — catapulting his club into the Champions League semi-finals, as reported by CNN International. Adams will be one of the two or three most important players for the USMNT moving forward, and though he’s likely put the MLS behind him for many years to come, he got his start as a teen sensation for the Red Bulls.
Where NYCFC is concerned, another name to watch is Gedion Zelalem — a talented midfielder who returned to the MLS after an unsuccessful stint with Arsenal in the Premier League. Some of the shine has come off of Zelalem, to be fair. But the potential is still there. In recognizing Zelalem as one of the potential impact players in the MLS next season, Bwin points out that his touch, flair, and “tools” are still considerable, and he’ll be thirsty to prove that he’s still got something left in the tank. At just 24 years of age, Zelalem will also be in the prime of his career come 2024. Should he rediscover the form that got him to Arsenal in the first place, he’s another quality player who should be in the mix when rosters are selected for qualification and (hopefully) Qatar.
While the New York clubs have played a role in boosting potential impact players like Adams and Zelalem, they also continue to move us toward a New York City that will be more enthusiastic about youth development and soccer in general. Both clubs engage with young players in the area, and the result is that New York is now known for having some of the best developmental programs in the U.S. (including right in Harlem).
We should also see a continued spike in soccer enthusiasm in New York if and when NYCFC’s new stadium becomes a reality. Though the idea has reportedly been slowed by the coronavirus outbreak, the belief is still that the club will soon construct its own stadium in the Bronx (having played its home matches at Yankee Stadium up to this point). A project like this should generate a lot of attention and excitement and will move NYCFC a step closer to becoming a club that feels like a permanent fixture in the borough.
All of this makes it clear that New York is playing a significant role in the growth of soccer in the U.S. Regardless of how the Red Bulls or NYCFC perform in any given season, they’re expanding interest in the sport and helping stars on their way up the ranks. Throw in the fact that both clubs have proven capable of attracting major international talent as well, and there’s nothing to say but that they’re doing wonderful things for American soccer
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