Soccer thrives in the Big Apple thanks to a dozen pro teams
NEW YORK — With more than 8.5 million inhabitants, this metropolis is the most populated city in the country. Each one of its five boroughs host stories of discipline and perseverance. And there are soccer stories to be told.
One of these begins with the very first Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, the Empire Soccer Club, founded in November 1994 and which later changed its name to the MetroStars. Uruguayan Tab Ramos was the first signing.
“The New York metropolitan area is a place filled with people of strong character. When I played for the U.S. National Team for the first time, there were three of us who were from New Jersey. Growing up in this area has personally helped me quite a lot,” said Ramos. Today, Ramos aspires to one day manage the U.S. national team.
“I made the U.S. National Team. Now, I have managed the U-20 team in three straight World Cups. This is an area with a 100-year history when it comes to soccer, and in which you can find a lot of talent that could help immensely at a national level,” said Ramos.
The MetroStars changed its name again in 2006, becoming the popular New York Red Bulls. During that time, many great players and managers have matched the glitz and glamour of Times Square. Juan Carlos Osorio, who would later become manager of the Mexican National Team, played in New York while moonlighting as a waiter and construction worker in order to afford his studies in exercise science and fitness.
“Living in New York isn’t easy at all, it’s an expensive place to afford. It has always been hard to survive here, but there’s a reward to every effort,” said José Escandon, an immigrant from Ecuadorean who recently signed with the Red Bulls. “I believe Hispanics are able to have that satisfaction of saying, ‘I represent New York.’ In my case, playing with the local team is the culminating phase of an odyssey I’ve lived through.”
“A lot of people call me crazy when I tell them I am a referee in New York. However, there are plenty of opportunities here because there are so few women doing this and there are many job openings,” said Niurka Vidal, a judge who left her native Venezuela and now works at the professional women’s soccer fields in Gotham. “It is a very tough profession. However, I’ve been able to sentence adversity with a red card. And, a very nice thing about New York is that people that don’t even know you and who might be from different places, are trying to help you.”
It isn’t easy to get a certificate to become a pro referee in New York. Blowing the whistle at amateur fields could bring in $300 a week in a place where rent could easily be double or triple a referee’s monthly earnings.
Despite all this, New Yorkers are driven by an inexplicable thirst for the spotlight. This drive often forces them to take the most unexpected roads, sometimes with their eyes closed. With the Red Bulls winning their first MLS title in 2013, many people tried to keep soccer alive in Latino neighborhoods — despite the inclement weather and the high expenses involved in running an academy.
“We have christened Flushing Meadows Park as the Temple of Soccer in New York City. We know firsthand that this is a quite complicated city as living is concerned. Not everyone is wealthy enough. We all struggle to make ends meet. Despite all of that, the ball keeps on rolling,” said Oscar Ramos, who founded the Barza Academy over a decade ago for the children of immigrants all over Queens.
“We are looking to help these youngsters, so they can have soccer as a different source of opportunities. Luck can change here overnight. One day, you’re taking the Subway and the very next one, you could be signing a contract with the MLS,” Ramos said.
New York soccer goes even beyond the five boroughs. The Red Bulls arena, with a 25,000-people capacity, was built in New Jersey. Many fans said that the high cost of real estate in New York even made the soccer team move out of town to seek pastures in the neighboring Garden State.
Regardless of geography, the people of New York and their desire to be a part of the sport are the critical components for soccer’s growth in the region.