December 11, 2021 marked the day that NYCFC would become MLS Cup Champions for the first time!
This was a joyous occasion, not just for NYCFC, but for all the City Football Group (CFG).
While it was not surprising how the City Football Group came together to root for and watch NYCFC play in the MLS Cup Final, and while it was of no surprise that after NYCFC won the MLS Cup, that other CFG members congratulated NYCFC, there was something very different about this win from Mumbai City‘s and Melbourne City‘s in 2021, and even Yokohama F. Marinos‘s in 2019.
See, unlike the other teams mentioned, it was the founding of NYCFC that spurred the vision of HH Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, and the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) to create a global football group based on spreading the sport worldwide, and increasing the popularity and the level of play in countries that have huge potential in soccer like the USA and India, and where tons of talent already exists like in France and Spain.
HH Sheikh Mansour’s vision already partly began in 2010 once he and his team at ADUG decided to use their money and connections via Manchester City and the UAE Embassy to the USA and UAE Consulates in the USA to build mini soccer pitches across the Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Miami areas, starting with P.S. 72 Lexington Academy in East Harlem and The Boys & Girls Club of East Los Angeles, in order to grow the sport and create more access to the game.
Furthermore, another goal of the CFG, has been to connect the most important areas of the world together into one group, a sort of football diplomacy that also makes lots of money, via this great group, which includes the major city of the USA (New York City), India (Mumbai), Australia (Melbourne), Uruguay (Montevideo), Bolivia (La Paz), Japan (Yokohama) and major cities of the People’s Republic of China (Chengdu) and the United Kingdom/England (Manchester), plus cities in main countries like France (Troyes), Belgium (Lommel), and Spain (Girona). The Group furthers its diplomatic weight with partnerships in many other countries and cities, such as Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Lviv (Ukraine), as well as ownership of Los Angeles Metropolitan Area (USA) based company, Goals Soccer Centers, for 5-a-side soccer, with City Football Group offices and other companies in places like Singapore, Shanghai (People’s Republic of China), Tokyo (Japan), and Greater London (United Kingdom) to name some. As of 2021, Goals Soccer Centers has merged with Sofive Soccer Centers to extend this reach to the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia areas, as well as the New York City Metro region which the CFG is already highly entrenched in, and the CFG continues to have 5-a-side pitches in the Chicago area. The City Football Group, via Manchester City, even has made its mark in Ron Burgundy’s Sunny San Diego Metro region, with its annual Manchester City Cup. And when you include sponsorship deals from Dubai, Hong Kong, Yangsun and Seoul (South Korea), amongst many others, you can fully tell just how influential the City Football Group really is, which becomes even more influential once you see connections these partners all have.
But, it was on 21 May 2013, that HH Sheikh Mansour’s vision became a reality, when he, through Manchester City Football Club and the New York Yankees Major League Baseball team, teamed up to create New York City Football Club as an expansion team part of Major League Soccer (MLS), the top tier league of the United States of America, and co-top tier league of Canada. NYCFC became the 20th MLS franchise with this announcement.
This marked the beginning of a new footballing empire, that would become a confederation of independent clubs under the guise and expertise of the Al Nahyan Abu Dhabi Royal Family member, HH Sheikh Mansour, and his trusted partner, Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
And it was exactly the type of forward thinking needed to spur this moment.
New York City is the World’s Capital and Most Important City.
The New York City Metropolitan Area is the 10th largest economy if it were its own country, and New York City itself would be the 12th largest economy. New York City is home to the two most important, largest, and richest stock exchanges. New York City is home to media giants like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and others, like cable networks NBC, Fox News, CBS, and ABC, and many of their affiliates, as well as News Corp. New York City is home to the most Fortune 500 companies and Wall Street itself. New York City is home to the most billionaires and is soon to be the world’s richest city, if Tokyo is considered a city (not really a city, really a prefecture). New York City’s Midtown Manhattan is home to the most expensive real estate and most office space. New York City is home to the most important modern art, theater (Broadway), and the most important sports leagues: the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and even the MLS. New York City has been such an important city over the years as can be seen by their amount of skyscrapers. And, by 1948, its world wide prowess was completed by becoming the home of the United Nations, thus truly becoming the capital of the World.
This is why HH Sheikh Mansour had his eyes set on New York City. While Manchester may have been a football capital, one ready to create the best football club in the world, New York City was the capital, period, and one ready to take the ADUG, HH Sheikh Mansour, and Khaldoon Al Mubarak to the top!
Initially, NYCFC existed as a sort of vassal of the New York Yankees and Manchester City. In fact, NYCFC did not even play a match until 2015, and the City Football Group was not created until 2014, although retroactively, the City Football Group is often stated to have started in 2013 due to Man City’s buying of NYCFC, showing just how important NYCFC is to the CFG experience.
In fact, NYCFC is still the most expensive purchase by Sheikh Mansour out of the CFG Clubs, outside of Manchester City. NYCFC cost 100 million US Dollars in 2013.
Since 2014 or 2015, NYCFC has been listed as 80% owned by the City Football Group, and 20% owned by Yankee Global Enterprises, the owners of the New York Yankees.
While it is true that HH Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak started expanding Man City’s global reach back in 2010, it really was not until Barcelona-native, Ferran Soriano, became the CEO of Manchester City that this expansion took place. Ferran Soriano, who was at the MLS Cup Final in Portland, Oregon last Saturday, was the man who had the MLS contacts with League Commissioner, Don Garber, as he had sought to expand FC Barcelona into a global brand similar to the City Football Group while Economy Vice President and interim CEO there. Ferran Soriano became CEO of Manchester City in 2012, and so the process began, and in less than a year, Manchester City had teamed up with record holding 27 time World Series Champions, the New York Yankees, to create New York City FC.
As owners of New York City FC, the City Football Group has sought to make New York City more of a hub of footballing talent, by using their City Football Academy, their club, NYCFC, and their 50+ 5-a-side football pitch project across New York City started in 2016 to make New York City a power house in soccer. In fact, the ADUG under Manchester City and the UAE Embassy to the USA already started their NYC soccer transformation back in 2010, and continued to invest in the area before NYCFC was even a club.
Thus, the ADUG has been greatly focused on New York City since it bought Manchester City back in 2008. And, finally, through 11 years of partnership with the City of New York, and 8 years of owning New York City Football Club, and 7 seasons of NYCFC soccer, the City Football Group finally has reached the pinnacle of American and Canadian soccer that they promised New Yorkers they would accomplish.
This has what made this trophy so important! While the 2011 FA Cup victory was super important to ADUG’s story at Manchester City as it was the first trophy won under the ADUG, and while the 2012 Premier League title was even more superior to this accomplishment, especially given the way it was won, no other trophies have really come close to this in terms of an important first! The Centurion and Fourmadible Seasons by Manchester City, and the multiple Invincible seasons by the Melbourne City Women might have been the most impressive accomplishments by the City Football Group so far, but this NYCFC MLS Cup Trophy was its most important single trophy since that victory over QPR by Manchester City in the dying moments of the 2011-2012 Premier League season.
For many reasons.
One, out of the leagues City Football Group clubs have won, the MLS is the second best after the Premier League. And, given that this was a first, this meant that NYCFC’s 2021 MLS Cup Championship season is the second best first time League Championship season under this new ownership so far. Given that no club has won an Continental Championship or World Club Championship yet under this ownership, this relegates the most important trophies thus far to league championships.
Two, the MLS is arguably the most competitive league in the world. With a salary cap and playoffs to decide the Champion, this makes the MLS one of the most difficult leagues to win, if not the most difficult league to win as an ownership group. Unlike in England, Spain, Belgium, France, and other countries where the City Football Group has clubs, predicting the winner of the MLS can lead you to choose 14 different teams at the end of the season due to the playoffs, and at the start of the season, probably 24 teams if not all the teams can have a legitimate argument in favor of them winning it. Furthermore, the playoff matches are one-off, meaning that if you lose, there is no second-leg, and if you are the lower seed, you have no home match in that round. This led to NYCFC winning their last 3 matches of the MLS Cup Playoffs on the road!
Three, with the MLS’s salary cap, this means the City Football Group has cemented that their strategy works not just because of spending exuberant amounts of money like they do at Manchester City, rather, it is due to their scouting, developing, academies, and countless other organizational strategies, plus in match and training strategies, as to why their clubs are doing so well across the world. Melbourne City and Mumbai City who both won their Regular Season and Post-Season Championships in 2020-2021 both proved this too as the A-League (Australia) and Indian Super League (India) both have salary caps. However, the USA and Canada are much more trusted in making sure their clubs follow salary caps, and thus, having a City Football Group club win yet another salary cap league, and one in the country that brought FIFA to justice for financial crimes and who is highly credible in operating very low corrupted professional sports leagues, makes this claim by the City Football Group that they do well for these other qualities besides the money as very credible. Furthermore, NYCFC’s 2021 salary total was only #6 in the MLS, and NYCFC’s highest paid player was #9 on the highest paid players’ list. Thus, it really was not the money that won NYCFC the MLS Cup. This is something for minority owners Yankee Global Enterprises to also hang their hat on, as their New York Yankees are also often criticized for exuberant spending in order to win World Series. And, given the lavishness that the UAE presents itself in via Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is often seen as a rich man’s paradise whereby the Royal Famalies do not have to play by the rules. In the MLS, they do, and this is why the City Football Group winning here is very good for optics and reputation.
Four, in NYCFC’s quest to develop elite home-grown and American talent, NYCFC’s MLS Cup Victory proved just how successful NYCFC has been at doing that. On the team this season, there featured 12 Americans and 5 home-grown players. From this, 2 of the home-grown players and 4 of the Americans started in the MLS Cup Final, with American Goalkeeper and NYCFC Captain, Sean Johnson, earning the MLS Cup Final MVP Award! This victory proved to the NYC Area and the greater United States that winning the MLS was for you, which is what the CFG has been trying to develop, a pathway for local talent to reach the pinnacle of football. The CFG proved with this win that while they desire to win trophies by bringing in great talents from overseas to all their clubs, like Luxembourger Maxime Chanot, they also desire to develop the local talent to win these trophies as well.
Five, winning the MLS Cup Final solidified the hard work of the club on the football pitch these past 7 seasons. The City Football Group has been routinely criticized by many for their failures with NYCFC, as NYCFC had been trophiless across all competitions. This was an especially difficult pill to swallow given that NYCFC’s bitter rivals, the New York Red Bulls, have won 3 Supporters’ Shields. Yet, the criticism was harsh because New York City FC had actually been the most successful and consistent team in the MLS since 2016 in total points earned. In 2019, NYCFC won the regular season Eastern Conference, barely missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to Los Angeles Football Club, the regular season Western Conference champions that year. And, for NYCFC, it had not been that the club did not have star power, as they had players like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andre Prilo, and it had not been that they were not good, rather, it was that NYCFC was terrible in the MLS Cup Playoffs, only having advanced to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals once (2018), before the 2021 season, and having been to the playoffs 5 of those 6 previous seasons! Furthermore, NYCFC had not fared much better in the US Open Cup, having only had one season so far, where they actually won a match in the tournament, and that was in 2019 when they won 2 matches and advanced to the Quarter-finals before being knocked out in a penalty shootout. NYCFC’s other competitions have fared equally disastrous with a Quarter-final birth in the CONCACAF Champions League (Advanced in the Round of 16) and a Quarter-final birth in the one-time MLS is Back Tournament (Advanced past the Group Stage and in the Round of 16). Thus, NYCFC was very bad in knockout situations, not just in the MLS Cup Playoffs. 2021 proved quite the opposite and NYCFC would advance and win all 4 matches to claim the MLS Championship, including 2 penalty shootout victories and 3 away victories! This was the moment NYCFC deserved!
Six, winning is a way to take away from the disastrous stadium situation for NYCFC. NYCFC has been promised their own stadium since they were founded, with Yankee Stadium serving as a temporary home. While Yankee Stadium gives NYCFC a huge home-field advantage, especially given its unusually small field size, the fact that NYCFC shares this stadium with the New York Yankees makes NYCFC sometimes homeless, having to play at various stadiums over the years from the New York Mets’s Citi Field, to UCONN’s Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in Connecticut, to Fordham’s Jack Coffey Field, and the last two seasons, much to the chagrin of the NYCFC supporters, Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, home of their rivals! Even at the MLS Cup Championship celebration at City Hall, fans were shouting “We want a stadium”! Yet, for the City Football Group, while many have accused them of dragging their feet, maybe after winning the MLS Cup, NYCFC fans will now look at The Bronx and New York City governments/boards/elected officials, or rather, more specifically, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, as the ones dragging their feet, especially after multiple reports suggesting as such. The Yankees and Major League Soccer have also been blamed for these failures, and possibly with this win, will also be less of the boogey man now.
Seven, NYCFC won the MLS Cup Final after having the official, referees, and VAR officials miss a foul against NYCFC in the final minute of stoppage time that led to a goal against NYCFC, who had been up 1-0, ready to claim the MLS Cup Championship! This seemed to suggest that NYCFC’s lack of a trophy was a curse like Manchester City’s lack of a UEFA Champions League trophy, as Manchester City has had a series of bad calls against them or no calls that led to their knockouts, plus bad play on their own accord and the away goal rule that never seemed to go their way. NYCFC, however, dispelled this and played through extra-time, getting to the penalty shootout, and NYCFC dominated winning 4-2 claiming the MLS Cup Championship after a thrilling display by club captain Sean Johnson! The way in which NYCFC won their MLS Cup Final is something that others in the CFG (hint hint Manchester City) should learn from and that is that if things do not go your way, you can still win it all.
Eight, NYCFC changed their style from one of getting star-studded players like the Frank Lampards of the world and having to settle for worse players elsewhere to balance wages, to getting really good and cheaper players instead like midfielder, Alfredo Morales, who played 5 seasons in the Bundesliga, as well as MLS Golden Boot winner, Valentín Castellanos, who came from City Football Group member, Montevideo City Torque (Uruguay), thus allowing a better median player level throughout the lineup. NYCFC has also focused on developing young talent in their match-day rosters, favoring coming up youths, rather than aging legends, like James Sands, Tayvon Gray, and Montevideo City Torque loanee, Santiago Rodríguez, to name a few. This change in style has showed that City Football Group clubs can be just as effective with smaller wage bills by ditching star players in favor of normal priced top level players. While NYCFC’s level of competition is much lower than their major counter-part at Manchester City, NYCFC’s triumph still shows that it is not about the price of the player, rather it is about how the player can benefit the team, which should preach greater use of resources by all clubs in the group. This could help with the habit of some of the clubs in the group to overspend when players already at their club may be better solutions and cheaper.
But, potentially the greatest reason this has been the most important trophy for the City Football Group clubs since 2012 is because of the shear popularity and significance of this feat! NYCFC had the whole town buzzing, as New York City has not had one of their metropolitan teams win a major professional championship since the New York Football Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012. While the MLS may not be even considered a major championship by some, as the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL are considered the “Big Four”, the MLS is often considered #5. And thus, NYCFC’s win caught the attention of all sorts of famous New Yorkers and famous New York sites, with many buildings including the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center being lit up blue! Not only that, but NYCFC received recognition from the Mayor of New York City, the Governor of New York State, and the President of the United States of America! These are some of the most important politicians in the world, with the President of the USA probably being the most important. Even Sean Johnson got to ring the New York Stock Exchange bell, the world’s largest stock market, and former mayor and billionaire media magnet, Michael Bloomberg, was celebrating this victory. Shoutouts came from all over too, such as from the New York Yankees as expected, the second most expensive sports team.
These are accolades that could not be reciprocated at any other City Football Group club. NYCFC will have the unique chance to visit the White House later, and have already visited the iconic NYC City Hall for their celebration.
For a Group that is steeped in foreign diplomacy and soft power, having the world’s most important city by most metrics on your side where the home of foreign diplomacy is, is a major deal! The City Football Group can now be seen as the heroes who brought the New York City sports championship drought to an end, gaining the respect of all people connected to New York City, which are a lot of powerful and influential people and groups.
And yet, possibly the most impressive feat for the City Football Group with this win, is that the CFG have done this with arguably their most net profitable club. NYCFC is keeping big money, even more than their counter-parts at Manchester City, and is winning too.
For a Group whose first little brother had been without a trophy until this past Saturday, NYCFC’s victory makes it feel like the City Football Group’s experiment has gone full circle, a foreshadowing of even greater results to come for the Group.
The future for New York City is City Sky Blue. NYCFC will try to win more trophies in the future following their first trophy lift in 2021. Furthermore, NYCFC will be trying to develop more and more top players, such as those they already have like Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Joe Scally, Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna, and NYCFC homegrown players like James Sands. While the New York Red Bulls may have gotten to the trophies first in the NYC Metro Area, it was New York City FC who won this trophy race, by securing the most important trophy, the MLS Cup! Now ‘The Pigeons’ will be looking for new horizons to conquer.