29 April ~ With high concrete walls, rusting metal fittings and occasional water views, Pier 40 feels more like a Second World War coastal fortification than a sports complex. Jutting into the Hudson River on the western side of Manhattan, the huge structure was created from several smaller piers in 1963, one of New York’s final attempts to retain some share of the commercial shipping trade. Now, over four acres of astroturf are surrounded on all sides by corridors, bleacher seats and a multi-storey carpark. This unlikely setting hosted the Tribeca Film Festival’s Soccer Day last weekend. And, if MLS have their way, Pier 40 could be the home for a new football club in New York City.
The Tribeca Soccer Day raised funds for two football charities aiming to increase opportunities for underprivileged American children. Former US captain Claudio Reyna spoke eloquently about developing inner-city talent with the foundation that bears his name.
On the "youth showcase field", scores of six- to 12-year-olds practised "blindfolded shots" and "mazy dribbling", while over-competitive dads crashed the ball as hard as possible past offspring in full-size goals. Yet it was difficult to avoid some scepticism. There were Manchester City shirts everywhere.
The other charity involved – City Soccer In The Community – a joint venture between the Premier League club and the UAE Embassy – clothes all its employees in MCFC tops. Another stall, next to the hot dog stand, publicised the Léman preparatory school, whose annual fees start at $25,400 (£16,000).
A celebrity match featured former US internationals, actors and the occasional NFL player. Reyna was equally committed to the game as his charity work, alongside Eddie Lewis, once of Preston North End and Leeds Utd, and Jimmy Conrad, who played over 200 games for the Kansas City Wizards. At half-time the deeply irritating "Eli Freeze", a Law Enforcement graduate, entrepreneur and "founder and CEO of Freestyle Soccer Inc" put on a show.
In a heartening and genuine show of uninterest, most of the younger spectators went to take penalties at each other, rather than watching a fully-grown man dance round a football. Above all it was positive day. As I left, several floors of car park higher, students of the New York Trapeze School started a practice session.
All this could soon change. MLS is determined to gain a 20th team based in New York and Pier 40 is emerging as a favourite location for a new club. Several problems remain, such as the $100 million needed to repair the thousands of corroded pilings that hold the pier out of the Hudson River.
Then there is the issue of who would play there. After several changes of ownership, the New York Cosmos franchise is still more of a retro fashion retailer than a viable football club. But MLS seem to be working out a stadium first and worrying about the rest later – officials met the pier’s owners earlier this month. Whatever happens, this unique and crumbling site will continue to play an important role in the development of football in New York City. Ed Upright