By Peter Schwartz
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When it comes to big stages in the sports world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many that are any bigger than Yankee Stadium. Whether it was the old stadium or the current ballpark, many of the biggest stars from multiple sports have played at the corner of 161st street and River Avenue.
But those stars have not been limited to just baseball players.
Yankee Stadium has hosted many football games and boxing matches over the years, and has even served as a venue this past season for a pair of NHL games. Soccer has also been a part of the stadium’s history, as Pele and the Cosmos called the Bronx home in 1976.
And in 2015, MLS expansion club New York City FC will begin a temporary stay at Yankee Stadium while it searches for a location to build a soccer-specific stadium.
Following in the Yankees’ footsteps, NYCFC is putting together a club with star quality. Its first signing was Spanish star David Villa followed by the additions of Jeb Brovsky and Josh Saunders. And on Thursday, the club announced the signing of 13-year Chelsea star midfielder Frank Lampard to a two-year contract.
“I am really excited about joining New York City FC and helping to play a real part in building something special in one of the sporting capitals of the world,” said Lampard at a press conference in Brooklyn. “The passion of the nation’s fans at the World Cup was second to none, and I am looking forward to meeting New Yorkers and tapping into their love of the game. It is a privilege to be able to help make history here in New York City. I just can’t wait to get started and be part of it.”
The team introduced Lampard just before he took part in a soccer clinic with 40 children from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, a program run by coaches from the Play Study Win scheme.
In Lampard, who will wear his customary No. 8, NYCFC has acquired another player who fits perfectly into the team’s philosophy. When it comes to signing players, the club looks at three characteristics, and it feels that Lampard checks off all three boxes.
“First and foremost is soccer ability, second is leadership and third is character,” said head coach Jason Kreis. “We believe that Frank Lampard is an A+++ in all three of those departments.”
Nicknamed “Super Frank,“ Lampard joins NYCFC after he captained England in the World Cup earlier this summer in Brazil. The 36-year-old is Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer with 211 goals in 648 appearances.
After 11 major titles in his career — including three EPL championships — Lampard now moves on to a new challenge.
“It is going to be an exhilarating opportunity for us all to create this fantastic new MLS club, in a league that is growing quickly in popularity and ability,” said Lampard. “Hopefully my experience can help us have an impact in my first season. I love a challenge and being competitive, and I know everyone at New York City FC does too. I am sure we will make the city and our fans proud.”
A year ago, Lampard was considering a move to the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS, but decided instead to sign a one-year extension with Chelsea. Faced with another decision this year, Lampard decided to come to the Big Apple.
So why was NYCFC the right move for him?
“Why not choose New York City?” said Lampard. “This is a very exciting challenge for me. I’ve seen a real long-term plan from everyone involved in the club and I wanted to be a part of that. I’m coming to a great city and I want to show people that I can play good football.”
While NYCFC continues its preparations for 2015, Lampard will have to find a way to stay fit until his new club begins preseason training in January. Lampard says a decision has not been made, but he will likely be loaned to another club, perhaps Melbourne City in Australia where Villa is going to play.
While he takes on the challenge of helping an expansion team get off the ground, Lampard will be compensated very nicely for his efforts. He will reportedly earn just under $8 million a year, which would make him Major League Soccer’s highest-paid player.
It seems to be money well spent.
Lampard has scored more goals than any other midfielder in English Premier League history and has suited up 103 times for England’s national team. He has been a regular name on FIFA, UEFA and EPL All-Star teams. He was also nominated for FIFA World Player of the Year in 2005.
When you factor in everything that Lampard brings to the table, Chelsea’s loss is NYCFC’s gain.
“I think, simply said, he’s one of the greatest players in Premier League history (and) in European football, as well as world football over the last 15 years,” said NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna.
So many great athletes have played at Yankee Stadium since the original ballpark opened back in 1923.
The Yankees, of course, have had great players such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter. Giants legends like Y.A. Tittle and Frank Gifford have also graced the hallowed grounds of the original stadium.
Throw in boxing legends like Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis — as well as local NHL stars such as Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundquist and John Tavares — and Yankee Stadium has seen it all.
Soccer is about to be a temporary mainstay at Yankee Stadium, and New York City Football Club is adding to the tradition of the famous ballpark. With Lampard joining Villa, the stars are aligned in the Bronx.
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