Soccer made its first appearance in the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium on Sunday, as Chelsea and PSG played to a 1-1 draw in front of thirty eight thousand people, in the latest game in the World Football Challenge.
While the storied baseball venue had seen its fair share of soccer curios - this was the first time the newest version of the stadium had hosted such an event. It was fitting, then, that the first soccer match at the symbol of the Yankee's dominance should be two teams who are now similar financial behemoths of the European game, and who share with the Yankees the luxury problem of trying to translate an abundance of wealth into the trophies they most crave.
The two teams are at very different stages of their respective projects. As PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti pointed out after the game, Chelsea have had almost a decade of investment in their side, while PSG only began their round of conspicuous consumption last year. Yet watching the two sides in the first half of this game, it would have been hard to tell which was the side of newer vintage. Despite having less of the ball, PSG showed pace and wit in possession, repeatedly stretching the Chelsea backline marshalled by Luiz and Cahill, as they sent defence-splitting balls through for the dangerous Lavezzi to try and feed on.
Chelsea were outfought too in the opening half, losing 65% of the one-on-one battles in the opening period, while their front man Lukaku had little chance to show whether his undoubted strength and talent can be harnessed as a lone striker who can hold up the ball. There were positives - flashes of invention from Hazard and a confident de Bruyne always showing for the ball and looking for the shooting angle, but PSG's opening goal, on half an hour, always looked to be coming.
After all their probing through balls, the goal turned out to be the product of much closer control. There seemed to be little danger when Pastore picked up the ball at the left corner of the box, with three Chelsea players in close attendance. But the player showed great tenacity to wriggle through and flick a shot of Cech's near upright. With the goalkeeper committed the ball ricocheted off the post to Nene, following in, who managed to steer in a finish off the legs of Luiz.
The goal silenced the overwhelmingly pro-Chelsea crowd, while the small pocket of PSG fans celebrated behind the goal. Up to that point the largest cheer PSG had had, was when Chelsea alumni Alex and Ancelotti had their names read out in the pre-game line up announcements. The assembled blue hordes had also cheered montages of the Champions League run and Peter Osgood's greatest hits prior to the game, but this Chelsea side didn't give their support much to cheer about before half time.
Chelsea could have been forgiven for thinking the inevitable swathe of half-time substitutions would favour them - PSG made eight changes, including their entire backline and goalscorer, while Chelsea would have regarded Ivanovic, Essien, Ramires, and Marin for Luiz, Lampard, De Bruyne and Kakuta, as at the very least, no net loss. But rather than giving Chelsea momentum the game lost shape until the hour, with PSG still passing neatly, though with less immediate danger, and Chelsea still looking slightly anonymous.
On the hour mark, the noise level lifted again. Another wave of substitutes, most of them Chelsea's, entered the fray - among them John Terry, trotting onto the field to one of the largest cheers of the night and a standing ovation (and a smattering of boos). Chelsea may be undergoing a transformation in style and personnel following their success in Munich, but the roots of that success remain in this side. As if reminded of the formula, Chelsea began to gradually get stronger as the game edged towards a more exciting denouement.
First came the equalizer, from the Brazilian connection. Running down the right in the 82nd minute, Ramires looked to have nothing on, until he threaded a smart ball inside for the lunging Piazon, a fellow sub, to nudge across the keeper at the near post. Cue another huge cheer and an emboldened Chelsea side pushing for a winner. They nearly got one too - Cole's 86th minute ball across goal finding Malouda with his back to goal at point blank range, but his turn and shot was straight at the keeper.
Even as Chelsea escalated their efforts though, PSG were matching them punch for punch and could have won it themselves when the ball broke to Hoarau in the box - only for his off-balance shot to scoop straight into the arms of a grateful Ross Turnbull (on for Cech). Then as the game drifted into stoppage time, the impressive Pastore curled a 25 yard shot towards the top corner, forcing Turnbull to claw the ball away.
The result of course is ultimately meaningless, and the second half substitutions provided their usual friendly game function of providing more questions than insights. Nonetheless, this was an impressive display by PSG, even without their newest asset Ibrahimovic, while Chelsea got a workout, another chance for Di Matteo to look at his side in this configuration and vital minutes for their fringe players. They move on to meet the MLS all-stars on Wednesday, while PSG will face DC United in their next game in the Challenge.
Chelsea: Cech; Luiz, Ferreira, Cahill, Hutchinson; Lampard, Obi Mikel, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku, Kakuta
Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Cole, Essien, Ramires, Malouda, McEachran, marin, Terry, Chalobah, Piazon
Paris St Germain: Douchez; Sakho, Alex, Armand, Jallet; Nene, Bodmer, Chantome Clement, Pastore; Lavezzi, Gameiro
Subs: Areola, Le Crom; Bisevac, Camara, lagano, Maxwell; Tiene, Verratti, Rabiot; Luyindula, Hoarau
The game was played out in front of a crowd of 38,202, many in curious vantage points, as the stadium was reconfigured for a short but serviceable pitch that bisected the pitching mound, while leaving other hallowed areas of the stadium intact. Historically, at the old stadium, such accommodations were not always made - the last soccer game at Yankee Stadium Mark One, almost 36 years ago, had seen fans file out via the home team bullpen - it's hard to imagine such dispensations in the modern game of protected superstars and carefully cultivated auras.
Despite the Yankee organization's penchant for self-mythologizing its own past, the old stadium did house its share of innovative moments - England played their first floodlit international here and avenged their infamous 1950 World Cup defeat to the USA by beating the national side 6-3 in June 1953. And of course there was Pele and the Cosmos, who played their games at Yankee Stadium in the mid-70s, before moving to Giants Stadium.
In a neat piece of symmetry, that last game at the former Yankee Stadium was a game between the Cosmos and the Miami Toros in August 1976. Just last week, the Cosmos, themselves long defunct as a competitive concern, announced their return to competitive soccer - they will be playing next season in the revised version of the North American Soccer League (NASL) they used to grace, and which is now installed as the second tier of US domestic soccer, after MLS.
There is a long history of British domestic clubs at Yankee Stadium too. The first ever game there took place between Celtic and a side of American League all-stars - in yet more symmetry, Chelsea will play the current MLS all-star team this Wednesday in Philadelphia. Liverpool - repeat visitors to the US in various mid-century tours, lost their 30 game unbeaten record here in 1953, while Tottenham thrashed the Manchester United side who had just deposed them as champions, 7-1, in June 1952.
And looking back at the history of the game at the stadium, on the one hand, one can look at a game such as Happoel of Palestine's appearance in front of 43,177 people in May 1947, and see how much the game has changed as a social and global entity, yet at the same time one can look at these games for what they were - attempts to market to an elusive but potentially lucrative market in a multicultural city - and note, as The New York Times' Jack Bell has done, that not much changes. Chelsea and PSG will move onto the business end of their sporting activities this season soon enough, but there will be plenty of vested interests in New York watching carefully to see what the sport can do for business.