When soccer fans discuss Yankee Stadium’s field, the home for NYCFC in their inaugural 2015 MLS season, there’s usually one thing discussed: the width of the field. It’s narrow, very narrow. So narrow that some have even claimed it might be illegal. There’s no question the width of the field changes how teams play on it.
But when I visited the Bronx to see NYCFC play my team, the New York Red Bulls, I noticed something else. Sure, the Red Bulls dominated in the second half, winning 3-1 overall. But that second half domination was also on the 3rd base half. Why does that matter? Well, there’s another big thing that you notice when Yankee Stadium is converted from a baseball diamond to a rectangular soccer field.
The weird photoshop effect of placing sod over the infield where first base should be is comical, but I wondered if it wasn’t also a potential hinderance to play. After all, all four goals in the Hudson River Derby were scored on the beautifully manicured outfield. None were scored on the chippy looking sod.
Last week I was watching NYCFC defeat DC United (thanks guys!) again 3-1. And yep, all four goals were scored on the 3rd base side. This time I was more than intrigued. I had to know: Does this weird, often brutal looking corner of the field actually affect play?
My answer (a little over half way through the games played at Yankee Stadium): probably. Here’s how I calculated it.
So I watched some soccer. It was grueling, let me tell you (thank you MLS Live for having the option of watching condensed matches). And I tallied goals on each half of the field. I watched David Villa (more on him later) score some absolute beauties, and the NYCFC defense let in some real howlers. I watched Sebastian Giovinco score a hat trick in less than 20 minutes (yes, on the 3rd base half), and rookie Cyle Larin do it in just a little longer (on the 1st base half, actually).
Then I put it in Google Sheets and let the Atavist Chart Block do it’s thing.
40.8% 44.1% of all goals scored were scored in the 1st Base Half of the field. That seems much lower than the expected 50%. But it’s a relatively small sample size. And that still doesn’t really tell us if the infield pitch hurts teams. After all, only around half of the 1st Base Half is hindered by the sodded over infield. So lets’s dig a little deeper.
As I mentioned, the infield really only affects one quarter of the 1st Base half of the field. So I further broke down the results of goals scored on the 1st Base half by outfield, where the field is perfectly fine, and infield—the area in question.
In this version I removed penalty kicks because, well, they aren’t scored from either half if I’m being really honest (you’d have to defy physics for a ball to go into the infield area and then in net from a PK spot). Patrick Mullins actually scored a goal off a missed penalty kick—that one’s still in here.
Now we’re down to
12.8% 16.3%. That’s about half of the expected 25%. Again, small sample sizes. But even this isn’t a realistic description of just how unused the infield area of NYCFC is. For that I’ve got to adjust for certain types of plays…
The first goal scored from the infield side of the first base half at Yankee Stadium was a beautifully executed set piece from US Men’s National Team player Matt Besler. Ike Opara headed it home. But it wasn’t a kicked set piece—it was a long throw-in. And while you could claim that Besler could have tripped on the rough terrain, I‘m not as willing to count that as a goal made during the run of play that was or was not affected by the unique infield of Yankee Stadium.
So here’s where we get into some of the more subjective terrain. If you’re not willing to commit to some of my leaps of logic, stop right here. I’ll be the first to admit that the math this far in isn’t perfect—I don’t work at OPTA, and for good reason.
So. I chose to pull out goals that never saw run of play included in the infield pitch. This would exclude Patrick Mullins’ tap in off of a David Villa penalty kick because it never touched the rough infield. Would this exclude corner kicks? I don’t know—no one has scored one at Yankee Stadium yet. (PKs remain out of these goal stats as well.)
So here’s what those stats tell us.
I personally wouldn’t place much emphasis on the percentages here. You’d have to do a lot of averaging across goals produced from similar areas in other fields to make an accurate comparison. But look at the actual goals scored.
Three Five. Here’s all three five as videos so you can see for yourself.
The first two goals are total individual effort goals. Ballouchy dribbles just a little in the infield and then shoots an absolute beautiful curler into the net. Cyle Larin only lets the bal touch once in the infield, then uses his head to pull it out of the infield and then go near post.
The third goal only counts because of the play out of midfield that starts in the infield. But you could—could—argue that this is perfect example of a goal scored because the infield caused the turnover (this particular video clips out much of the turnover on the infield, but its there). NYCFC coughs it up, and Orlando moves it out of the infield and up to Larin for his third of that night.
The fourth goal, the first after I wrote this piece, is a quick one-touch and a shot from Andrew Jacobsen. It again highlights how many of the goals are scored from this area: as little dribbling on the pitch as possible.
The fifth counts because of Lampard’s dribbling through the rough patch, but you’ll noticed the cross comes from the small strip of clean grass. I’m counting it.
three five goals total. Two Four with minimal dribbling inside the infield, and a third one that could just as easily have been started by the infield. No goals from lengthy build-up play in the infield or that required accurate passing on the choppy turf.
There’s another reason to consider these results a little suspect. That reason is NYCFC striker David Villa.
While many strikers that sit alone up top tend to play centrally (and thereby utilizing both sides of the field), David Villa isn’t one of those strikers. Whether by designer or by luck, the NYCFC DP and season leading scorer tends to sit off to the left more often. So when Villa is playing on the 1st base half, he’s very rarely playing in the more choppy infield side. There’s a lot of video of David Villa streaking down the left hand side of the 1st base half and tucking a goal in past the keeper. And as their leading scorer, his output might shift the home team’s goal side advantage. If you’re interested in doing that research, by all means please.
As of this writing, there have been a total of
three four goals scored from the infield section of Yankee Stadium.
Is that low? It seems like it. Is it statistically low? I can’t say with surety. You’d need to look at the percentage of goals scored from the right side of fields across the league—and as I said, I’m not OPTA. If you have those stats, by all means please share.
Lots of people are focusing on the width problem at Yankee Stadium, but I haven’t seen nearly as much of a discussion about the infield. In fact, I’ve seen only one manager mention it. Brendan Rogers, when Liverpool played a friendly at Yankee Stadium last fall, was critical. But I haven’t seen a single MLS coach say the same. If these stats are correct, however, Jason Kreis should be the first one to speak up.
I’ll keep this up-to-date as the season progresses, but if it plays out as it has so far one thing is pretty clear: NYCFC might want to be looking for a new home sooner rather than later. A home team that might not be able to use 25% of its field is at a distinct disadvantage in an otherwise evenly matched MLS.
Derrick Schultz is the Director of Developer Experience at Atavist and a season ticket holder for the New York Red Bulls. Want to tell your own sports stories with easily embeddable images, videos, and statistics? Sign up for an Atavist account by clicking the link below.