New York Soccer: Jeff Wilpon

W2W4: Juventus v. Club América at Citi Field

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
11:38
AM ET
After producing a packed house in June for the first professional soccer match in the building's history, what can Citi Field do for an encore?

That's the question as Serie A staple Juventus pays a visit to the home of the New York Mets on Tuesday to kick off against fabled Mexican side Club America (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). The famed soccer sides will clash as part of the World Football Challenge, an exhibition soccer tournament hosted by Soccer United Marketing that features some of the most prominent clubs in Europe and North America.

Juventus will look to notch its first win in WFC play after dropping a 2-1 result to Primeira Liga side Sporting Clube de Portugal at BMO Field in Toronto. The Bianconeri personnel provide a major artery for the Italian national team, which includes longtime Azzuri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, and strikers Alessandro Del Piero -- who scored the only goal for Juvenus against Sporting CP with a nice chip from the corner of the penalty area -- and Luca Toni among others.

Club America also seeks a boost in form after falling in a 2-0 shutout to Manchester City of the English Premier League at AT&T Park on July 16. Aguilas legend Carlos Reinoso will rely on Argentine playmaker Daniel Montenegro and US international Edgar Castillo along with a collection of Mexican national team stalwarts to make a competitive match for their Italian opponents.

Key Matchup: Supporters vs. the Turnstiles. June's international friendly between Greece and Ecuador surpassed expectations from a support standpoint as 39,656 fans showed up to cheer on the first professional soccer match in Queens since 2003, making it the second-highest attended event at Citi Field this season (since surpassed by the Subway Series).

It's an open secret that Fred Wilpon, the patriarch of the Mets ownership group that also includes his son Jeff Wilpon, has held conversations with Major League Soccer about bringing another expansion club to New York. Tonight's match, while still a friendly at heart, should provide a sterner test as the marketing gurus were unable to key in on national pride to move tickets for the match.

Both Juventus and Club America sport strong supporters groups, but both clubs are polarizing in their respective soccer spheres. Any gaps in ticket sales would need to be made up by casual fans or, more importantly, American fans. The percentage of those that show up could prove a bellwether for the Wilpons' chances at soccer success in the near future.

Back from the Brink. Juventus may look for an early statement game in America's biggest city to quell concerns about the club's recent slide to mediocrity in recent seasons. The Bianconeri have finished seventh in the Serie A table for two consecutive seasons, culminating in the winningest Serie A club of all time being unable to qualify for both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League after the 2010-11 season.

New manager Antonio Conte, the club's fifth manager in two years, has a mandate to return the club to the respectability it lost after former Bianconeri general manager Lucianio Moggi engulfed his club in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006. Conte has overhauled his roster by bringing in the likes of Pirlo and former Bayern Leverkusen midfielder Arturo Vidal while conversations continue about a possible acquisiton of Villareal striker and New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi.

Second Verse, Same as the First. The Bianconeri are not the only club looking for a return to respectability as Club America looks to regain its form after finishing sixth in the Mexican Primera Division and exiting prematurely from the 2011 Copa Libertadores in the Round of 16.

Reinoso, who returned for his third coaching tenure with the Aguilas after replacing Manuel Lapuente, is also rebuilding a squad that carries the lofty expectations that come with being the second winningest Primera Ligue side after Chivas de Guadalajara.

Priority one for Reinoso is preparing the replacement for longtime goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who departed for Ligue 1 side AC Ajaccio on July 4. Man City did not test potential replacement Armando Navarrete much in their WFC tilt, but Leonín Pineda waits in the wings if Navarrete should falter as the Aguilas prepare for the Apertura season.

Wilpons send up MLS trial balloon with Greece, Ecuador friendly

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
9:45
AM ET
Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning for an exhibition match between Ecuador and Greece at Citi Field. While the friendly represents the first non-baseball professional sporting event in Citi Field’s short lifetime, the implications of its success could impact the future of Major League Soccer in New York.

Or, more importantly, MLS’s next expansion team. Next season, MLS will welcome the NASL’s Montreal Impact as the league’s 19th team. In order to keep an even number of teams in each conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber has indicated his intentions on several occasions to expand the league to 20 teams starting in 2013. Garber frequently couples those sentiments with his preference to award the next expansion club to New York.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated prior to MLS First Kick last March, Garber has said publicly that he has held several conversations with New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon regarding that 20th team.

“We remain in discussions with them,” Garber said to SI.com’s Grant Wahl in March. “They continue to have interest in MLS, and they also have a pretty darn good stadium site.”

Now, the home of the Mets -- which is privately owned by the Wilpons -- will host a friendly this summer. What a coincidence.

While the Wilpons’ entanglement in the Madoff trustees lawsuit may limit their financial plans indefinitely, MLS may need to move soon to give a new ownership group time to bring a soccer franchise up to league speed.

However, Garber may wait until the last minute to award the franchise in hopes of a prominent and long-standing MLB ownership group sorting out its troubles and signing on to join the MLS fray.

“I have a lot of respect for Fred and Jeff Wilpon,” said Garber last March. “And I think there’s more to that story that’s still to be told. I hope they’re able to solve whatever their short-term issues are.

“I’m sure they’ll get through their issues, and our decision here is going to be one for a generation. We’ve got to be sure we’ve got the right owner for the long term.”

The last two expansion teams, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, received their league invitations two years prior to each team’s MLS debut last March. Both of those franchises had the benefit of a pre-existing organizational structure from its prior involvement with the NASL. The Impact possess the same luxury ahead of their 2012 MLS debut.

And the Wilpons? Their journey to bring an MLS franchise to Queens may need to begin with a first kick between Ecuador and Greece in June.

Adam Rubin has the press release regarding the Ecuador-Greece friendly here.

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