Chelsea, FC Harlem Growing Soccer In the Apple

While the debate continues on about where New York City Football Club will eventually find a home, a stone’s throw from their current home, Yankee Stadium, another global soccer power was concluding a great four days of brand building, fan celebrations, and grassroots outreach designed to help elevate “The Beautiful Game” in New York.

Chelsea Football Club, the defending Premier League Champions, took the Thanksgiving weekend and following days to say thanks to their loyal followers, and all soccer fans in the area, with a whirlwind tour that included a massive party with NBC at South Street Seaport, visits to places like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, a day with the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium and an all-important dedication of the first ever covered field for youth soccer in Manhattan, with their partners FC Harlem. From the elite to the youngest of fans, it was a great showcase for all things soccer.

“The response has been just amazing, from the people who came up to us on the street to other athletes and media members, you realize the power of New York only when you are here,” said Chelsea legend and current L.A. Galaxy star Ashley Cole, who along with Michael Essien, represented the club throughout the four days, a run which concluded with a kids clinic at Frederick Douglas Academy, just across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium. “I have seen how much soccer is growing in the States first hand, but you really get to see the potential from a fans perspective when you do something like this.”

The potential is also in the hands—and feet—of thousands of youth players, who have really embraced soccer and will be its future. To move that along, Chelsea (as well as other elite clubs) have set up training programs designed to help improve the skill levels of rising young people who have a passion for the game. Chelsea’s efforts are focused in and around schools in New York and are targeted at not just elite players, but at a general population looking to get more physically active.

Their key partner on the soccer side is FC Harlem, run by former Penn State football player and MLS executive Irv Smalls. One of the most holistic programs in the country, FC Harlem continues to find the right mix of young people to come into the game and teach them not just soccer, but life skills. A key part of the growth for the club will be a new covered field, the first one in Manhattan, which will be built with the DEP (who owns the land on the west side of Manhattan below Riverbank State Park, and Chelsea, who will support the project in various ways.

The proposed $2.5 million field is expected to be constructed of synthetic turf and enclosed with a galvanized steel tensile fabric structure that is open air at its base and at its southern end. The new field will operate in addition to an open-air field FC Harlem Lions currently operate one block south of the proposed site.

“FC Harlem Lions has been a great partner of DEP’s in activating underutilized space surrounding the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant through their strong community-based programming,” said DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza in a statement. “We are looking forward to partnering with them to
provide a new recreational amenity in Harlem.”

“FC Harlem with the support of our Football Development Partner, Chelsea Football Club Foundation and commercial partners Delta Airlines, Yokohama Tires and Chase, are proud to expand upon our existing partnership with DEP to provide this covered soccer pitch in West Harlem,” added Smalls. “The development of this recreational facility from an unconventional space creates more opportunities for disadvantaged youth in the community and NYC to improve their healthy lifestyle outcomes.”

Sometimes as New Yorkers we forget about the global impact sport can have. This past four days, Chelsea, a global brand, served a great reminder as to how a club in the middle of its season thousands of miles away can still engage, invigorate and support, while doing great goodwill that will last a lifetime and impact thousands.

The legacy of sport continues.

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