There will be nearly 100 supporters traveling to Costa Rica for New York City FC’s inaugural appearance in the Concacaf Champions League on Thursday when City meets San Carlos in the Round of 16.
Whether any, or all, of that same group make the less arduous journey across the Hudson River to Red Bull Arena for the second leg on February 26 is less certain.
When NYCFC announced their rival’s arena would be the home venue for the second leg of the tournament, supporters rebelled. Five supporters’ groups published a joint statement suggesting one of their options would be a boycott of the match.
City players like Sean Johnson — in his fourth season with the club — had been following the saga on social media.
“Just to be clear, we understand that playing outside of the five boroughs is inconvenient for our fans,” Johnson said on a media conference call Monday. “It’s not ideal and we understand their frustration.”
Johnson was adamant that the supporters are essential to supply the kind of difference-making energy in a match.
“We need everybody out in full force to support us,” Johnson said. “They’ve been with us through thick and thin, through good moments, through bad moments, through different environments. And this is just another challenge that we have. I think as a club to advance it really makes a big difference. And it’s a huge game that we want everybody to be involved in.”
Four days before Johnson’s statement, the club’s most recognized supporters’ group, The Third Rail, posted on Facebook they will not support NYCFC at Red Bull Arena.
“After much discussion internally and with other NYCFC supporters, we maintain that a ‘home’ match at RBA is unacceptable to us and have decided as an organization to not participate in this match,” the statement read. “It is a complex issue, but ultimately, we feel that attending this match would normalize RBA as an alternative home site for NYCFC and force us to share the arena with our rivals. We will be staying away.”
To advance to the CCL quarterfinals, NYCFC must get past San Carlos, currently sixth in the Costa Rica Primera Division table.
With 23 players returning from last year’s roster, Johnson said preparations have gone well in preseason.
“Your continuity is always something that you can look at as a positive,” Johnson said. “Having those relationships that we’ve developed over the past 12 or 13 months now are going to help us going forward in terms of sticking together through the moments and understanding how we all respond to different situations.”