NYCFC fans swarm Citi Field for season opener against Atlanta United, marking record home game streak

Moments before Citi Field filled with NYCFC fans for the home opener game on Saturday.
Photo by Athena Dawson

Thousands of New York City Football Club (NYCFC) fans packed Citi Field on Saturday, Apr. 6, for the team’s first home game in Queens this season, playing against Atlanta United FC. This match marked the beginning of a series of five straight home games, equaling the club’s all-time record for consecutive home matches.

Fans from across the five boroughs packed Citi Field to support their “Boys in Blue” for an eventful night. Kick-off was scheduled for 7 p.m., but fans, especially from NYCFC’s official supporter groups, arrived early for pregame celebrations outside the stadium.

One notable group, The Third Rail, hosted tailgate parties near Citi Field. Andrew Tucker, the group’s president and a loyal NYCFC fan since 2015, expressed his preference for hosting tailgates within Citi Field’s ample parking lot, which is impossible at Yankee Stadium. He emphasized the importance of these gatherings in building excitement before the games, with hundreds attending. 

“We can’t tailgate at Yankee Stadium, so we love the games at Citi Field because we can throw the pre-match tailgates. We usually have a good crew show up, a couple hundred people pre-match, and its something that really gets the vibe going before the games,” he said. 

Members of the Third Rail supporter group give out food and drinks to club members. Photo by Athena Dawson

Members of the Third Rail include individuals from diverse backgrounds. Among them is Johan Abdu, a recent college graduate from Brooklyn who has just joined the supporter group. “When it comes to supporter groups, especially soccer supporter groups in this city, the Third Rail is one of the most inviting I’ve ever seen. On top of that, the way everyone welcomes you and gets together for these tailgates is very exciting,” he said.

Abdu added that he grew up in a Latino household, influencing his love of soccer. He recalls watching the Honduras national team and that the minute he found out about NYCFC’s establishment in 2015, “it was a no-brainer.”

NYCFC has a large South American fan base represented by other tailgate groups, one of them being Los Templados. Jonathan Salas, known as “Joty” to his club members, is one of its founders.

“We’re all South Americans, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Argentinians, we just want to bring together that passion. We gather and got some drums; since 2015, we’ve been at it,” Salas said. He added that news of the new NYCFC stadium at Willets Point will be “huge for kids that are here, and know that they have a place to grow up and become soccer players if that’s what they want to be,” he said.  Salas is a Queens native who grew up playing soccer with family at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. “Shea Stadium and Flushing Meadows, we were there every weekend… it was good times,” he said.

Jonothan “Joty” Salas (orange sweatshirt), founding member of Los Templados, directs drummers during a practice run for Saturday’s match. Photo by Athena Dawson

Salas said many of the Los Templados fanbase play drums and trumpets, bringing an electrifying energy to NYCFC games at the stadium, which began being felt around an hour-and-a-half before kick-off, as fans began to fill Citi Field.

The match started with NYCFC’s early possession of the ball to mount almost-immediate pressure, including a header from center back Thiago Martins that was parried away by the Atlanta United keeper.

NYCFC goalkeeper Matt Freese was impressive in his own right, saving multiple attempts from Atlanta. In the tenth minute, he showed the breadth of his skills, catching a header directed toward his goal comfortably.

In the 39th minute, NYCFC was awarded a penalty. Santiago Rodriguez put the hosts in front from the spot for his third goal of the season in the 42nd minute.

Tensions were rising in the second half and Atlanta pressure paid off in the 66th minute when Jamal Thiare found an equalizer that ultimately rescued a point for the visitors — the match ending in a 1-1 draw.

Rodriguez was awarded the Man of the Match honors, but NYCFC’s slow start to the season continued as they have taken just five points (1-2-4) from their first seven games of the 2024 MLS season.

NYCFC vs. Atlanta United at Citi Field during the “Boys in Blue’s” home opener. Photo by Athena Dawson

“We need to stick to our game and bring intensity to every game,” midfielder Keaton Parks said. “We just have to push forward and keep our heads up, and there’s no time to sit back and feel bad for ourselves. It’s only up to us to get these wins.”

 “We need to be better and improve during the week,” Martins added. “We need to be training like animals to prepare for the next game. I’ll push the players to improve every day for the next game.”

Despite their frustration over the draw, many of the players said they appreciated their fans’ support throughout Saturday’s match. 

“They stick with us in good times and bad,” defender Mitja Ilenic said. “I really appreciate their support as a player. They were there through the whole game, making noise. I prefer Citi Field because the fans are closer to the pitch and closer to us, especially when I come in putting the crosses inside. I can hear them.”  

Other players continued to echo Ilenic’s views. “I always love playing here… it’s especially nice now that the stadium is coming across the street,” midfielder James Sands said. “I always feel like the fans are doing a great job here, and we all try to spend some time after the game interacting with them. They do give us so much support, and we are all very grateful for them.”

The NYCFC home matches at Citi Field come in anticipation of the proposed Willets Point Stadium across the street from the home of the New York Mets on Seaver Way — a fixture that would make Queens the permanent home for the soccer club. 

In March, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved Phase II of the Willets Point development, which includes a 7-story soccer stadium and 1,400 apartment buildings and retail space.

On Apr. 11, the city council greenlit the redevelopment project for the new 25,000-seat soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) along with a 2,500-unit affordable housing complex—the city’s largest in 40 years. NYCFC, which has historically played at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, will privately finance the fully-electric arena, a first in Major League Soccer. The stadium is slated to open for the 2027 MLS season.