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Manchester City envisions soccer thriving in NYC

England club beats Chelsea in friendly match at Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK -- Joe Hart walked out of the Manchester City clubhouse wearing a backward New York Yankees cap. It was the perfect portrayal of two teams from two different countries coming together, hoping to build a successful new soccer team in New York City.

From his brief time here over the past couple of days, the Manchester City goalkeeper saw the potential for New York City Football Club to thrive.

"It'll be good. We're trying to grow as a club," Hart said. "We're obviously trying to get NYCFC involved. It's going to be exciting."

Manchester City beat Chelsea, 5-3, in an exhibition at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, giving 39,642 fans an opportunity to see two of the most popular soccer teams in Europe in person. The turnout showed there are plenty of passionate soccer fans in New York, and that's what the Yankees and Manchester City are counting on.

The two sides entered into a partnership earlier this week, and together, they will own New York City Football Club, which will begin play in Major League Soccer in 2015. Where the team will play its home games hasn't been determined, but they will be held at an interim location during NYCFC's first season.

"Two years isn't a long time, but I'm pretty sure with the resources we've got and the people doing the things that need to be done, it's going to be good," Hart said.

MLS has discussed the possibility of building a stadium at Flushing Meadows Corona Park with New York City, but it will also look into other possible locations.

Manchester City will be the majority owner of NYCFC, but the Yankees will still be involved in the operation of the team. Both sides are optimistic that soccer can become a major part of the sports landscape in New York City.

NYCFC will also have a geographic rival in the New York Red Bulls, who play just west of New York City in Harrison, N.J.

"The fan base is definitely there. It's just whether the soccer can take off as well as we hope it can," Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell said. "We've got the New York Red Bulls, so hopefully we can get a rival team for them and create a little bit of a rivalry and bring more fans to it."

Manchester City beat Chelsea, 4-3, on Thursday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in front of 48,263 fans. After the match, the clubs flew to New York City for the last stop on their brief United States tour.

For Manchester City, it was the first chance to not only see soccer in the city it's now connected to, but also to play in one of the most famous stadiums in the world.

"I think the prospect of playing here was always exciting, as soon as the tour to the USA was announced," Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry said. "To actually go out there and play in one of the most famous stadiums in the world was fantastic for the players."

Yankee Stadium was transformed into a soccer haven -- and it started long before the 6:09 p.m. ET kickoff between Manchester City and Chelsea. Gates opened to fans at 2 p.m., and 45 minutes later, the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium in London was shown on the video board in center field.

When Bayern's Mario Mandzukic scored the first goal of the game in the 60th minute, the couple thousand fans in the stands at the time erupted. From that point on, the crowd only grew and the cheers became louder.

Just before kickoff, chants of "Chel-sea" started raining down onto the field.

But Manchester City fans responded shortly after. About four minutes into the game, Barry scored the first goal of the game, and cheers erupted from throughout the stadium.

Every missed goal elicited groans from the crowd, and every sterling save resulted in a roar from the fans. They all witnessed a game that Manchester City managed to control just long enough to earn the win.

Rodwell said NYCFC can be successful judging from what he saw on Saturday.

"I think so. New York's an amazing city, good people," Rodwell said. "I'm sure the fans are there."

It was exactly the type of environment both Manchester City and the Yankees are hoping can exist in New York City when NYCFC begins play.

This is the second consecutive year that Yankee Stadium has hosted soccer. In 2012, Chelsea played Paris Saint-Germain to a 1-1 draw that brought more than 38,000 fans to the stadium. But in a marquee matchup just a few weeks later, Real Madrid beat A.C. Milan, 5-1, in front of a sellout crowd.

The sizable attendances at all these matches continue to show a thirst for soccer.

Yankee Stadium will host one more match this season on June 11, when World Cup champion Spain takes on Ireland.

But in two years, New York City will have a permanent MLS team to call its own.

"Watching the MLS from afar in England, we know the progression is getting there," Barry said. "It's building every year, so the announcement of Manchester City linking with a team in New York is going to help it improve the game."

Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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