NEW YORK | Ned Grabavoy isn’t embarrassed to admit he still gets nervous before soccer matches.
The New York City FC midfielder, who made his Major League Soccer debut in 2004, said the “good nerves” he gets before walking out of the tunnel and onto the field are a continual reminder of his passion and love for the game.
Grabavoy and his teammates will feel added excitement on Sunday as New York City FC takes to the iconic Yankee Stadium for their Historic Home Opener.
Kickoff against the New England Revolution is 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2, WFAN, WADO, ESPN Deportes).
“You have to keep your nerves in check, though,” Grabavoy said. “It’s a special moment. You take it in, play the game and after, you reflect on it a little bit and realize it was a special moment that will stick in your mind as your career goes on. As a player, everything you do all week leads up to that moment.”
New York City FC is closing in on 40,000 tickets sold for the Historic Home Opener, including more than 15,000 season tickets.
“I think they’re going to be awesome, just like New York sports fans are,” said defender Chris Wingert, who is from Babylon, N.Y. “I’m one of them. I’m really excited to play in front of everybody.”
New York City FC is coming off a 1-1 draw against fellow expansion side Orlando City SC in front of 62,510 on March 8 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. It was the first match in Major League Soccer for both clubs.
The players showed their nerves in the first half, according to New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis, but settled down in the second in order to come away from the Club’s inaugural match with a point on the road.
Having that experience under their belts will prove vital ahead of the Historic Home Opener, Kreis said.
“We’ve been through it now,” he said. “This is a brand new team that has to go through a lot of firsts and a lot of experiences together for the first time. Last week, being our first game, I think there were a lot of nerves. This weekend is our first home game, but having the experience of last week in our pocket so to speak puts us in a much better place.”
Defender Jason Hernandez, who was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, agrees with his coach’s sentiments.
“The first game of every season a team usually shows nerves,” said Hernandez, who began his career locally with the MetroStars in 2005. “I think in a first game ever for a franchise there’s going to be nerves, especially under those conditions. I even had a little bit of butterflies and I can’t even tell you the last time I had those in my career. Everyone was present, ready and really anxious to get out there. Hopefully we can build on that performance this week.”
New York City FC faces a Revolution side that opened their 2015 campaign with a 3-0 loss at Seattle. Despite being shut out, Kreis and his players know New England is going to come to Yankee Stadium with extra motivation.
The 2014 MLS Cup runners up, led by forward Juan Agudelo and midfielders Jermaine Jones (OUT – hernia surgery) and Lee Nguyen, play a direct style. New England defends as a team and pushes into the opponent’s half quickly when they have the ball.
The Revolution had 74.04 percent of their 415 total passes in the Sounders’ half last weekend. New England led MLS in 2014 with 66.04 percent of their total passes (14,089) in the opposition half.
“I think New England is an incredibly strong team that will also be a very dangerous team,” New York City FC goalkeeper Josh Saunders said. “Anytime you have a team like that that goes through a difficult situation like they did last week – losing 3-nil – they’re going to come in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We need to be prepared for that. They’re also a team that’s very good and consistent. It’s a group that’s largely the same from last season, so this will be a big, big challenge for us.”
While New York City FC were pleased leaving Orlando with a point, the Club plans to be more aggressive at home, Kreis said. He wants his players to be the ones who set the tempo, dominate possession and have more scoring opportunities.
“We feel an onus and responsibility to put out the best product we can on Sunday,” Kreis said. “We really want to do well by our supporters and we want to make our home stadium and field a place that we and our fans can be proud of and a very intimidating place to play. Our objective is clear – when we’re at home, we’re going after three points.
“When we play at home, we’re here to win. Anything less than three points at home will be considered a failure.”