NEW YORK – They grew up in different areas of Europe, but New York City FC stars David Villa and Frank Lampard, as well as their coach, Patrick Vieira, all have something in common -- their soccer development happened in the streets. For Villa, it was futbol sala in the northern Spanish city of Langreo, while Lampard and Vieira honed their early skills in similar small-sided games outside of London and Paris.
“You can’t beat small five-on-five games. You have to make your own decisions, you learn from your mistakes,” Lampard said on Tuesday morning, at an event unveiling the New York City Soccer Initiative.
The program aims to give youth in the city that same opportunity that so benefited Lampard and his colleagues. The $3 million project was announced in a Tuesday news conference at Mill Brook Playground in the South Bronx.
New York City FC, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Adidas, will build 50 new soccer fields in underprivileged areas in all five boroughs of New York City. The first eight fields, including one at Mill Brook Playground, should be available by next summer.
“I think what we’re doing here today is fantastic and it’s a really big positive for the kids, to develop themselves, to play the game, but bigger than that is to socialize with other kids as well,” Vieira said.
The NYCFC coach said that was the case for him, when he played with children from different religions and different backgrounds. “All we wanted to do was just to play football,” he said. “That made us learn about ourselves, about different ones and we grew up together, accepted our differences and learned a lot. This is the reason why I am who I am today."
NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna, involved closely with the project from the early days, said the fields will be “acrylic, rubber fields” that will be easy to maintain and use in all seasons and in all weather conditions.
“They will be in City blue, which is nice as well,” he cracked.
The first eight sites will be J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin and Cypress Hills Houses in Brooklyn; Irwin Altman Middle School 172 and South Jamaica Houses in Queens; the Mill Brook Playground in the Bronx; Eagle Academy for Young Men of Staten Island; and Harlem Lane Playground and P.S. 83 Luis Munoz Rivera in Manhattan.
The program will also provide after-school soccer and mentoring programs, such as soccer clinics, festivals and youth summits to promote safe, active and connected communities.
"It’s great for the kids, great for learning soccer,” David Villa said. “The kids want to play in the street soccer day by day and this is an amazing project to give the kids the space and opportunity to play."
Will the next U.S. star emerge from this initiative, which will start with eight fields by this time next year? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not what will determine its success.
“We want children to be engaged in sport for the health reasons," Lampard said, "for what it brings them in life, teamwork, togetherness and all those things.”