NEW YORK – Perhaps Stepinac’s first impression at Macombs Dam Park was a bad omen. Once the Crusaders climbed the stairs to the turf field across East 161st St. from Yankee Stadium, they were greeted by dozens of New Yorkers playing soccer.
What first appeared to be a minor inconvenience soon became the least of the Crusaders’ problems. The poor condition of the turf resulted in the postponement of Stepinac’s game against Cardinal Hayes. The rematch of last year’s CHSFL ”AAA” championship will now be played at Stepinac, likely at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s been worsening,” said Cardinal Hayes coach C.J. O’Neil, whose team lost to Stepinac in last year’s final. “This is our first home game this year. We thought it was going to be remediated in time. Apparently, the Parks Department didn’t get an opportunity to, so here we sit.”
The field appeared to have separated at a seam running along the 32-yard line near the Yankee Stadium side. It created a gap of approximately 3 inches that stretched the width of the field and actually increased in depth closer to Cardinal Hayes’ sideline.
“They were going to get something to fill in the hole, but I said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to solve this. That hole is huge,’ ” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said.
The teams played a junior varsity game Friday night at the field — a New York City public park — but O’Donnell said he did not attend the game and was unaware of the extent of the damage. His varsity had never played a game there at Macombs Dam Park. Stepinac’s previous road games against Cardinal Hayes had been played at SUNY Maritime in the Bronx or Riverbank State Park in Manhattan.
Stepinac (2-0), the two-time defending CHSFL champ, entered the game ranked No. 2 in the state. Cardinal Hayes (1-1) has fought injuries to its top players early this season, but it’s arguably Stepinac’s biggest challenger in the league.
“I just don’t think with the type of football that was going to be played that it would be fair to the kids playing,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a situation where if anyone got hurt, you open yourself up to all kinds of liability.
“Our kids were ready to play. Their kids are ready to play. We didn’t come down here to cause a problem. I just didn’t think it was safe.”