MLS has been making a point to establish rivalries with their recent expansions. No expansion exemplifies that more than New York City FC. Ever since the inception of the league, New York has had a major part to play. Although, to be fair, it had always been a case like in the NFL, where the city has a team, but that team is in New Jersey.
Still, put the title ‘New York’ on it and the city will back it. That is what happened with the MetroStars-turned-Redbulls. They were the New York team, so New Yorkers loved their team. This love was not helped by the underperforming MetroStars, who suffered through curses and overhype for their entire existence.
When the team became what they are today in 2006, it felt like a new team altogether, but the success still eluded them. It was not until Redbull Arena was established in 2010 that the team started to find what had always been expected of them. The Redbulls went for a full-on reboot of the system with new coaches and a bunch of new players including Thierry Henry, the greatest striker to ever set foot in England.
Temporary success again gave New Yorkers something to cheer about, but not enough to establish any sort of Empire in the soccer world. Not like the Yankees and not like the Giants in their respective sports.
Then, MLS did something crazy. The Redbulls had just endured another overhaul, this time establishing the soon-to-be-loved Mike Petke as coach. They were finally looking to achieve their full potential when MLS announced NYCFC as an expansion in May of 2013. It was a curious choice and many called it a ‘manufactured’ rivalry, but what the establishment of NYCFC did was rather unique. By thrusting a new, New York City-based squad into the dense metropolitan landscape, MLS sent a fissure through New York, dividing it in two.
That fissure did not last long, however. It took very little time for New York City FC to establish such a firm following that it appeared that the Redbulls would be relegated to New Jersey and the occasional, rare hold out within the city.
In speaking with one NYCFC season ticket holder, the sentiment was clear: “I used to love the Redbulls because they were New York’s team. But they aren’t anymore. They’re Jersey’s team.”
It was a masterstroke by MLS. Give an already ardent fan base a new team. This accomplishes so many things that MLS is still smiling about. It forces Redbulls to shape up to maintain their presence within the city. It forces NYCFC to hit the ground running in order to grab hold of the fleeting New York attention span. But it also unified the New York metropolitan area behind one team by putting that team right in the middle of it all in the Bronx.
Many gripe about Yankee stadium, as well they should, but by making soccer fans pass through the halls of the most iconic New York sports team in order to see the newest New York sports team, there is that perhaps unintended effect of painting NYCFC as a piece of this city.
The effect has worked. Now, some are wondering if the team shouldn’t just stay in the Bronx, seeing as how they have established such a foothold there.
It is a rare thing to see any Redbull apparel donned in the Greater New York City area. From time to time, you may stumble upon one, but probably just as often as you stumble upon a Chicago Cubs fan in St. Louis. The city belongs to NYCFC.
The original claims that this is a manufactured rivalry are proving to be false in its negative connotation. Obviously the rivalry was manufactured, but that doesn’t mean it won’t last or that it isn’t incredibly heated already. There was hype galore for the first meeting between the two teams, but nobody was sure what to make of it. It’s not every day that two teams that don’t know each other meet for the first time and are forced into hating each other. But both sides knew that that is what was expected of them.
“I’m sure after the first 90 minutes, we’ll hate them more and they’ll hate us more” Bradley Wright-Phillips said prior to that first meeting. Well, he was right. Mostly from the perspective of the fans, however, although there have been instances of the players getting a bit testy as well.
The point remained that New York only had one team. Even when getting pounded 2-0 in Jersey in the most recent match up, visiting NYCFC fans’ chants reverberated one clear-cut point: “You are New Jersey, we are New York.”
Redbull midfielder Mike Grella didn’t buy into the claims that his team had no right to the city of New York, however, saying “our location being 15 minutes outside of New York has nothing to do with anything, really.” But Grella is wrong. That has a lot to do with everything.
This rivalry has only grown more intense with each meeting. In the aforementioned match, there was one particular scene that felt like the orcs of Isengard waiting outside the walls of Helms Deep. In perusing Redbull Arena, there was a very distant, yet distinctive chant: “NYC – FC” over and over. Upon further investigation, the NYCFC supporters group was crowded around the gate outside Redbull Arena, having been unable to enter as of yet.
When the gates were finally opened, the chant only increased in intensity as the group stormed through Redbull Arena, making very few friends in the process.
The rivalry has had a name forced on it – the Hudson River derby – but no matter what you call it, this is a rivalry that MLS handcrafted for excellence and that is precisely what we are seeing it turn into.
There have only been three matches between the two clubs, but already there have been pub brawls, riots in the streets, expletive chants and more. This is not a plastic rivalry. This is one of the most intense rivalries in MLS. The longer it is allowed to grow; the more New York City will unite behind their team and Jersey behind theirs. The more the two less-than-amicable cities can unite behind their team, the nastier the rivalry gets. It’s the circle of life for a rivalry.
The rift between New York and New Jersey goes well beyond a new soccer rivalry. MLS is just giving an already prominent feeling of animosity something else to munch on by tossing themselves into the fray.