“It’s not a rivalry yet”
Mike Petke’s words for Red Bulls’ fans in 2015 ahead of their first game against NYCFC, a sold out crowd of more than 45,000, felt like a veiled jab to the blue contingent of New York City’s two MLS clubs, and the lack of history between the two sides. And after the Red Bulls took all nine points off their crosstown rivals last season, and walloped City 7-0 in their first meeting this season, it appeared he was right.
The Red Bulls, complete with a dedicated fan base that date back to the early days of MLS, absolutely owned the team whose only claim to fame was aging European stars and a home (albeit a baseball stadium) that was actually located in the five boroughs.
However, when NYCFC took the Red Bulls down 2-0 at Yankee Stadium on July 3, putting them at the top of the Eastern Conference, it seemed like fans were finally getting the soccer rivalry that New York City deserves. On Sunday, that sentiment was unequivocally confirmed.
While the game wasn’t that exciting, with the Red Bulls dominating 4-1, the banter showcased the passion of what has quickly become one of MLS’ premier rivalries. The Red Bull tifo pregame proudly reminded NYC of their 7-0 loss earlier in the season, while a massive contingent of visiting NYC fans occupied the upper decks of Red Bull Arena.
In the press before and after the game, both managers played mind games back and forth, attempting to throw off their opponent. Red Bulls’ manager Jesse Marsch asked out load before the game if the referees would prefer NYC’s trio of international stars. In classic fashion, first-year manager Patrick Viera responded post game, accusing Marsch of whining, and blaming the referees for the loss.
Additionally, on the field the passion and competitiveness clearly demonstrated how much this mattered to the players. Within the first half, Frank Lampard and Dax McCarty got in each other’s faces, after what Dax viewed as a harsh challenge from the English legend. Later in the game, Sacha Kljestan got into it with Frank, politely reminding him of the lopsided scoreline, and the fact that the Red Bulls have absolutely owned NYC since Lampard got to MLS.
These moments are everything American fans want out of a rivalry. The pregame atmosphere from the fans was ridiculous, as was their incredible passion during the game. The pre- and post-game debates between the media were reminiscent of the media games that happen in massive European leagues. The on-field fights between a Premier League legend and two fringe USMNT players, who have spent the bulk of their careers in MLS, is everything we should love about this league.
These moments, while reminiscent of other competitions, are unique to MLS and lend a special level of credibility to New York’s premier soccer match up.
Incredibly enough, in just two years of lopsided competition, New York has developed one of the most passionate soccer rivalries in the Western hemisphere. Throughout the game on Sunday, it was incredibly evident how much hatred exists between the two teams. The fans don’t like each other, the managers don’t like each other, and at least some of the players definitely don’t like each other. Despite the scoreline, MLS fans were treated to a match loaded with passion, genuine dislike and monumental implications for the playoffs.
The only hope for MLS fans is that we can see one more Hudson River Derby this season, only this time in the playoffs. A “Subway Series” style match up between the Red Bulls and NYCFC could take this rivalry to new heights, the likes of which the MLS has never seen.