New York Red Bulls FC vs New York City FC
Sunday 10th May 2015
Red Bull Arena, New Jersey, New York NY
I love New York. It’s a city unlike any other that I’ve visited, in that it meets every expectation and preconception you have and exceeds it.
It was borne out of the movies to begin with. Watching Macaulay Culkin wandering through Manhattan or Bill Murray meeting the ghost of Christmas past every December left me with an other-worldly view of The Big Apple from childhood that I was fortunate enough to experience for the first time a few years ago.
May 2015 marked a landmark birthday for me; and probably one that’s easily deducible given those culture references. There was only one place I wanted to spend it.
Regular readers who’ve followed the FA Cup journey so far expecting another dose of the working class glamour provided by Warrington, Barnsley or Bradford might have to adjust their expectations this once; this wasn’t quite the world’s oldest club competition. But, just like the host city, this match would be box office.
I’d booked tickets before we flew. Wanting to see one of the New York sides in action, I was pretty delighted to see that our dates coincided with their first ever derby game. With Saturday spent watched Les Miserables on Broadway, we’d nailed popular culture. Sunday evening was all about the football.
We (being me and my soon-to-be wife Lynsey) boarded a train at Penn Station on a baking hot Spring day in the direction of New Jersey around 5pm, watching the Manhattan skyline slowly disappear into the distance out of our window.
A slight mix-up over tickets leads to a chat with a New Jersey native. Clutching a bouquet of flowers, she’s off to spend the final few hours of Mother’s Day with her family. She’s embarrassed to accidentally confuse our Derbyshire/South Yorkshire mongrel of accents for Australian.
She leaves, and we continue on. As we reach our stop and wait in between the carriages, a young guy in a Red Bulls shirt stands with us. Lynsey spots he has a Tottenham cap on and we strike up conversation. He’s going to the game with his friend, a New York City fan in a Manchester City shirt.
“We’re gonna call it the first ever Hudson River derby”, he says, with a hint of excitement.
Leaving the train, and not entirely certain where we need to get our connection, we plump for following a soccer dad with three young teenage boys in tow. They’re talking about the Premier League and appear to be Manchester City fans too.
“You’d die to be 12 points clear!”, says one to his mates, presumably discussing Chelsea’s lead at the top while displaying the same desperate melodrama when it came to football that I had in my own adolescent years.
This new generation of American fan is growing up with greater access to the English game on TV than here in Britain, as the Premier League brand shows no signs of wavering globally. ‘Soccer’ has never grabbed the U.S quite like it seems to be doing right now, and English teams are falling over themselves to cash in on this lucrative new market.
From Pele to Beckenbaur, Beckham to…Bradley Wright-Phillips, the evolution of American Soccer has been a long road punctuated by large spurts of growth. But now, it seems, the MLS is on a steady upward trajectory.
Now picking up interest beyond North American shores and attracting an increasingly competent level of player still plying a decent trade in Europe’s top divisions (Lampard, Villa and Gerrard to name a few), the MLS is slowly winning the respect it’s craved for so long.
We arrive at the stadium stop and make our way towards the Red Bull Arena. It looks great although, despite its perceived size, it only holds around 25,000 people, making it marginally smaller than Craven Cottage. From the outside, it resembles several European stadia; Bayern’s Allianz Arena springs to mind a few times as we walk around.
Fans are partying in the car parks and having barbeques while ball jugglers and loud music is blasted outside. A small enclosed inflatable area houses a kid’s 5-a-side game where a young girl with impressive control gets stuck in against a group of boys.
It’s a carnival atmosphere for a local derby given that even non-local rivalries in England often mean fans are herded away from each other and into the ground as quickly as possible.
We walk by the away end where security guards are checking every fan before entry. One fan participates in some fairly tame local derby rivalry, sniffing the air in an exaggerated manner to get the attention of his friends.
“Can you smell that? What’s that smell? Oh! It’s New Jersey! That’s what New Jersey smells like!”. It’s hardly “New Jersey’s a sh*thole, I wanna go home”, but it goes down well with his group all the same.
As we enter the ground, I prepare to politely decline purchasing a branded red tea towel but it turns out that it’s free. It’s another pleasant surprise when compared to the Premier League experience. We walk up a couple of flights of stairs to see an array of food and drink stalls within the concourse that, in my experience, only comes close to being matched at Fulham. There’s everything here.
We queue for beer, which I’m denied for given that my UK driving license and advancing facial hair on day four of the holiday aren’t sufficient proof of my advancing years, then head to another server around the corner who pulls me a cold one without any issue.
Our seats are almost at the very top of a high, steep stand on the halfway line. The sun is still some way from setting behind the adjacent stand and continues to bake us. People are draping the tea towels over their heads, which seems counter-productive to us. That said, we’re newcomers to the introduction of the tea towel into the sporting environment.
I call my Dad to see if he’s recording the game. It’s midnight there, and he’s confused about what sport we’re watching despite me repeating MLS a couple of times. Maybe the revamp hasn’t reached everyone just yet. He vows to record it but it’s almost midnight and he’s off to bed after a busy weekend looking after the grandkids.
I vow to bring my son back one day as we hang up. Since West Brom, he’s really caught the bug and would love this. As the ground slowly fills, the atmosphere is already noticeably building and, without straying into cliché, there’s a trademark American excitement and enthusiasm about it all that you’re hard-pressed to find on a rainy Tuesday at The Hawthorns.
Across the stand is a fixed board reading ‘20 years in the MLS’ as the home side boast their longevity over their new rivals none too subtly. Like many good rivalries, the ‘we were here first’ argument is often a good starting point.
I’m surprised to see a small group of fans walk up the stand as a mixed group. Several light blue NYCFC shirts mixed in the sea of red certainly stand out, but nobody bats an eyelid. Mixed supporters aren’t uncommon in many sports but this is one advantage the MLS has over the aggressively tribal Premier League before we’ve even kicked off.
Down at pitchside, retired World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff is being paraded to the crowd as highlights of his days in a Red Bulls jersey are played out on the big screen – they’re certainly making a show of this anniversary in front of their new neighbours – and I can’t help but notice how empty the stadium on the video looks compared to the busy stands around us now. I wonder how many witnessed the Frenchman in his playing days.
We sing the national anthem ahead of kick-off, another American sporting tradition I enjoy participating in, although my grasp of the words is akin to Wayne Rooney before an England friendly; mumbled and slightly self-conscious.
A banner is raised in ‘Kop’, taunting the away end by depicting a miniature New York City fan with Man City Lite on his shirt. ‘20 years late and a stadium short’, it reads. Another message is passed along the stands: ‘The Big Apple – Red to the core since day one’.
Kick-off is greeted with the fervent waving of our tea towels, like mass industrial action from kitchen assistants, as the players get the rivalry moving on the pitch. Within minutes, the home fans are jubilant as an unmarked Bradley Wright-Phillips turns in Lloyd Sam’s cross from a jinking run to the by-line.
Coupled with the pre-match build-up, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve just witnessed a moment of footballing history created by two former Charlton players who are both firm fans’ favourites.
Sam in particular continues to find joy down the flanks for Red Bulls, with his acceleration into space something the narrow NYC back-line struggle to cope with. It’s not difficult to see why Thierry Henry was so successful in a similar role.
To my left, a trio of NYC fans who’ve clearly ‘enjoyed’ the pre-match build up create their own pocket of atmosphere in support of the away team. One of the more well-lubricated members is shirtless and produces his own yellow card theatrically to accompany a booking for Red Bulls’ Miazga.
The referee (and my new friend) have more reason to pull out their notebooks soon afterwards as Miazga receives a second yellow for a clumsy foul. The frenetic and competitive derby has already seen its first dismissal barely half an hour into proceedings; the red card issued in the stands once again providing more entertainment than the one on the pitch.
The home fans voice their dissent as the young Polish-American trudges off the field. It’s been an even game since the goal and there might well be a feeling of nervousness in the air for the home supporters.
They survive until the break as our thoughts turn to half-time refreshments. Rather than one of us making a beer run, we both head down to the concourse in a decision that’s in no way linked to me fearing the possibility of being denied alcohol by another adult again for the first time since 2004. There’s no pie and Bovril to fall back on here.
We get chatting with another Englishman in the queue. He’s on holiday with his family and is at the match with his teenage son. We chat at length about the atmosphere, the first half and the unlikely heroes on show in Sam and Wright-Phillips before switching to general touristy tips about Manhattan. Our slow-moving queue rewards us with ice-cold beer but we’ve missed the second half kicking off.
Having watched the onslaught of the Red Bulls backline by NYCFC on the small screens, we’re just back up the stands and into our seats by the time Bradley Wright-Phillips doubles the advantage.
With the away team throwing everyone forward, the ball breaks out to Lloyd Sam who powers upfield and plays the ball out to the left flank to Kljestan who squares for Wright-Phillips, once again unmarked, to tap in from six yards. It’s a devastating counter-attack, all the more impressive from a side with 10 men.
New York City look deflated, but continue to chase a way back into the game. Wright-Phillips continues to represent the home team’s most dangerous threat, with David Villa struggling to have an impact on the game for the opposition.
Things come to a head for the Spanish striker on 70 minutes as his number is raised on the touchline. He trudges off, seemingly unimpressed with the decision to the delight of the Red Bull Arena. A World Cup winner’s medal is no guarantee of an easy swansong in the MLS these days.
“Over-rated!” screams one fan near us. Past his peak, perhaps, with his sharpness dulled by serious injury but there’s little doubt he was once one of the world’s very best. Rivalry has a way of making a man biased, perhaps…
He can have little reason to prolong his sulk, as his replacement Patrick Mullins manages what he couldn’t seven minutes later; a goal that brings the visitors back into contention. It follows a familiar theme, with the ball working its way out wide and a whipped cross into the box finding Mullins who guided the ball past Robles with a darting run between two defenders.
It makes for a nervy last quarter of an hour for the home team but they see the game out to claim victory in the first ever ‘Hudson River derby’.
We chat about the little linguistic differences we spotted during the game on the way out of the ground. One fan called for a player to “get on his horse” when breaking into space, while another screamed abuse at the referee for a challenge that he deemed to be “fricking shoulder to shoulder”. Without meaning to patronise, there’s a nice quaintness to the approach of the fans compared with even football in the lower leagues of England, where slightly more industrial language is commonplace. It’s undoubtedly more family-friendly here.
We join a huge queue for the subway as fans mix and the fairly good-natured banter threatens to boil over at times. With barely any police presence in sight, it’s far from the segregated systems used to farm Premier League rivals out of the ground, but everyone remains well-behaved aside from a few impatient queue jumpers.
Lynsey nudges me to get involved with the conversation of two American Red Bulls fans on the train back to Manhattan as they discuss Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, and we chat about our respective leagues for a while before joining a mass exodus of red and light blue at the World Trade Center stop – it’s a fun end to a fantastic evening.
So often overlooked for the glamour of other sports by New York tourists, the MLS is growing faster than ever before in momentum and appeal. The Big Apple’s newest rivalry will provide a compelling and highly recommended alternative in the years to come.
New York Red Bulls FC vs New York City FC
Sunday 10th May 2015
Red Bull Arena, New Jersey, New York NY
|New York Red Bulls FC 2 –
Wright-Phillips (4) & (52)
|1 New York City FC
New York Red Bulls: 31. L. Robles, 55. D. Perrinelle, 92. K. Lawrence, 20. M. Miazga, 25. C. Duvall, 10. L. Sam (7. R. Miller 87’), 16. S. Klještan, 11. D. McCarty, 8. Felipe Martins, 99. B. Wright-Phillips (91. D. Richards 78’), 13. M. Grella (22. K. Ouimette 38’).
Substitutes: 5. C. Lade, 9. A. Abang, 18. K. Reynish, 27. S. Davis
New York City FC: 12. J. Saunders, 21. J. Hernández, 17. C. Wingert, 13. J. Williams, 27. R. Allen, 11. N. Grabavoy, 22. Pablo Álvarez (20. M. Ballouchy 70’), 4. A. Jacobson, 10. M. Diskerud (88. K. Poku 87’), 7. David Villa (14. P. Mullins 68’), 19. K. Shelton.
Substitutes: 5. J. Brovsky, 15. T. McNamara, 25. E. Johansen, 26. S. Velásquez