Which Side Are You On?: Contextualizing New York’s Soccer Rivalry

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BRONX, NY - AUGUST 06: Captain David Villa #7 of New York City FC reacts to one of his 3 goals during the MLS match between the New York City FC and New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium on August 06, 2017 in Bronx, borough of NY. New York City FC won the match on a 3 to 2. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Editorial (August 21, 2017) – There were several points during the most recent occurance of New York’s Soccer Rivalry when you felt like you were at the epicenter of something more than a soccer match. Like when Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his second goal of the day, putting his New York Red Bulls ahead, sending legions of red fans into an ecstasy that was matched only by the despair of the home crowd. Or when David Villa brought New York City FC back level with a blistering run through one, two, three Red Bull defenders. Or when, moments later, he showed his wily veteran side and drew a penalty, setting up the game winner that would keep New York blue for at least another couple of weeks.

Which Side Are You On?: Contextualizing New York’s Soccer Rivalry

For me it was all these moments – until I got home and watched the video of that same penalty kick. When I saw Felipe standing behind Villa, motioning to Robles which way he thought Villa would shoot. Only to be totally sold out by the ball boy behind Robles who was advising NYCFC’s captain what Felipe was doing and therefore, which way he should shoot.

That’s when you think, man, New York’s Soccer Rivalry is on a whole ‘nother level.

But then you begin to second guess yourself. Or at least I do.

Because while yes, I have sat in the rain at the Yale Bowl as a child and watched pre-season football between a mediocre New York Giants team and an even mediocre-er New York Jets team.

And yes, I have walked the streets of Manhattan during the Subway Series. When it seemed every New Yorker was dressed in some shade of blue. And would argue with you endlessly about it.

And yes, I have endured the fistfights, vitriol, and vomit of Penn Station when either the New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders had ridden the rails into town to face the New York Rangers.

But my encounters with those other rivalries has been sporadic, inconsistent, and arbitrary at best. New York’s Soccer Rivalry on the other hand is different. I’ve been to eight of them now – three at Yankee Stadium and five at Red Bull Arena. So maybe my judgment is unbalanced and skewed by being closer to it than the others. Especially since while I follow other sports, none of the teams I pay attention to are New York teams.

In other words maybe New York’s Soccer Rivalry feels exceptionally intense to me because it’s the one I’m in the middle of.

So I went to the fans. Fans who were not exclusively soccer fans. So they could give some context that perhaps I could not.

And they raised some interesting points.

Like that one of the things that makes this rivalry special is the frequency with which the teams meet. Eight times in three years is nothing to sneeze at. The Giants and Jets by comparison have met only a dozen times in 45 years (not counting pre-season). And while the Yankees and Mets have played an impressive 112 times in the rivalry’s five decades, most of those have come since 1997 with the introduction of interleague play. For the first 35 years they never met in a serious game. So the rivalry is actually a relatively new development. As Neil Govoni told me: “With the NFL and the MLB, you have the NYC teams split into different conferences… and they develop strong rivalries with teams in their divisions as a result.”

And Dudes in Blue host Joe Amato explained why this really matters: “Not only (for) bragging rights, but points and actual standings.” And that makes sense; the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is still stronger than the Yankees-Mets. And Giants fans have more animosity for almost anyone in the NFC East than they do for the Jets.

Which is probably why the Rangers/Devils and Rangers/Islanders matchups are the ones that fans of New York’s Soccer Rivalry feel the most kinship with. All three teams share a division, which means every game counts. And there have been a lot of games: 341 between the Islanders and Rangers and 273 between the Devils and the Rangers. And even though the fates of those three teams have waxed and waned over the decades, the standings as of this writing are still fairly close. The Rangers lead the Devils by 27 games over 35 years and the Islanders by only four over 45.

So is New York’s three-team hockey dance better than New York’s Soccer Rivalry? Neil Govoni thinks so; “That’s the one sport that has a more intense rivalry… but that’s mainly due to time.” And while Wandi Schell agrees, she’s optimistic it will surpass even that. “I can’t wait until it’s five years from now” she told me “and it dwarfs all NYC rivalries”. Because as Joe Amato says “there’s just something about the stakes at a Derby Match.”

But don’t take our words for it. Just ask the ball boys.

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