Soccer Culture on the Rise in NYC

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With a turnaround this season, New York F.C. challenges the New York Red Bulls for New Yorkers’ hearts.

By Lorenzo Gazzola, Contributing Writer

Because of New York’s tremendous number of immigrants from all over the world, New Yorkers have always had a passion for soccer. While this multicultural foundation has grabbed the interest of many New Yorkers who have started regularly following various leagues abroad, interest for New York soccer itself has never reached the same level as that for the elite European leagues. New York has always had its own soccer teams, but there has never been a strong tradition and passion for them. Ever since the NY Cosmos entertained American audiences with players like Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Cruyff and others, there has been little attachment from New Yorkers toward their representative teams.

The contemporary example of this lack of identity with New York soccer is the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls were founded in 1995 when they were called the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. However, a major issue for the team has been its location. Even since the days of the Cosmos, New York teams have been forced to play their games in New Jersey due to the lack of real estate in and around the city. Thus, for the past decades, most of these games were played in the old Giants Stadium, a football arena. Then, when the stadium was destroyed, the Red Bulls built their own stadium, called Red Bull Arena, in Harrison, New Jersey, which is even further away from New York.

Since the Red Bulls have not been able to find a home in their own state, it has been difficult for some New Yorkers to identify their passions for soccer with a team that does not even play in the city they represent, causing some fans to even propose that the team change its name to the New Jersey Red Bulls to make things simpler. In fact, since the games are played in New Jersey, it’s reasonable to assume that many fans present at the Red Bulls home games are actually New Jersey residents, not New Yorkers. So, despite the Red Bulls’ recent years of relative success, the team has struggled to establish a strong relationship between the Red Bulls and New York.

Last year, however, a new soccer team came to New York. As English Club Manchester City made a dual investment with the Yankees, New York City Football Club was created. NYCFC is a branch of Manchester City and, playing its home games at Yankee Stadium, is marketed toward an exclusively New York City fan base, providing a link the Red Bulls never could — a true home team to root for. With big-name purchases of players like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard in the team’s first ever season there was great expectation for the new New York team to start its MLS career off well and, most importantly, create a competitive New York rivalry between NYCFC and the Red Bulls. With a top five crowd attendance and passionate fans, NYCFC immediately impacted New York City. Last season was not a success for NYCFC though, as the team lacked chemistry and went on several losing streaks, including a 7-0 derby defeat to rivals Red Bulls. And so, while New York finally has a team with whom people could connect, NYCFC still did not pose much competition to the Red Bulls on the field.

This season is a different story though. After a year of disappointment, NYCFC has completely turned it around, as they finished the season in second place in the Eastern Conference, with only the Red Bulls in front of them at first. While the boost in energy and passion that the creation of NYCFC gave to soccer fans in New York was evident from last season, it took some success from the team to truly show how much the guys in powder blue have brought New York together.

GLS freshman Francisco Attie, originally from Sao Paulo, is thrilled to have a budding soccer community in New York.

“I’d say [the fanbase] helps the city in the sense that it brings people of different backgrounds and identities together,” Attie said. “Coming from a country where football is the national sport, having a club to support that plays in my new town is very exciting.”

Now, with a playoff series against Toronto and potentially even a Eastern Conference Final derby against Red Bull for a ticket to the MLS Cup Final, the NYCFC has the chance to really show how much soccer culture in New York has grown since the team’s introduction to the league.

Email Lorenzo Gazzola at [email protected]