The New York Red Bulls fan base has suffered through a long couple of weeks with the front office changes and the firing of Head Coach Mike Petke, which was a terribly negative situation. However, the one aspect of the Petke firing that I found as a positive was that it has, at least temporarily, diverted the attention of the fan base away from their obsession with their new cross-town "rivals", New York City FC.
Ever since the plans were announced that MLS planned to add a second team in the New York metropolitan area market, the majority of the Red Bulls fan base has followed every news update, article, or blog post about the new team in their backyard. The news of the New York Yankees partnership with Manchester City to create New York City FC only stoked the flames of the Red Bulls fans frustration and anger with MLS over adding a second franchise in the Big Apple.
Since that time there has been no shortage of conspiracy theories regarding the league headquarters "rigging" certain systems to have NYC FC gain a perceived advantage over the Red Bulls in the marketplace. The fact that MLS is a single entity structure does nothing to alleviate those same conspiracy theorists from spinning a variety of stories about the propensity of the league office, notably Commissioner Garber, "favoring" the new team in town.
The Red Bulls fans, the majority of them at least, for better or for worse, have developed an obsession with NYC FC. The "other" team in New York has been called all sorts of derogatory remarks on internet message boards, social media discussion groups, and on Red Bulls fan sites. In my own experience, I have read comments from fellow Red Bulls fans in our social media discussion groups asking whether it was still a group about the Red Bulls because the group spent so much time discussing what NYC FC was doing.
In fair balance, some of the headline stories from this off-season have revolved around NYC FC, most notably two stories jump to mind: their efforts to secure a potential site for their own stadium, and the Frank Lampard fiasco.
First, the scenario around Frank Lampard, who NYC FC announced as having agreed to terms with on a contract to come to MLS and play starting in their inaugural season in 2015. Then it was announced that Lampard was being "loaned" to Manchester City, the parent club of NYC FC, and that he would report to MLS at some point in the summer of 2015. The situation changed again when reports surfaced that Lampard's contract was actually with Manchester City, and that he may not play at all in New York in 2015.
The scenario became known as "Lampard Gate" and finally this past Friday, NYC FC and Manchester City admitted that they had made "a genuine error" in misleading fans into thinking that Lampard had signed a contract with MLS to play for NYC FC. The new team in New York used that image of having Lampard on their roster to sell 11,000 season ticket plans and merchandise. It was also announced on Friday that Lampard will join MLS at the conclusion of the season in England, on July 1, meaning NYC FC will play without him for four months of the season.
This error by NYC FC was a point of fixation by Red Bulls fans. Over the past few months as this fiasco unfolded, Red Bulls fans have taken every chance to insult the other team in town over the Lampard situation. I understand it was a bad decision by the management of that club, but the Red Bulls management have certainly made their fair share of blunders over the years too. It made me frustrated because I felt that several other Red Bulls fans wanted to discuss the other team and not the team that we care about and support. It made no sense to me.
The other big storyline was the inability of NYC FC ownership to secure land to build a soccer specific stadium in the Bronx. The club will play at Yankee Stadium for at least a few years until they can secure another site. The fans of the Red Bulls once again took the opportunity to slam both MLS and the management of NYC FC about this situation. They were ridiculing the fans of NYC FC on social media for playing in a baseball stadium, forgetting that the Red Bulls once played in Giants Stadium, which was not the best venue for soccer to put it diplomatically.
Bigger Fish to Fry
Instead of discussing the issues facing our own club, many fans of the Red Bulls were too busy obsessing about what NYC FC was doing at any given moment. The 2015 season marks a pivotal time in the history of the Red Bulls with the retirement of Thierry Henry and the uncertainty surrounding Tim Cahill's future with the club. We could have been debating all of the potential moves that the front office could or should make to improve our team, instead we were concerned about Lampard and NYC FC.
The Red Bulls have "bigger fish to fry" than to worry about NYC FC quite honestly. If you look at the roster, NYC FC is a group of guys cobbled together from other teams in MLS. Their roster has some strength areas and some areas of concern, like any other roster in the league. The difference is that none of their players have played together for a full MLS season before, and they are going to have some rough patches with team chemistry. In all honesty, the roster for the other expansion club, Orlando City FC, looks far more complete and complementary. They have players that could mesh well together.
I also do not put any stock into these various conspiracy theories. I think it is a bit far fetched to think that the league office or Commissioner Garber would want NYC FC to somehow be "better" than the Red Bulls. The reality of the situation is that the dream scenario for the league office would be if both New York metro area clubs were playoff caliber teams with rosters containing marquee international superstar players. It is that scenario from the revenue generation standpoint that the league would derive the maximum benefit.
The Red Bulls fan base, for the most part, became fixated on the schedule release for the 2015 season because they wanted to know when they were going to play their matches against NYC FC. I was excited for the schedule release too but I was more intrigued with the dates for the other matches against their true rivals such as D.C. United, the New England Revolution, and the Philadelphia Union.
It will be those matches that will decide the fate of the Red Bulls season, and I would also include the Columbus Crew in that mix too because I think they have remained a playoff caliber club. The rivalry with NYC FC is similar to the NBA and the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets; yes they compete in the same geographic market but the Nets are the "new kid on the block". The Nets have not been in Brooklyn long enough, as Carmelo Anthony stated essentially it is not a rivalry yet because of that fact. The same basic premise goes for this "rivalry", I know that MLS is going to build up the hype in Year One, but in my perspective it will not gain real drama until the teams have a shared history.
In my view, I am far more concerned and a great deal more interested in how the Red Bulls will play against the D.C. United and the Revs than any of the other matches on the 2015 schedule. That is because we have a history of many years of rivalry with those clubs, dating back to the beginning of MLS. I have not given NYC FC a second thought, not that they are irrelevant, but because they are in their first season. I view them as what they are: an expansion team. I hope that the rest of the Red Bulls fan base will come to view them similarly, if for no other reason, than to not give the team or the league office the satisfaction of thinking that we are concerned with anything related to NYC FC.
In the end, we have to be concerned with what the Red Bulls are doing, and this past week has demonstrated that we have a great deal of our own problems to be concerned about as we head into the 2015 season.