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The Hudson River Derby: a case study in international relations

Final Exams, International Relations Theory, and the Hudson Derby: A Desperate Attempt at Productivity in the Midst of MLS Mayhem

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The situation facing Red Bulls fans in the club's twentieth year reads like a scenario right out of an International Relations textbook. A scenario highlighted to soccer fans like me because final exam period comes at an inopportune time.

Although I may lock myself away in a silent study room, I find that, somehow or another, streaming Bayern-Barcelona or Galaxy-Salt Lake in the upper corner of my laptop detracts from my productivity. And, when Leo Messi does things like execute Jerome Boateng on live television, turning off the soccer simply isn't an option.

Alas, the coming of the first-ever Hudson Derby this Sunday also captures my attention and refuses to let my focus turn wholeheartedly to academic matters. Injury updates, transfer rumors, and an endless stream of hot takes provide plenty of distraction from other, admittedly greater, priorities.

At a time like this, is it possible for a Red Bull supporter like me to forge ahead in a quest to ace blitz comfortably pass not fail my exams? Is there a way to pursue deeper academic understanding and focus on the impending game this weekend? What follows is an attempt to realize that goal, nay, dream: the twinning of study and soccer. In this case, an exploration of what International Relations theory might have to offer the New York Red Bulls as they navigate their 20th season in MLS and their first-ever Derby against the blue insurgents to the north.

The scenario as the textbooks would see it is clear: after numerous failed States attempted to assert dominance over the Tri-State area, the Metro nation established its claim in 1996. Though this period could not defensibly be termed successful -- given the high rates in turnover in leadership and failure to provide for its people, the supporters, much of anything tangible to celebrate -- Metro nation has outlasted every other that has sought to assert its primacy over the area.

Sure, an upstart faction bearing the name and colors of a regime from days gone by has caused some turbulence. Indeed, it succeeded in inflicting great pain at the Battle of Hempstead in 2014. But this uprising has rightfully stirred little concern among the people of Metro nation.

The institution of a blue rebel group across the river has instigated a bit more anxiety among the red tribe (who, despite the quips of international observers, populate all three of the federated states that compose Metro nation). Although those who have defected do not pose much threat, and the capital of the enemy State is laughably inadequate relative to the lavish palace that is Red Bull Arena, history suggests that concern over the advances of the blue state is valid.

Time and again, representative States like Metro nation (ignoring the past transgressions of management for the moment) have been undermined and overthrown, not by the people themselves, but by intrusive outside influences. Whether the time and place be Iran 1954, Chile 1973, Czechoslovakia 1968, Nicaragua 1984, or any number of other instances, the meddling influence of imperialist power is often exerted to put the interests of the mother country over those of the satellite.

The economic power of the Blue empire is far greater than that of Metro nation. Given the examples of history aforementioned, this should give rise to concerns. However, the reluctance of the center to deploy even one of its own low-value resources to its colony -- illustrated by not sending Frank Lampard to join the fray earlier this year -- shows that the commitment of the mother country is less than resolute.

That the blue mutineers are merely a proxy state of an imperial power across the Atlantic is undisputed fact. What is remarkable, in light of this universally recognized truth, is how submissive and even enthusiastic many of the oppressed subjects have been with this arrangement. Mexico 1821, Vietnam 1953, Rhodesia 1979, the United States 1776: examples abound demonstrating the universal unwillingness of a people to be subjected to the rule of an external imperial entity. Nevertheless, in the here and now, Metro nation is confronted by a very real threat to its east, even if the blue team's endeavors on and off the battlefield have resulted in laughable failure thus far.

In order to handle this threat, members of Metro nation -- the vast majority of whom have no control over what happens on the field Sunday -- have a number of options at their disposal. Do they simply ignore the blue mutineers? Do they buy into the hype and treat the blue team as a full-fledged rival? International Relations theory provides a range of opinions and options for members of Metro nation to consider. These options can be divided into the three mainstream paradigms used by scholars to evaluate and analyze the interactions between governments and non-State actors in the international arena.

That the blue mutineers are merely a proxy state of an imperial power is undisputed fact

Traditional, mainstream IR follows the "realism" paradigm, based upon the views of human nature and statehood articulated in Machiavelli's The Prince and Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. This approach, which dictated most of the United States' foreign policy during the Cold War, holds that States are overwhelmingly driven by a motivation to acquire more territory and resources. Applied to the New York Soccer Warz, Red Bull supporters who subscribe to this theory should adopt a rigid policy of containment. While it may be necessary to concede the home base of the Bronx, strategies such as the New York is Red campaign and the establishment of Metro Nation's own proxy State -- NYRB II -- in the north of Manhattan are smart steps to counteract the blue team's expansionary ambitions.

For those who do not see the relative strength of Metro nation and the blue team as a zero sum game, alternative paradigms offer other recourses for handling the cross-river rivals. The model of liberalism, for example, emphasizes the role of economic prosperity as the primary motivator for State action. Liberalist scholars tend to advocate for increased cooperation at the international level, particularly through the formation of trade agreements and the tearing down of trade barriers through the dispute resolution mechanisms of the World Trade Organization.

At face value, this paradigm offers little to the faithful of Metro nation. Sure, the United States may choose to open up its trade policy with Mexico and Canada through NAFTA, or with far east Asia through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but engaging in constructive cooperation with the blue team would be akin to sending military aid to Kim Jong-Un.

However, from a nonpartisan point of view, the idea that a rivalry between the two teams helps to generate interest for both -- put forth by MLS head honchos since the announcement of the league's nineteenth team -- is not wholly without merit. The data thus far is inconclusive, and may be affected by other variables, but there is no way one can make a definitive claim that the blue team's presence has adversely affected the strength of Metro nation quantitatively or qualitatively. Interaction between the blue and red tribes on and off the pitch -- even if the nature of those interactions is competitive not cooperative -- will hopefully in time provide mutual benefit to each party, especially if liberalist doctrine is to be believed.

The final and most novel paradigm for analyzing international relations is constructivism. Proponents of constructivist theory hold that State action cannot be simply attributed to territorial (as realists believe) or economic (as liberalists believe) motivations. Rather, constructivists rely heavily on social-identity theory, which considers a host of identity-related factors as the impetus for State action. For example, constructivists assert that rising superpowers like China are not purely driven to compete with the United States for military or economic supremacy, but wish to define for themselves a value-based world order in which they are on top. By achieving supremacy in the realm of certain values perhaps not shared by the West, China accomplishes it goals and fulfills its national pride without directly taking on the West.

Painful as it might be, the best way to handle the petulant brats in blue may be to stroke their egos

It is very clear how dearly blue team fans treasure a few of these identity-related factors as central to their fanhood: location within City proper, European affiliation, and elitism above other fans who can't muster sufficient references to join a supporter's group. Painful as it might be, the best way for the members of Metro nation to handle the petulant brats in blue may be to stroke their egos and give them the recognition they so desperately crave. While conceding New York City as blue team territory goes too far, giving blue team fans the geographic recognition they harp on may be worthwhile, given how narrow a scope these fans set their sights on, relative to the three-states-wide span of Metro nation.

Additionally, granting that Williamsburg-residing, Premier League-watching, Arsenal-admiring, fake-Brad-Friedel-accent-spouting aspirants of the faux soccer literati may be better suited to find membership in the blue tribe rather than the red may prove to be a necessary, even desirable, gesture. Convincing blue team fans of their own callousness and hypocrisy is a fool's errand; letting them win arguments they have built upon false premises may assuage their brittle egos enough to make them go away while the Metro nation grows stronger and establishes its primacy in the region.

None of these schools of thought offers a silver bullet for addressing the blue team and its nagging fans. Metro nation should certainly hold its ground against the aggressive advances of the blue team. It should be cognizant of the potential for growth brought about by the blue team's rise, and capitalize on the rivalry as an opportunity for growth rather than dismissing it. It may ultimately be worth it to recognize blue team "supremacy" in certain areas that are insignificant, even if they are paramount in significance in the eyes of blue team fans.

Regardless of the model one adheres to or the actions one chooses to take, the Metro nation remains strong. A fact that will only be made more apparent this Sunday when the blue team comes to Harrison for the first time this Sunday.