Thank you. You're great.
Seriously. I'm being sincere. What's that? Well...yes, your fan base has some funny ideas, which seem to include the notion that you are somehow the antidote to years of "failure" by the New York Red Bulls. And there were more than a few of my fellow RBNY fans who were not happy you were allowed to exist in the first place, which may explain why there is a small but loud sub-section of your supporters who appear to frame their entire attraction to you as a reaction to the Red Bulls. So there has been some friction between us, that is true.
Still, each to their own. Speaking for myself, I was happy enough to see you arrive. Short road trips are fun. You also gave Claudio Reyna a job, offered Ryan Meara a chance to step out of the shadow of Luis Robles; you even provided Mehdi Ballouchy with a brief chance to shine by cannily holding Frank Lampard captive in Manchester for the first half of the season. All good turns for guys I have cheered for in the past. All duly appreciated.
And you let us snatch Mike Grella, who wins our Goal of the Month competition for fun.
There were some who were concerned that your mere presence would somehow crush RBNY. But the evidence suggests you're quietly doing your own thing up there in the Bronx, and it doesn't have much impact on the Red Bulls at all: our average attendance for 2015 is hovering around 19,000, which is pretty much where it was in 2014 and 2013; our season ticket renewals are reportedly outpacing last year's sales, and last year's were excellent. So you've given a bunch of people who weren't happy about RBNY something to be happy about. And that's left some room for us to embrace a few newer, happier fans at Red Bull Arena. More power to you, NYCFC. Plenty of room in the city for another soccer team.
Oh, and just in case we are missing something and you're not simply copying the 1996 how-to-launch-a-MLS-team playbook that mysteriously disappeared from RBNY's archives a year or so ago (Chapter 1: rent stadium people already know how to get to; Chapter 2: get the biggest name stars you can afford and MLS will let you have; Chapter 3: make the playoffs. Oops...Chapter 3 is still in Harrison. Swing by and pick it up next time you're in town.), you let us have one of your hotshot marketing honchos. Thanks, neighbor!
More importantly, and for this I really cannot thank you enough, you have been an exemplary neighbor on the field.
I can't help but feel you noticed that RBNY started 2015 in an absolute shambles. The club fired beloved and successful technical staff and traded away key players, all in the name of some vague "plan" that never had sufficient detail around it to justify any real confidence. It appeared that the momentum gained in two good seasons under Mike Petke and Andy Roxburgh had been tossed away in favor of the contents of a three-ring binder. It looked distressingly likely the Red Bulls were going to fall flat this season, as they started to slowly and painfully rebuild from a position of strength squandered for reasons never adequately explained.
It was a delicate moment. The club needed some time to recover, regroup, state its case on the field. A noisy new neighbor could have proved disruptive, even harmful, to the process of RBNY reconciling with its new identity. But you, NYCFC, were a model of grace and compassion. You went on an 11-game winless run from March 21 to May 30, while RBNY opened the season with a seven-match unbeaten streak and just one loss in its first 10.
We tried to reciprocate. Our string of off-season pratfalls helped distract a little from the your apparent inability to adequately communicate the terms of Frank Lampard's contract. And we took a little breather in late May, while you put together a three-game winning streak.
But after we'd stumbled through four straight losses and a nervy, fortunate win over Real Salt Lake, when we really needed a pick-me-up to get us going again - you delivered once more NYCFC. We got our first win over you after our first loss of the season (on May 10, after another fruitless journey to New England). On June 28, we were at perhaps our lowest ebb since MLS 2015 kicked off. Another loss would have been hard to take. But we found ourselves honored guests at Yankee Stadium, gifted three goals and three points on our very first visit to your new digs (really not bad at all for a rental, you did good to find it; space is hard to find in NYC, but you've done some interesting things to compensate for the cramped quarters - congrats).
Ultimately, you made a donation of nine points to RBNY's 2015 regular season. Those points are the reason we're currently (just) top of the Eastern Conference and in the middle of a tense Supporters' Shield race. We'll have to rely on ourselves to win anything this year, but we couldn't have got this far without you.
Without those nine points - without you, NYCFC - we'd be worried about making the playoffs, not whether we'll win any regular-season titles. We know plenty about struggling to make the playoffs; we're just getting a feeling for challenging for silverware on the regular. On balance, with the benefit of our 20-year research into the subject, the latter is the better problem to have.
And that wonderful problem would have been more than sufficient a gift. I mean, it is us who should be welcoming you to the neighborhood, but it's hard to get anything arranged since your generosity has been so relentless.
The first time you visited RBA, you noticed we have some congestion problems in the stadium when it's full. So you thoughtfully arranged for 1,000 of your fans to not come for the next trip. And those few who were left announced they would forego buying food or drink, again facilitating smoother game-day operations for RBA's hopelessly mismanaged concessions.
Extraordinary selflessness. Thank you again.
Despite all that, you still keep on giving. We haven't had to think about you since August 9 - the last time you honored us with points. Since then, we've been kinda busy trying to make the best of the tremendous boost you've offered our season.
But you haven't stopped thinking about us. We were concerned D.C. United might just run away with the Eastern Conference. From mid-July to mid-August, we won five out of six games. We were flying, but DC kept finding ways to stay ahead: three wins in a row from July 26 to August 8 suggested we could win as many games as we wanted, but we wouldn't actually catch up.
And then DC ran into you, NYCFC, on August 13. You beat DCU, 3-1, and our oldest rival hasn't won a league match since. It has one point from its last six games, starting with that loss to you, you pale blue sweethearts. Our form has been up and down, but nine points from our last 18 contested has us where we want to be: competing for titles and trophies.
Next, on August 19, you went and nicked a couple of points out of Columbus Crew's pocket - another team we need to worry about with respect to our place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Sure, you lost three straight after that and effectively plummeted out of contention for the playoffs, but that in itself was an act of generosity: you're giving us the stage this season, and we appreciate the gesture.
Now, as the season approaches its end, just when we thought we'd get no further assistance from you (and we have no right to expect any more), you have conjured up your best form of the season. You're on a three-game winning streak - congrats! And that most recent win, the last-minute, 2-1, road victory over Vancouver: that was huge for us.
We just got turned over in our own stadium by Orlando, a team with a marginally-less negligible chance of making the post-season than you, neighbor. It wasn't just embarrassing, it was potentially a cruel blow to our ambitions. We braced for the inevitable tumble down the standings as rivals picked up the points that they were expected to gain.
But DC lost. And Columbus lost. And New England drew. Unexpectedly, we're still top of the Eastern Conference - and we will be at least until the next time we play. We retain control of our destiny in the East, and that is an unexpected position after Friday's fiasco.
It's impossible for us not to lose ground in the Shield race after the loss to Orlando. Sporting Kansas City and Seattle play each other today (Sunday, September 27); so too do LA and Dallas. At least one of those teams will be right up next to us in the standings, or even above us, by the end of Week 30.
But the team we were most expecting to see breeze by us after we slipped up was Vancouver. The Shield-race leader, playing at home, fresh-legged after bailing on CONCACAF Champions League in midweek. But you beat them, NYCFC. You went to Vancouver and won. For us. Thank you.
And maybe we'll keep thanking you, because your capacity to help us is not exhausted. You play DC next, and any loss for DC is a win for us, especially since we might see 'em in the playoffs. Or maybe we'll see you, since DC is one of the few teams you're mathematically capable of catching for a place in the post-season. (And if your first really meaningful act in MLS is to knock DC out of a playoff place that has seemed assured all year - well, maybe we'll ask the Empire State Building to be lit blue again. Just for one night. You guys seem to enjoy that sort of thing.)
Keep the dream alive, NYCFC. Keep winning. We're rooting for you. It's the least we can do after you turned your inagural season in MLS into a tribute to RBNY's history and a sustained effort to make our future bright.