The Misrepresentation of New York Soccer

Recently, the New York Times came out with an article regarding the division in the metropolitan area between Red Bulls and New York City Football Club supporters. The article written by Jeff Klein was, at the very best, a way to push New Yorkers towards the emerging MLS team. At worst, it was a NYCFC-sponsored publication designed to create more hubbub for the team often referred to around the country as “Manchester City’s farm team.”

After reading the article titled “Whose Side Are You On?,” my hope that the Times was still trying to rebuild its integrity after those false WMDs in Iraq articles, but alas that was not the case. It is even more of a shame because of the consistently fantastic writing the New York Times produces. After reading this article, though, I had to cut my subscription to the Times.

Klein revels in the prospect of a new team to play in the historic Yankee stadium selling what is definitely an inflated number of 14,000 season tickets (almost certain that like Yankees’ games a lot go to corporate partners, making the stadium look emptier than season tickets would state).

A quote from the article reads : “’New York City has been starved for an M.L.S. team for so long,’ said Brian Toto of the Third Rail, an independent N.Y.C.F.C. fan group whose more than 1,600 members paid $30 each to join. ‘Now we finally have one.'”

Couple things wrong in that excerpt, including that real New Yorkers drop the “city” part to its moniker.

One down.

Second, New York has had a MLS team. In fact they also have a historic NASL (North American Soccer League – considered division two in the United States) team in the New York Cosmos. The latter team has had a history that predates MLS. During their heyday big names like Pele and Beckenbauer flashed the colors of green and white.

But back to that first one.

The New York Red Bulls were league founders when the league formally came about in 1996. Although known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars way back then, the team was of the Metro area, and did make attempts to get a stadium in the boroughs – but as NYCFC will soon see, though it is ideal it is not pragmatic.

Moving on to the third point, sure 1,600 Third Rail members is strong for a supporters group in infancy – but those numbers seemed watered down when you realize that NYCFC helped facilitate increasing those numbers. Kind of ruins the whole organic supporters growth.

Naturally after opening up with some support it makes sense to discuss the team that has been around for 20 years now, the MetroStars/Red Bulls. Despite its two decade presence, the team has clearly not tapped into the whole New York market for various reasons that current fans are all too familiar with. Not to mention, perhaps bring in opinions of those who have been following the Cosmos. Back to the article – next came a little bit about New York sports, and then bam right back into talking about Third Rail. It was an abrasive transition, but at that moment I started to see the purpose of the article.

Klein went into talking about some grievances about the club, especially regarding the team’s jersey’s lack of distinction from Manchester City, and the delayed arrival of Frank Lampard. Then there was more about the demographic of the fan base, and a little bit about Third Rail Vice President Mr. Toto. This information flow continued for a bit, and I stopped myself just after the John Russo image.

The article stopped analyzing and started promoting.

Sure I could play devil’s advocate against my own interpretation (which I did), but the article crept more eerily towards “let’s do this NYCFC thing that everyone has been talking about.” I was a little more disarmed when the Cosmos were brought up, but in all honesty it seemed to serve more as a filler for background, rather than presenting another famous New York outfit.

Immediately after, we revisit the Third Rail and get introduced to Chance Michaels, the president. Klein opens up this section with a quote from Michaels’ about Red Bull’s poor positioning as a suburbs team rather than an urban one. He also neglects to mention Chance’s previous ties to the New York Cosmos.

Klein creates a stage where NYCFC can go on the offensive. Rather than finding something that speaks on the club’s progress and the excitement around NYCFC, Chance and Klein offer the perspective of why Red Bulls are inferior to NYCFC. Then in an attempt to offer some sort of balance, we heard from Jen Muller who represents the Empire Supporters Club – the oldest MLS supporters club and a truly independent group.

Then there was a little follow up from Mr. Cureton who defends his decision to stick with the Red Bulls.

That was just it though. In the two short paragraphs Mr. Klein so “graciously” offered to the New York Red Bulls, he portrayed the club and its supporters on the defensive. Throughout the article one can see the build up for this. NYCFC was getting his spotlight, their fans not only got to say why they liked the club, but who shows up for it, and they were offered the ability to take a jab at MetroStars/Red Bull fans.

What was offered in return for the established MLS side?

168 words. Not even to describe what the team or the club means. But just to defend its status, and to throw out a statistic which says New Yorkers make the trip out there.

I sat back and was truly disappointed to see the article concludes shortly thereafter (with a NYCFC quote to top it off). From an argument’s stand point, Klein was the judge and simply just handed the microphone over to NYCFC, Mr. Michaels, and Mr. Toto, who acted like prosecutors.

Only at the end were the Red Bulls allowed to really talk – but the moderator did not want to go to the effort to retrieve the microphone and pass it off to the defendants. There was a total lack of respect for the New York Cosmos as well, as Klein did not bother to reach out to anyone from the NASL side. After two paragraphs, I already knew the title had nothing to do with the article. A more apt title would have been “I’m NYCFC and You Can Too!” After I thought all was lost with this piece, I noticed an info-graphic attached to the article. I said why not, it couldn’t get worse.

It got worse.

I do encourage everyone to look at it in order to make this next part easier to understand. One, where does the money come from. This question most saw coming. But I think they really minimized and maximized the impact of the NYCFC’s funders description. An Anglo-Arab holding company with the New York Yankees. Sounds good so far, especially the Yankees part. But then you dig in, because for whatever reason, the name City Football Group was omitted from it.

City Football Group is owned by a private equity firm called Abu Dhabi United Group owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed-al Nahyan. Seems still innocent despite the fact the he is a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and part of a powerful and rich family that essentially controls the country.

Looking further into it, Abu Dhabi seems like a great place to get invest funds from. Rich, well connected, and is making things happen. But how much do we really know about what goes on in Abu Dhabi?

My university (NYU) has a campus there to foster connections. Yet, coworkers of Klein wrote this article describing working conditions and how some are treated in the emirate. The World Economic Forum (WEC) states that Abu Dhabi lures migrant workers in promise of good work but then are extremely underpaid, if at all and work in bad conditions – which the WEC equated to slavery.

Quite convenient to leave out the human rights violations of Mansour’s native lands, because that doesn’t look sexy when you are trying to beat down an energy drink company.

*Note: UAE as a whole does well, often ranking top ten in ethics and corruption, but these numbers only include discussion on bribes, and no mention of human rights (I know someone would have Googled it).

The logo question can be tied back to the previous one. Next.

The stadium question. Ah some final sense of balance as the creator of the graphic mentioned that Yankee stadium “was not ideal for soccer.” Great, first step. Red Bull Arena (RBA), for some background, was built in 2010 and Red Bull poured about $216M into providing fans with a soccer specific stadiums.

The location was originally thought to be somewhere in the boroughs, but reality kicked in that it was probably not worth the headache. Owners turned to making one of the nicest soccer specific stadiums this country has, with a fantastic architectural design. Though some, such as a friend of mine who supports NYCFC, and has never been to RBA, rejects the idea that a brand new soccer stadium would offer better experiences then a stadium where my 15th row seats makes me feel like I’m in the second tier at RBA.

Now for the times square distance. This one is rather strange because fellow fans have told me it takes them somewhere between 35-45 minutes rather than the stated 50 minutes that, I’m assuming an intern happened to Google and post. Meanwhile, I don’t ever remember a ride from Times Square to Yankee Stadium taking 30 minutes. Anyone who ever takes the 4,5,6 up for work knows well enough that number is very optimistic.

The winning record and the fan base comes next. The info-graph states that the Red Bulls are the only founding team never to have won a championship. Someone had to correct Mr. Klein as New England Revolutions and FC Dallas also never won a MLS Cup (readers ultimately assumed he meant that). One of my fellow supporters engaged Mr. Klein on twitter about.

Since Mr. Klein decides its time we compare MLS to EPL, the FA Cup resembles the Open Cup. But then that means their league top finishers are the champions. And to jog everyone’s memory the Red Bulls did just that in 2013, taking home their first silverware the Supporters Shield.

Klein digs into his point as this debate continues that the Supporters’ Shield does not count since it is not an official league trophy. Moreover, those USOC trophies really mean only a little bit to those who won it.

The top scorer. Gawky Englishman vs. Spanish Superstar. Wow. Talk about low blow to finish off the bout. Bradley Wright-Phillips, the MLS 2014 Golden Boot Winner (with 27 goals) was compared to David Villa, who came over from Atletico Madrid, after being sold on the cheap from FC Barcelona.

The 33 year old striker had a fairly good run with Atletico Madrid, contributing 13 goals in 36 matches, where he was mostly overshadowed by the emergence of Diego Costa. Still the man is Spain’s top scorer. Nonetheless, to so down play Wright-Phillips is a total insult to the strengths of the player, of which the drafter of this graphic should feel ashamed for.

Clearly the New York Times has decided for you which team is the better representative for Metro based fans. For whatever reason, they have elected to throw their support at an untested product without considering the two other options that have been in their stomping grounds all along. Perhaps the publication’s writers are embarrassed that they’ve neglected the sport and the Cosmos and the Red Bulls all this time, that with a new team, they can pretend only now that soccer has become relevant in the city.

So have it. Let that team become yours. Let it manifest into what a handful of people describe as plastic, and another handful describe as the beacon of New York football. Continue to pretend that the Cosmos despite their extended history and the Red Bulls despite their two decades of existence, never were around to be considered “New York’s team.” Continue to pretend that despite all the hoops that teams in this league jump through, and all the struggles every franchise faces that your team will be the one that flies higher above every one else.

Meanwhile, most other fans will continue to scoff at such ideals. Not to say New York will not have a championship team, it will one day, but do not be so sure it will be coming from NYCFC. Their desire to become recognized as the real deal has been painfully dragged out for close to a year now. They played on the people who just recently found the MLS to be a legitimate league, they manufactured their supporters, they impress upon everyone that they are and will always be the only relevant thing in New York football.

They do all of this in hopes of becoming recognized as an established team, choosing to ignore the fact that they most likely were conceived because of Financial Fair Play laws imposed on City Football Group and Manchester City, rather than the owners genuinely believing in Major League Soccer. They crave those rivalries like Seattle v. Portland and Red Bulls v. DC United, despite down playing the innate desire.

If Mix Diskerud comes out saying “I hate Red Bull,” I do not need to read more to know that he prays that the Red Bulls and NYCFC encounters become intense rivalries. Moreover, next time NYCFC let’s someone declare NYCFC as New York’s team, I hope that they will make sure he is from the Metro area, rather than a former Norwegian based player who has lived in the United States, much less New York for six weeks.

As for Jeff Klein, New York Red Bull fans have one thing left for you, which we endearingly call out when Toronto FC comes to town: “stick to hockey.”

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7 thoughts on “The Misrepresentation of New York Soccer”

  1. I agree with your view, and shared the same thoughts. But really, it’s only going to get worse with the NYT in terms of “fair” coverage of the two teams. At best it will continue to largely ignore MLS, but whenever these teams are discussed it won’t be forgotten that the Red Bulls play in New Jersey, separated by a nigh untraversable psychological barrier, and NYCFC, in the “City.”

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    1. It is a sad stigma to have to be constantly reminded that since it is in New Jersey, it can never be a New Yorker team. The soccer stadium concept in the boroughs in far fetched, though. Cosmos are looking to do something of the sort, and they are getting staunch opposition.

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  2. Excellently written article, Patrick. By far one of your best. I really enjoyed reading it. Just one thing, take it from a fan of the baseball team: The facility on 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx is called Yankee Stadium – not Yankee’s Stadium. Singular, not plural. Otherwise, great job. I look forward to your next article.

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  3. The Cosmos have been trying to get an NYC stadium for 5 years now and are having a lot of trouble. I Look forward to seeing NYCFC being stuck in Yankee Stadium for years to come

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  4. Interesting article. I guess maybe I am an example of who they are trying to reach. I love soccer and have since I was a little kid. I went to MISL games in the mid 80s. I went to Metrostars games when they first came to town. I’ve been to the beautiful Red Bull Arena. I still have that ugly denim jersey and I live and die with the US National Teams (mens and womens). I went to bars at 2 am in 2002 to watch the US in Korea. Since 2000 when I could see the EPL on my TV, I obsess over Liverpool.

    For whatever reason, the Red Bull have never claimed me, tho I do wish them well and cheer for them from time to time. The trip out to NJ is just not the same and has never been similar to a subway ride, even to the Bronx – tho the current situation is MUCH better than it used to be and their stadium is great. And i’m only barely aware that this homage version of the Cosmos exists. I’m sure this paragraph will cause some of you to call me names, but its the truth and there are many soccer fans out there who fall into this category. I spend time and energy (and money) supporting my soccer loves.

    As a New Yorker I feel deep down that we don’t really have a local team. Thats not meant as an insult to the Red Bull, and I’ve never even considered the Cosmos, its just how I feel. I agree with the idea that many in the 5 boroughs were crying out for their “own” team. However, this NYCFC joke is the WORST possible solution to the problem for so many reasons and will NEVER be my team. If they do build a stadium in Brooklyn I will probably get season tickets (in the visiting supporters section if i can) to see the teams I do like when they come to town.

    Final thought: this Lampard business is idiotic and the league should ensure via league bylaws that this never happens again. It makes the MLS looks like a joke. Fraud has taken place against the league’s ticket buying fans.

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