Photo: Max Fischer
I love this picture, taken under the tifo at NYCFC's inaugural home match. Captures the spirit of joy and community we're building in the bleachers.
Tens of thousands of fans without having playedMy Swedish is pretty much limited to "lutfisk" and the titles of Strindberg plays, so I turned to Google Translate for help.
Erik Niva om New York City FC – ett udda fotbollsfenomen
De har aldrig spelat en tävlingsmatch – men de har ändå tiotusentals fans.
New York City är ett udda fotbolls¬fenomen.
Vad driver en supporter till att stötta en hypotes?
Nästan ingen av oss kommer ihåg vår första gång ordentligt.
För de allra flesta fotbollsfans är minnena från den första matchen med favoritlaget så avlägsna att de nästan bleknat bort. Det var något som hände långt där bak i barndomen, innan vi ens kommit upp i medveten ålder.
Kanske kommer vi ihåg någon enstaka situation – ett mål, ett publikvrål – men så värst mycket tydligare än så blir sällan upplevelsen.
För Chance Michaels är allt det där helt annorlunda. Han är 43 år gammal nu, och fullt medveten om att det som händer
i morgon förmodligen kommer att stanna kvar i honom under resten av livet.
För första gången ska han se sitt favoritlag spela fotboll. Eller rättare sagt – för första gången ska hans favoritlag spela en fotbollsmatch.
– Hur många gånger räknar du ner till en dag som du vet kommer att bli en milstolpe i ditt liv? Det här är unika dagar för mig, känslor som är svåra att beskriva.
Alla supportrar har erfarenhet av den där kombinationen av nervositet och förväntan som fyller oss dagarna före en säsongspremiär. ”Stötta en hypotes”
Det Chance Michaels går igenom är visserligen besläktat med det, men ändå inte riktigt detsamma. Snarare påminner hans situation om brudgummens sits dagen innan ett arrangerat äktenskap ska ha sin bröllopsceremoni.
– Jag har jobbat med teater, och från mitt eget liv är det de bästa parallellerna jag kan hitta. Det här är lite som när man har jobbat med en pjäs under väldigt lång tid. Manuset är skrivet, ensemblen har satts ihop, repetitionerna har genomförts, dekoren har skapats, biljetterna har sålts – och nu är det äntligen dags för ridån att gå upp.
New York City FC har aldrig spelat en riktig match. Ändå har de redan tiotusentals fans, och fler sålda säsongsbiljetter än någon klubb i Skandinavien.
Chance Michaels är president för supporterklubben Third Rail. De har sångerna, flaggorna, färgerna och samlingarna – de saknar bara ett lag.
– Samma dag som det offentliggjordes att New York skulle få en MLS-klubb var vi några entusiaster som snackade ihop oss genom sociala medier. Sedan var det igång, och ja... Nu har vi ägnat två år åt att stötta en hypotes.
För tolv år sedan flög Chance Michaels till England enbart för att se David Seamans sista match. Han är Arsenal-anhängare också, och känner mycket väl till det ritualistiska traditionstänket som fotbollen i andra världsdelar alltid utgått ifrån.
Givetvis förstår han att hans supporterskap framstår som ganska udda i europeiska öron, och just därför gör han också en extra ansträngning för att förklara.
– Det som kanske inte är självklart för folk utifrån är att New York redan är en fotbollsstad. Varje helg är fotbollsbarerna fulla redan klockan tio på förmiddagen, och under VM spillde det ut så mycket folk från dem att det inte gick att ta sig fram på trottoarerna i Midtown. Folk från hela världen har tagit med sig sitt fotbollsintresse hit, men fram till nu har vi inte haft en lokal klubb att hänga upp vårt intresse på. Bestämt sig för att bojkotta
Och då behövs det inte något dramatiskt segermål för att fånga intresset? Då räcker det med ett pressmeddelande om en ny klubb för att väcka känslorna?
– För mig var det i alla fall så. Jag älskar New York, jag älskar fotboll – och jag har alltid drömt om en klubb som verkligen kan reflektera och representera den unika blandningen av människor som finns i den här staden. Nu har vi själva fått chansen att skapa den. Det urbana, det brokiga, energin – allt det som är New York präglar verkligen rummet när vi har våra supportersamlingar. Känslan är att allt är möjligt. Det är vi själva som skriver reglerna.
Att det är fansen som skriver reglerna är förstås en sanning med reservation. New York City FC är sannerligen inte en supporterstyrd klubb, utan kontrolleras av två av idrottsvärldens största kommersiella kolosser. Manchester City-shejkerna från Abu Dhabi äger 80 procent, baseballbjässen New York Yankees de resterande 20.
Det är de som har betalat drygt 800 miljoner kronor för MLS-platsen, och det är de som bestämmer hur klubben sköts och utvecklas.
Visserligen har de sluppit förlora matcher, men det betyder nu inte att det här är fans som varit skyddade från besvikelser.
Först var det dräkterna som inte alls avspeglade färgerna i New Yorks stadsflagga, utan i stället visade sig bli en kopia av Manchester Citys ljusblå ställ. Sedan var det hela farsen runt Frank Lampard, som tydligen behövdes bättre som bänknötare i Premier League än som dragplåster för MLS.
Just nu rasar en infekterad strid om reglerna för supportersektionerna på Yankee Stadium. Tillåts det några flaggpinnar där? Blir det några banderollplatser? Trummor? Capoställningar?
Det verkar inte så, och vissa Third Rail-medlemmar har därför bestämt sig för att bojkotta alla klubbprodukter tills läktarnas regelverk lättas upp. ”Supporters not criminals”, heter det i appellen. ”När gick gränsen”
– Well, jag tror inte att vi är de första fotbollsfansen i världen som blivit frustrerade över hur klubbägarna sköter affärerna.
Men när det pratas om att bua ut Frank Lampard för att han visat bristande lojalitet gentemot en klubb som hittills bara existerat på pappret... Du förstår hur ironiskt det låter?
– Visst. Men jag noterar också varifrån kritiken kommer, och hur den formuleras. De som är allra argast på oss är fansen till New York Red Bulls. De attackerar oss för att vara plastiga och konstruerade – samtidigt som deras egen klubb
är uppköpt av ett energidrycksföretag. Jag har ganska svårt att följa logiken där.
Chance Michaels pustar
i telefonluren och tar ny sats. Att själv bygga upp en ny klubb från gräsrötterna är så gott som omöjligt i dagens USA. För honom är det här gratismöjligheten som erbjöds i stället, chansen att utnyttja manöverutrymmet som uppstått i kommerskryssarens kölvatten.
– New York Red Bulls har funnits i 20 år, men i mina ögon har de alltid riktat in sig på the soccer moms och den vita medelklassen ute i förorterna. De har aldrig spelat sina matcher inne i själva staden, och jag har aldrig kunnat knyta an till den klubben. Ska det då vara förbjudet för mig att hjälpa till att bygga upp ett alternativ som speglar mitt eget New York på ett bättre sätt? Okej för att ägarna har sin egen agenda, men vi är många som verkligen känner starkt för det som håller på att hända här. Att vara fotbollssupporter kan väl inte vara beroende av att hinna dit först? När gick i så fall gränsen för att det ska vara okej? 1920? 1960? 2000?
I morgon spelar Orlando City mot New York City i MLS-premiären. Kaká på den ena sidan, David Villa på den andra. Fler än 60 000 åskådare på en utsåld arena.
Inget av lagen har någonsin spelat en tävlingsmatch förut.
För många av oss i den gamla världen blir det som att titta på ett hologram från en parallell fotbollsverklighet, en plats där det är näst intill obetydligt var du kommer ifrån och allt som räknas är vart du är på väg.
– Det finns något väldigt amerikanskt
i den här viljan att bryta ny mark, att sträva framåt. För många av oss är det något väldigt lockande med tanken på att få saker att växa fram där det inte funnits något förut – men det finns samtidigt också något väldigt starkt i viljan att lämna över något till de generationer som kommer efter. ”Ögonen lyser verkligen upp”
Vid sidan av New York City håller Chance Michaels även på NFL-laget Green Bay Packers. Varför? Eftersom hans farfar hade säsongsbiljett där på 1940-talet.
– Jag har själv tre barn. Den yngsta är bara tre år, men ögonen på både sex- och nioåringen lyser verkligen upp när vi pratar om allt spännande som ska hända med New York City FC. De är minst lika entusiastiska som jag är. Mina egna förfäder kom hit från Norge. Själv kommer jag ju inte att lämna över någon nybyggarstuga till mina efterlevande, men kan jag ge dem en fotbollsklubb vore det också ganska bra.
Nu sitter du här och packar väskan inför den första bortaresan och pratar om ett arv som ska överleva i generationer... Du förstår att alla såna tankar kommer att kännas ganska små när ni släpper in det avgörande målet i 89:e minuten?
– Haha, ja, jag vet... Nu har jag gått igenom två år av gemenskap, samhörighet, tillförsikt – alla de där delarna av fotboll som finns vid sidan av planen. Ibland känner jag att det bästa kanske vore ifall vi bara stannade där, struntade i att spela några matcher.
Tens of thousands of fans without having playedI think a little something has been lost in translation.
Erik Niva on New York City FC - an odd soccer phenomenon
They have never played a competitive match - but they still have tens of thousands of fans.
New York City is an odd football phenomenon.
What drives a supporter to support a hypothesis?
Almost none of us remember our first time properly.
For most football fans are memories of the first match of your favorite team so remote as to be almost faded away. It was something that happened way back there in childhood, before we even come up in conscious age.
Maybe we remember the odd situation - a goal, an audience roar - but that much clearer than that seldom experience.
For Chance Michaels is all that different. He is 43 years old now, and fully aware that it is happening
tomorrow will probably remain in him for the rest of their lives.
For the first time, he shall see his favorite team play football. Or rather - for the first time, his favorite team play a football match.
- How many times do you count down to a day that you know will be a milestone in your life? This is a unique day for me, feelings that are hard to describe.
All supporters have experience that the combination of nervousness and anticipation that fills us in the days before the season premiere. "Support a hypothesis"
The Chance Michaels goes through is certainly akin to it, but still not quite the same. Rather reminds his situation if the groom seat the day before an arranged marriage should have their wedding ceremony.
- I have worked with theater, and from my own life, it is the best parallels I can find. This is a bit like when you've been working on a piece for a very long time. The screenplay was written, the ensemble has been assembled, the rehearsals have been carried out, the decoration has been created, the tickets have been sold - and now it's finally time for the curtain to go up.
New York City FC have never played a real game. Yet they have already tens of thousands of fans, and sold more season tickets than any club in Scandinavia.
Chance Michaels is president of the supporters' club Third Rail. They have the songs, the flags, the colors and the collections - they lack only one team.
- The same day it was announced that New York would get an MLS club we were a few enthusiasts who talked us together through social media. Since it was started, and yes ... Now we have spent two years to support a hypothesis.
Twelve years ago flew Chance Michaels to England only to see David Seamans last game. He is the Arsenal supporters too, and knows very well the ritualistic tradition splash of football in other parts of the world always assumed.
Of course, he understands that his supporters munity seems rather odd in European ears, and because he also makes an extra effort to explain.
- What may not be obvious to outsiders is that New York is already a football town. Every weekend's football bars full already ten o'clock in the morning, and during the World Cup spilled out so many people from them that it was impossible to get around on the sidewalks in Midtown. People from all over the world have brought their football interest here, but until now we have not had a local club to hang up our interest in. Decided to boycott
And then there's no need something dramatic segermål to capture the interest? When would a press release about a new club to awaken feelings?
- For me it was anyway so. I Love New York, I love football - and I've always dreamed of a club that can truly reflect and represent the unique blend of people who are in this city. Now, we ourselves have had the chance to create it. The urban, the colorful, energy - all that is New York characterize really the room when we have our supporters collections. The feeling is that anything is possible. It is we ourselves who write the rules.
That it is the fans who write the rules is of course a truth with reservation. New York City FC's certainly not a supporter guided the club, being controlled by two of the sporting world's largest commercial colossi. Manchester City Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi owns 80 percent, baseball giant New York Yankees remaining 20th
There are those who have paid slightly more than SEK 800 million for MLS site, and it is they who decide how the club is managed and developed.
Admittedly, they have avoided losing games, but that does not now that this is the fans that have been protected from disappointments.
First it was the costumes that does not at all reflect the colors of the New York City flag, but instead turned out to be a copy of Manchester City's light blue suit. Then there was the whole farce around Frank Lampard, who apparently needed more as bänknötare in the Premier League than the draw for the MLS.
Right now rages an infected contravention of the rules of supporters sections at Yankee Stadium. Allowed some flag sticks there? Will there be any banner locations? Drums? Capo settings?
It does not seem so, and some Third Rail members have therefore decided to boycott all club products until lactamase regulations eased. "Supporters note criminals," says the call. "When was the limit"
- Well, I do not think we are the first football fans in the world who have been frustrated by the club owners running the business.
But when people talk about booing out Frank Lampard because he demonstrated a lack of loyalty to a club that has previously only existed on paper ... You understand how ironic it sounds?
- Sure. But I also note where the criticism comes, and how it is formulated. Those who are the most angry at us are fans of the New York Red Bulls. They attack us for being plastic and designed - while their own club
is bought by an energy drink companies. I have been quite difficult to follow the logic there.
Chance Michaels puffs
handset and takes new batch. The constitution of a new club from the grassroots is virtually impossible in the US today. For him, this free opportunity that was offered instead, the chance to exploit the room for maneuver that arose in the tick's wake.
- New York Red Bulls has been around for 20 years, but in my eyes they have always focused on the soccer moms and the white middle class out in the suburbs. They have never played their matches in the city itself, and I have never been able to tie in with the club. Should it be forbidden for me to help build up an option that reflects my own New York in a better way? Okay that owners have their own agenda, but many of us really feel strongly about what is happening here. Being a football fan may well not be subject to get there first? When did so, the limit for it to be okay? 1920? 1960? 2000?
Tomorrow play Orlando City v New York City in the MLS premiere. Kaka on one side, David Villa on the other. More than 60 000 spectators at a sold-out arena.
Neither team has ever played a competitive match before.
For many of us in the ancient world, it is like watching a hologram from a parallel football reality, a place where there is almost insignificant where you come from and all that matters is where you are going.
- There is something very American
in this desire to break new ground, to press forward. For many of us it is something very attractive about the idea of getting things to grow where there has not been any before - yet there is also something very strong in will to hand over something to the generations that come after. "The eyes really shines up"
Alongside New York City keeps Chance Michaels also on the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Why? Since his grandfather had season tickets there in the 1940s.
- I have three children. The youngest is only three years, but the eyes of both six- and nine year old really shines when we talk about all the exciting things to happen to New York City FC. They are just as enthusiastic as I am. My own ancestors came here from Norway. Myself, I do not hand over any nybyggarstuga to my surviving, but I can give them a football club, it would be pretty good too.
Now, you sit here and pack your bags for the first away trip and talk about a legacy that will survive for generations ... You understand that all such thoughts will seem quite small when you put the decisive goal in 89 minutes?
- Haha, yeah, I know ... Now I've gone through two years of community, belonging, confidence - all those elements of football that is at the side of the pitch. Sometimes I feel that it might be best if we just stayed there, did not care to play a few matches.
At Long Last, NYCFC Fans Have a Game to WatchInteresting. I hadn't heard that the Viking Army was seeing defections in any numbers. I've long felt that this is more about growing the pool of soccer fans in general rather than carving up the existing fanbase.
Expansion franchise has spent many years and dollars building a fan base before a ball is even kicked
By DANIEL BARBARISI March 5, 2015
The fans of New York City FC, the soccer team that has never played a game, were under attack.
As they took their seats at January's MLS SuperDraft, the abuse came from all sides. There were chants of "De-rek Je-ter" and a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," to make light of NYCFC's rented home at Yankee Stadium. The purple-clad fans of Orlando City SC, Major League Soccer's other new expansion franchise, bombarded them with "Where's Frank Lam-pard," referencing the star midfielder who will be noticeably and controversially absent for the first months of NYCFC's season.
More taunts rained down: "Who are you?," and "Man City two," maligning NYCFC's perceived status as a farm team for sister club Manchester City, one of the juggernauts of English soccer.
Through it all, Chance Michaels tried to keep his troops in line.
"Calm down, calm down," cautioned Michaels, the president of the NYCFC supporters group known as the Third Rail, appealing to the few dozen members who had made the trip to Philadelphia for the event. "This comes with the territory."
When you're the new kid on the block, you're bound to take abuse. It comes double when you arrive on the scene with outsize fanfare, backed by big money and interests, bringing in (and losing) star players, and fending off controversy before a game has ever been played.
"Since we started, we've endured our slings and arrows, and people have said, 'How can you be fans of a team that isn't a team?'" Michaels said. "We took our lumps."
That's why Michaels and his cohort are looking forward to Sunday, when NYCFC will travel to play its inaugural match against Orlando City SC. Orlando's 60,000 seat Citrus Bowl is sold out for the match, and among that crowd will be a sizable New York contingent.
That's just what the heads of NYCFC hoped would happen when they began their campaign to get this fledgling soccer team on the map and create a devoted fan base from thin air.
Dropping a sports team into a market where no fewer than nine professional franchises already fight over public attention doesn't exactly come with a road map, said the team's outgoing chief business officer, Tim Pernetti.
"I'm not sure that's happened recently, nor will it probably happen again," Pernetti said. "The biggest challenge you have, especially in New York, is that you're bringing a new pro sports franchise to the most chaotic and distracted market in the country, and it's also the most diverse market in the country. To cut through and really be identifiable, you have to be creative, take advantage of the right relationships. And you have to pick your spots."
With the home opener slated for March 15, NYCFC has sold more than 14,000 season tickets for a stadium configuration normally expected to seat just under 28,000. The average attendance for an MLS game hovers around 19,000.
"People are far more aware of this club than I think people expected fans to be," Pernetti said.
NYCFC is the well-heeled offspring of City Football Group, the owners of the Manchester City team, and the New York Yankees, and it will play home games at Yankee Stadium until a soccer-specific stadium is built somewhere in the five boroughs.
To plant and grow a fan base, NYCFC targeted several core constituencies. First, it went after the city's existing but underserved soccer fans, who might already follow soccer on the international level but want a closer relationship with the local game. These aren't just rabid all-around sports fans. Tom Glick, the incoming president of NYCFC, said that more than 60% of the club's season-ticket holders have never held a season ticket with any other New York team.
"These in many cases are young professionals, 25 to 35," Glick said. "There's a niche of passionate soccer fans in New York that has been underserved. It's our good fortune to be able to fill that void."
Also ripe for possible poaching are fans who were already watching a New York-area MLS team: the New York Red Bulls. In its advertising and branding efforts, NYCFC has portrayed itself as the team of the five boroughs, a not-so-subtle invitation to any New York City-residing Red Bulls fans to come on over to Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC executives have repeatedly stated that the rising tide will lift all boats when it comes to New York soccer, and that any rivalry will be good for both teams.
"Certainly, the New York metro area is big enough for two teams to do well, and I think one will really help the other," Glick said.
Michael Warchol, a board member for Viking Army, one of the chief Red Bulls supporter clubs, said his group has already witnessed members quietly defecting, particularly from the ranks of New York City residents, though it hasn't seen its numbers hurt.
"There's fans that left us for NYCFC, but there are people who are coming in at the same time," Warchol said. "It offsets."
Those two groups were fertile ground for season-ticket sales. Then there are the casual fans, the ones who aren't "coming to every game, painting their faces and their hair," as Glick put it, but who want to experiment with soccer and might buy single-game tickets.
To reach all these groups, NYCFC representatives fanned out to soccer bars across the city and organized events, gaining particular traction during the World Cup last summer. They conducted youth soccer clinics, reaching into New York's wealthy, soccer-playing suburbs. They did considerable mainstream advertising, plastering stars like Spanish forward David Villa and U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud on billboards. NYCFC even gained some hard-earned visibility when a public backlash followed the news that English midfielder Frank Lampard wouldn't be joining the team to start the season, as had been announced.
"We did everything from the traditional billboards in Times Square to the more dynamic, digital stuff on the ground," Pernetti said. "And there's the Yankee element as well, that brand."
The Yankees, who own a minority share of the team, provided an easy launchpad for all things NYCFC, from advertising in Yankee Stadium itself to promos for the team on the YES Network and on WFAN Radio. The Yankees also had a valuable commodity to offer: their own season-ticket subscribers list.
"We obviously wanted access to the Yankee fan community, and we figured we could mine some soccer fans there, and we absolutely have," Pernetti said.
They believe they've drawn them in. Now they must keep them. Pernetti says to do that, NYCFC must offer something that the more established New York teams don't: a closer fan experience.
"Pro sports is not as accessible as it used to be," Pernetti said. "We have a chance to create an experience where if a ball gets kicked into the stands, you can take it home. You can meet players after the game. You actually have access to what you're buying a ticket to watch."
All of that begins this weekend, which couldn't come soon enough for the more than 1,600 members of the Third Rail. They've had to deal with the flak long enough. If their newborn team starts winning, they'll have the opportunity to give it back—with interest.
Whose Side Are You On?Outstanding.
A Decision for Soccer Fans: New York City Football Club or Red Bulls
By JEFF Z. KLEIN FEB. 27, 2015
N.Y.C.F.C. fans watching an exhibition match at a Manhattan bar last month. Nancy Borowick for The New York Times
New York sports fans can be a melodramatic lot, but in January one particular group had become agitated on a whole other level. The debut of a newly acquired star player, believed to be set for the season opener in March, had been pushed back at least three months for contract reasons, and they were outraged. Some returned the team jerseys they had bought bearing the player's name. Others vowed to boo him when he did finally arrive. One group of die-hards issued a statement saying it "would like to publicly denounce" the club and the player for the delay.
A typical New York fan response to a team's blunder. But here is the difference: The team, New York City Football Club, hadn't played a game yet. Not just this season. Ever.
"It's a very good sign," said Tom Glick, N.Y.C.F.C.'s president, "to have this level of passion at this point in our development."
Mr. Glick may be making lemonade out of lemons, but he has good reason to be optimistic. New York City F.C., an expansion club in Major League Soccer, will play its first regular-season match on March 8 and its first home match, at Yankee Stadium, on March 15. It has already sold 14,000 season tickets, Mr. Glick said, and has a fan base rabid enough to get extravagantly upset over things that haven't happened yet.
"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."
Yet there is actually another local team, and an equally passionate set of fans — or supporters, as they say in soccer — that would take issue with that statement.
The New York Red Bulls have been playing in the metropolitan area for 20 years, starting as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the Meadowlands before changing names and, in 2010, moving to a $200 million soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J. But the league and N.Y.C.F.C. and its fans believe there is room for another team, in the city itself. "We're excited to have another M.L.S. team in the area," said Joseph Stetson, a Red Bulls vice president. "It'll help to raise awareness and coverage of M.L.S. soccer in the area."
Of course, both teams claim to represent New Yorkers, and for Red Bulls fans who live in Upper Manhattan, say, or the Bronx, there's a real decision to be made.
This is not the first time that New Yorkers have faced such options — in all the big sports, freshly minted teams have forced fans to choose between the brash new and the established old. In 1960, the New York Titans, soon to be renamed the Jets, arrived to challenge the football Giants. Two years later, the Mets were born to replace the departed baseball Giants and Dodgers and challenge Yankee hegemony. The Nets began as the New Jersey Americans in 1967, then moved to Long Island, back to New Jersey and finally to Brooklyn, as an increasingly viable alternative to the Knicks. The Rangers' fan base has withstood incursions from the Islanders on its east flank and the Devils on its west.
"I know New York," the senatorial candidate Kenneth Keating said in 1958, according to Jimmy Breslin's account of the bungling early Mets, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" "It is not used to having a single loyalty to a single team. This is a city which must have divided interests."
Last weekend more than 100 Third Rail members packed the third floor of Nevada Smith's, an East Village soccer bar, to watch New York City play a preseason match in Charleston, S.C. The game was amateurishly telecast on YouTube, but for all of the N.Y.C.F.C. jerseys, N.Y.C.F.C. scarves and other N.Y.C.F.C. paraphernalia in evidence, you would swear it was being transmitted direct from the World Cup. There were even beery terrace songs, like this one, sung to the tune of "This Old Man":
"N-Y-C! N-Y-C! We are N-Y-C F-C/ From the Bronx all the way down to the Battery! We are N-Y-C F-C!"
Mr. Toto, Third Rail's "vice president for fan experience," was among those on hand. He cited the "three strikes" that N.Y.C.F.C. had already accumulated in the eyes of some of its fans. The first was the delayed arrival of the star player, Frank Lampard, who opted to stay with Manchester City until the end of the English season in May. The same conglomerate based in Abu Dhabi that owns Manchester City owns N.Y.C.F.C.
"They said we weren't going to be Manchester City B," Mr. Toto said, before launching into a discussion of N.Y.C.F.C.'s light blue shirts, a dead ringer for the Manchester City uniform. "Then the jersey comes out, and it's like, O.K., are we Manchester City? What's going on? They were going to use the New York City colors" — the dark blue, orange and white of the municipal flag — "and then they throw sky blue in."
Mr. Toto was interrupted before he got to the third strike. More fans were arriving — a multicultural crowd, mostly male but with many women mixed in. It was a good urban blend that nonetheless reflected two striking demographic traits: Almost everyone was in their 20s or 30s, and almost everyone lived in the five boroughs. The crowd's makeup was in line with the club's own statistics for season-ticket buyers: Most are young professionals who live in the city, and 63 percent have never before owned a season ticket for any team in any sport.
"I grew up in Kansas City and was a fan of the Wizards, the M.L.S. team there," said Caleb-Michael Files, 23, who was decked out in N.Y.C.F.C. and Third Rail gear. "When I moved to New York, I had to find a family, so here I am."
"I was born in Queens, moved to the Bronx, spent my whole life in New York City," said Andy Bajaña, 19, who was clad in sky blue. "I was a MetroStars fan growing up, then they became the Red Bulls. To me, that was disrespectful. We've got the best city in the world — we're going to sell out to an energy drink company?"
Glass houses, as the expression goes. Yes, the Red Bulls are owned by the giant Austrian energy drink and sports company, but N.Y.C.F.C., which paid a $100 million expansion fee to join the league, is no mom-and-pop outfit.
Eighty percent of N.Y.C.F.C. is owned by City Football Group, the Emirati conglomerate that in addition to Manchester City, one of the most free-spending clubs in the world, also owns teams in Australia and Japan. The Yankees own the balance. And if anyone is still unclear about whether big money is behind N.Y.C.F.C., the team's shirt sponsor is Etihad Airways, a flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.
Still, in New York, tribes will be tribes.
"Dodger fans could not bring themselves to be Yankee fans, they really couldn't do it," said the author Pete Hamill, recalling New York's baseball scene between 1958 and '62. He remembered his father's emotional journey in those dark years after the Dodgers and the Giants had abandoned Brooklyn.
"He was just waiting for the opportunity to root for something, and he couldn't do it with the Yankees," he said. "He became a Met fan, I think when they were in that first spring training. It was, 'Our tribe is not going to root for the Yankee tribe.' "
New York's first big-money soccer team was the original Cosmos of Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer. They had their heyday in the late 1970s and early '80s, playing before capacity crowds of 77,000 at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, with Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger watching from V.I.P. suites. But the team and the league collapsed in 1985, starting a long, fallow period for professional soccer in the area.
John Russo, a.k.a. Johnny Toro, during a
Red Bulls game in 2007.
Credit Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Slowly and steadily, however, the sport has come back, spurred by easy access to telecasts of overseas leagues, the spread of computer games, explosive interest in the World Cup and a recent proliferation of playing fields and adult recreational leagues. According to Nielsen, soccer's audience is young, like the N.B.A.'s, not old, like Major League Baseball's.
"It's really amazing to see where the sport was, and where it is today," said Claudio Reyna, who watched the Cosmos as a little boy before growing up to play for the United States national team, Manchester City and the Red Bulls. Today, he is N.Y.C.F.C.'s director of football. "There was a time when the sport didn't really exist in the New York area. Now there's inspiration right here in our backyard, and wave after wave of growth in the coming years." Even the Cosmos have come back; the team now plays in the second division of soccer in the United States in a stadium at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Given all that, what is occurring with N.Y.C.F.C.'s formation represents a stunning confluence of soccer's growing popularity, the power of the Internet and the desire among many of the city's millennials to create a fan culture like those they have seen in Europe, Latin America and, increasingly, the United States.
Chance Michaels, the Third Rail president and, at 43, one of its oldest members, sees the N.Y.C.F.C.-Red Bulls divide on a much grander scale than a mere duel between corporations. For him, it is the embodiment of a cultural struggle between city and suburbs, not just as reflected in the trajectory of American soccer, but in American society itself.
"In the beginning, the MetroStars, and later the Red Bulls, really seemed to have staked out the suburbs, particularly the Jersey suburbs, as their real market," he said. "That was part of the era we were in — you know, the soccer moms, that big political demographic in the '90s and early 2000s. They thought that the suburbs were the future of the sport." But since 2002 the M.L.S. has doubled in size and has found a new vibrancy in urban stadiums, like those in Seattle and Portland, where singing, chanting fans display an enthusiasm as unbridled as any in American sport. To Mr. Michaels, however, the Red Bulls are part of the old, suburban paradigm.
Mei-Ling Hyler, center, rooting for N.Y.C.F.C. during an exhibition match last month. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times
"They didn't seem to have a ton of interest in the city itself," he said. "And, to be honest, I think the city kind of returned that lack of interest. And so the Red Bulls were never really able to capture the market here."
That point is disputed by Red Bulls fans.
"We have people from all over New York," said Jen Muller of the Empire Supporters Club, one of the three independent Red Bulls fan groups. "We're pretty much split down the middle between people from New Jersey and from New York, and we haven't lost that many people to N.Y.C.F.C."
According to estimates, about 40 percent of those who attend Red Bulls games at the team's five-year-old stadium in New Jersey come from New York City. James Cureton, 30, from Marble Hill, where Upper Manhattan meets the Bronx, is one.
"It's like a family-type thing," said Mr. Cureton, who sometimes spends two and a half hours getting to Harrison. "I don't see N.Y.C.F.C. as something I necessarily identify with, just because they slapped that name on the team. I don't feel it represents me. I think the Empire Supporters Club represents me as a person, and I wouldn't give that up for something that might be just 15 minutes away from my home."
With soccer fans identifying so tribally, and fan groups like Third Rail and Empire paying handsomely for "tifo" (enormous, unofficial banners displayed in the stands as teams enter the field), it is easy to see where this could all be headed. The league would like nothing more than a frothy, regular "subway series" between the Red Bulls and N.Y.C.F.C. Such a derby, as intracity matches are known throughout the soccer world, can electrify a team's supporters. Although many of the greatest derbies — in Buenos Aires, Glasgow, Istanbul — tend to incite a level of fandom that the league, and stadium security, would probably prefer to avoid.
Rivalries among New York teams usually do not have sectarian roots. They may be defined along geographic lines, like Rangers-Devils or Rangers-Islanders in hockey. Perhaps Red Bulls-N.Y.C.F.C. will look more like the rivalry between the Nets of hip-hop, hipster Brooklyn and the Knicks of older, more established and, perhaps, squarer Manhattan. In any case, the teams will face each other May 10 and Aug. 9 at Red Bull Arena, and on June 28 at Yankee Stadium.
Both sets of fans are playing down any talk of rivalry — for the moment.
"We'll see if something develops between N.Y.C. and the Red Bulls, but right now, I don't hate the Red Bulls," Mr. Toto said. "I can't hate them — we haven't even played them yet."
The Red or the Blue
This year, New York soccer fans will have two M.L.S. teams to choose from. Here, a rough checklist to determine whether you’re a Red Bulls fan or a City supporter. Five or more checks in either column chooses your side.