The buildup was worth it, the wait was worth it, the long-ass subway rides were worth it and, of course, the win was totally worth it.
In an environment where you would usually hear Yankee fans bitching and moaning about Alex Rodriguez’s illustrious past and tears from the Derek Jeter retirement waterfall, there was absolutely none of that.
There were only assorted chants from the New York City FC supporter group the Third Rail and other fans alike.
Twenty minutes into NYCFC’s 2-0 win over the MLS Cup runners-up New England Revolution at their inaugural home opener, David Villa sent the crowd into a frenzy with a nicely placed 1v1 goal past Revolution goalkeeper Bobby “not Jesus” Shuttleworth (who, by the way, had a fantastic game). Madness ensued. Fellow season ticket holders in my vicinity all high-fived each other while screaming at the top of their lungs, drunk off of a couple of $15 Heinekens (yeah, a pint actually costs that much inside the stadium).
The experience was off to a great start. Villa’s first home goal for the club united season ticket holders as one for the first time in NYCFC history. Shortly after the goal, I started conversing with a fellow season ticket holder named Danny and one of his friends. Immediately, he brought up the Red Bulls and the potential rivalry that could heat up after the first couple of fixtures NYCFC plays against the Red Bulls, at Red Bull Arena in May and at Yankee Stadium in late June.
“The Red Bulls were cool for a couple of years,” Danny said. “But then I just didn’t feel that I had the obligation to attend games in New Jersey. It’s yet another hassle for my friend and I that we can’t handle.”
That seems to be common with NYCFC fans. New Jersey is the armpit of the United States, the commute is a huge pain in the ass going there and back, and the name is penned under New York and not New Jersey. The fanbase has been solidified since the MetroStars took ground at then-Giants Stadium. I’m a New York Jets fan (you know, the handegg team) and yeah, of course it’s annoying to root for a team based in New Jersey, but at least they played in New York at one point. (Their move from Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands still angers my dad to this day.)
The weird thing is that I never saw Danny and his friend again after the second half. They must have disappeared into one of the 50 million bars in Yankee Stadium trying to find the best bargain on beers, in which I would’ve said to them, “Good luck trying to find a beer less than $15.”
The funny thing is that I hate the Yankees and Manchester City. I’m not one of those people that are supporting NYCFC because of their City roots, which is the common go-to response for Red Bull fans and MLS fans in general. “Oh, you’re going to be infested with money because of City Football Group.”
For me, though, it was more about becoming a “founding member” of the club by buying season tickets for the first time in my life. At a ripe young age of 18, I saved $340 of my hard-earned money (mostly Christmas money and measly valet tips) to purchase a piece of history.
Another guy who sat right in front of me with his wife and kids started talking to me after Villa’s first goal. I never got his name, but he seemed more ecstatic than ever about the whole experience. “YAAAAAAAAAA ILLA ILLA MARAVILLA!” he cried. “Illa Illa Maravilla” is a chant used by La Liga ultras, and it was used frequently when Villa played on Zaragoza (please come back to La Liga).
At the end of the first half, I decided to walk around Yankee Stadium. As funny as it sounds, that was my first visit to Yankee Stadium. Never in my life (maybe once during my infancy, but I don’t remember) have I stepped foot inside the baseball cathedral for anything. Anything.
The souvenir stand was flooded with people that wanted to get their hands on overpriced jerseys that you could buy at Modells for $50 less (about $150 at the stadium), home opener scarfs, hats, pennant flags – you name it, the kiosk had it.
The second half started, and I rushed back to my seat after cramming a hot dog (not so much like Joey Chestnut) and enjoyed the thrashing of the Revolution for the remainder of the game.
Khiry Shelton immediately made an impact as soon as he came on. Less than three minutes into his stint, he forced a red card on José Gonçalves and later on, Patrick Mullins slotted the insurance goal via a Villa cross to seal the game. Sadly for the traveling Revolution supporters, the Revolution didn’t pull off a PSG-against-Chelsea with ten men and ended up with only two shots in the entire second half.
The last 10 minutes was pretty much Villa just screwing around by performing back heel flicks to woo the crowd. Even Mix Diskerud joined in on Villa’s back heel fun time. Chants of “Eye of The Tiger,” in lieu of Diskerud (“Mix, Mix, Mix, Diskeruuuuuuuud!”) blared throughout the section next to me near the end of the game. The guy in front of me with his wife and kids started conforming to the Mix chants next to us and his wife just stared at him like he was a deranged stranger.
For a game that was only to be attended by season ticket holders and single game ticket holders in Bleacher Creature land, approximately 18,000 people turned into 43,507. Once Yankee Stadium announced that they were going to open up the nosebleeds, a couple of my friends immediately bought the cheap seat tickets.
That’s another thing. People that didn’t seem to have a personal connection for the Red Bulls are now coming together through NYCFC. They couldn’t care less about the team’s affiliation with two of the biggest sporting conglomerates in the world. They care about supporting the new guys on the block in their own neighborhood.
The MetroStars, in their own way, were somewhat big as the area team. Most MetroStars fans ended up not rooting for the Red Bulls, because of the team name change. For some, it was rather insulting to change their name from a New York symbol to an energy drink.
Now, I don’t know how many Red Bull fans have jumped ship to NYCFC because of the name change or the location of Red Bull Arena, but I can say this: call NYCFC fans “plastic” and “bandwagoners” all you want. They don’t care. The franchise hasn’t even played 5 games and people already getting labeled as, essentially, casuals, because of the all-Manchester City fans-are-NYCFC-fans generalization.
Maybe being lambasted for supporting an expansion franchise of a potential rival is a good thing. When Diskerud scored the franchise’s first goal against Orlando City, he kissed the crest and people were like “the hell is he kissing?” Meanwhile, Kaka scores off a massively lucky deflection off of Jeb Brovsky’s chest and is praised for his emotion during his post goal celebration. Yawn…
But that’s beside the point, which is that MLS’ popularity is growing – slowly, but it’s getting there. For most New York football fans, NYCFC is the start of something new. And it certainly was showcased by the 43,507 people that witnessed history.