MLS: The story of the New York Hudson River Derby

The story of New York’s Hudson River Derby is intense, complicated and fresh. Born out of corporate takeovers and a lack of representation, we recount the rivalry here.

Imagine the scene, you’re in a five-star restaurant, enjoying a lovely meal, only for the ambience and atmosphere to be utterly destroyed by a screaming child. When I think of a club being developed out of thin air in 2013, and then arriving on the scene in 2015, I can’t help but compare the situations for the pre-existing club in town.

That’s exactly what New York City FC is by default and genetics. They’re a product of the City Football Group, aka Manchester City’s football enterprise to create or own clubs in various leagues.

A similar concept to what Austrian energy drink, Red Bull, have succeeded at. So, by being a product of Manchester City, the ‘noisy neighbours’ as Sir Alex Ferguson once labelled them, NYCFC follow in the City Football Group’s footsteps.

Let’s go to an era before MLS begun and remind ourselves where soccer in New York was. The Cosmo’s had practically died. The New York/New Jersey MetroStars were the main hype in town.

In 1998, a few years into MLS, the MetroStars dropped New York/New Jersey from their name, although it was a change the media weren’t great at keeping up with and often still labelled them by their regions first.

By 1999, the MetroStars had produced the worst season record in MLS history, which proudly still stands. Seven wins, 25 defeats. Ouch. It’s made worse by the fact that it happened under the management of former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach, Bora Milutinovic.

HARRISON, NJ – JULY 14: Daniel Royer of New York Red Bulls celebrates with a jump his goal from the penalty spot during the MLS match between New York City FC and New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on July 14, 2019 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images)

A year later, the script had flipped. The MetroStars came top of the Eastern Conference. They even signed German international Lothar Matthaus from Bayern Munich, who really didn’t contribute too much other than headlines and dressing room morale.

Bob Bradley then came and went in the few seasons before Red Bull realised some potential in owning an MLS franchise. By 2006, the Red Bulls came and conquered the MetroStars, rebranding them to Red Bull New York. And so, history begins, again.

Red Bull had initially wanted to create a new club from scratch in the New York metropolis, rather than remain in New Jersey where the MetroStars were based. However, the club had a deal with MLS to be the only franchise in the total New Jersey and New York region, a pact that Red Bull actually had to sacrifice back to MLS when taking over the MetroStars. Complicated, right?

Red Bull took over the plans to build a new stadium in Harrison, NJ, which eventually saw the Red Bulls move out of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ in 2009. At the start of the 2010 season, the Red Bulls were playing in the soccer-specific, European-styled brand-new, 25,000-seater Red Bull Arena.

Since Red Bull took over, the club still hasn’t managed to win an MLS Cup but they have enjoyed substantially more success. They signed Thierry Henry from Barcelona, who managed 52 goals and a Supporters’ Shield in his 4-year spell from 2010 to 2014.

The New York Red Bulls appeared in MLS Cup in 2008 and finished top of the Eastern Conference five times since 2010, getting to the semi-finals of the playoffs three times in that period. Alongside Toronto FC, they have been the dominant Eastern team over the past decade. They were just lacking the postseason success.

In 2015, the noisy neighbours arrived. And New York City FC have very much replicated the Manchester City model. Sky Blue kit? Check. Money? Check. Eye-catching transfers? Big check. Or cheque, should I say. Slow start to life? Check.

NYCFC became the 20th MLS team. They were the first club to be based in New York. Awkwardly, they play their soccer games at a baseball stadium. Yankee Stadium is impressive, but it is unsuitable for soccer. This has been a point of major derision and ridicule, and rightly so.

New York City signed the likes of Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, and after an underwhelming first season under Jason Kreis, in which they finished eighth in the conference, the success began to flow.

Along came former Arsenal and France powerhouse midfielder, Patrick Viera. He may have suffered the worst Hudson River Derby in history when the Red Bulls beat New York City 7-0, be he led the club to consecutive second-place finishes and semi-final appearances in the playoffs. In fact, since 2016, NYCFC has made that stage every season. The Red Bulls still hold conference bragging rights though, finishing above their rivals three times since 2015.

New York City FC is heading in the right direction. Their biggest let down comes from where they play their home matches. The clubs branding is superb and clean aside from that, and it’s now being matched by results on the pitch.

The New York Red Bulls, meanwhile, are a mainstay in MLS. Although their academy, stadium, consistency and support are hard to rival, it’s tricky to overlook City’s cry of “you should be called the New Jersey Red Bulls”. The Red Bulls are New Jersey. They play there, train there, probably live there.

Next: MLS: Orlando tournament reeks of money, money, money

What New York City don’t have just yet is control of the city. The NYRB have existed for both states since the early ’90s. True soccer fans can’t simply throw history away due to some level of convenience. The new generation of New York’s soccer fanbase, however, may feel more blessed with the choice, admittedly.

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