Well, that happened. There is no getting around the fact that New York City FC won the 2021 MLS Cup. New York Red Bull fans have been dealing with that new truth for about half a week at this point. It’s been a rollercoaster of lows and, well, more lows, but acceptance is the first step in moving on.
It isn’t like it wasn’t earned. By all accounts NYCFC have been a top team in the Eastern Conference the past few seasons. This year in the playoffs they topped Atlanta United at home, overcame the New England Revolution being a man down in penalty kicks, and then beat second seed Philadelphia Union on the road in the conference final. Sure, they needed a late goal to beat a Philly team that was COVID ridden but the playoffs be like that. Then in the cup final a cross country trip and late equalizer couldn’t stop the team from beating the Portland Timbers in penalty kicks.
I hated recounting all that. Especially considering the Red Bulls’ own playoff journey was over after one game. That stoppage time goal from the Union in the first round ended what was a great, comeback season for the Bulls.
But when a team has the league’s Golden Boot winner in Valentín Castellanos and beat the Supporters Shield champions, credit is due.
That being said, it isn’t great being a fan of the other team right now. Red Bull fans have been rightly hearing it from all sides. The City fans whose team won the league trophy in under 1/3rd the time RBNY has existed. For perspective, NYCFC won the MLS Cup in its seventh season of existence. In the MetroStars seventh season, the team reached the U.S. Open Cup Final for the first time and lost to the Chicago Fire. The farthest they’d reached in the league playoffs up until that point? A one time appearance in the 2000 MLS Cup Semifinals (where, again, they lost to Chicago).
What isn’t helping the situation is the lack of any acknowledgement from Harrison. Prior to Saturday’s MLS Cup Final the team had multiple social media posts go up. None directly called out NYCFC and most referenced Portland’s head coach and former MetroStars player Giovanni Savarese. But after the game, there was nothing.
No post congratulating City on social media, something that can often be seen with crosstown rivals in the U.S. (see the Chicago White Sox in 2016). In years past teams would sometimes buy out page size advertisements in newspapers to honor or congratulate rival teams (See the New York Yankees on David Wright’s retirement). But in this case RBNY hasn’t said anything to or about New York City FC.
It’s almost like the team knows this is bad. Every post the team makes now, including the recent signing of Lewis Morgan, has comments about the blue team. The void the silence is creating allows this to happen even more frequently.
So, what should fans do now? They could do the tried and true classic that “real football” means winning the regular season title. That excuse is very weak but hey three Supporters Shields are impressive.
The examples of other New York City teams being upstaged by younger sides are also on the table. The New York Jets were only established in 1960 and won a Super Bowl only eight years into their existence (the third ever Super Bowl at that). The New York Football Giants had won four NFL Championships up to that point but the team’s first Super Bowl win wouldn’t come until 1986. It’s not a perfect comparison but considering the circumstances I’ll take it.
You can maybe also compare the New York Rangers being an Original Six team in the National Hockey League. They are tied with the much younger New York Islanders at four Stanley Cups each, with the latter’s being the incredibly rare four-beat in the early 80s. Then there’s the fact that since the Rangers last cup win in 1994, the cross river New Jersey Devils have been to four Finals and won the Stanley Cup three times.
In the end though, all of these are just coping and hopefully most New York Red Bulls fans know that. The only right way to move on from this is to just accept it. Congratulate City for playing and optimizing the game. But, the next step in acceptance is to hold your own team accountable. Threaten, and maybe follow through, on not renewing Red Memberships. Stop buying merch or attending games. If you have your own ways of showing dissatisfaction, you need the team to know it and feel it where it matters.
Until then, it could just be business as usual in Harrison for the time being. Isolating itself from whatever happens elsewhere. Knowing it can stick to a plan and achieve just what it needs to in order to progress.