Hearts will be heavy and minds will be anywhere but on the field on Saturday when the New York Red Bulls host the New England Revolution, in what will be the visitor’s first game since the senseless tragedy that took place Monday in Boston, Massachustetts. All of us here at First Touch extend our condolences to those affected.
This will be yet another, albeit darker, page in one of the strangest rivalries in Major League Soccer. A rivalry unlike any other.
Because it really isn’t one. It’s the greatest un-rivalry in MLS.
For New York, there is the despised DC United, with whom we have punched, kicked, scratched, and clawed since the league’s very inception. More recently, Philadelphia have joined the league and attempted to be the new noisy neighbors but more often than not come off as the little brother desperate to be noticed and accepted.
And then there’s New England. Now, don’t get me wrong. If there’s a game with something on the line, I want my side to win it, regardless of who’s on the other side. You could put New York against eleven exact clones of my late grandmother, and I’ll still accuse Grandma #7 of embellishment the first time Jamison Olave mows her down.
But a game against New England just doesn’t stir up the same emotional fervor as a DC or a Philly, or even a Seattle to some extent. It’s not for a lack of trying, mind you. Both teams have held up their end of the bargain on the field. The Revs, to their credit, have been dominant on their home end of the situation, having not allowed a win by the New York franchise at the unfriendly, turfed, cavernous confines of Gillette Stadium in over a decade.
And it hasn’t just been run of the mill regular season affairs either. The two have met in the playoffs as recently as 2007, with no small amount of controversy. Then New England defender (and current New England head coach) Jay Heaps lept for the same ball as New York legend Juan Pablo Angel with the score line level late on. The two made hard contact in the air and when both came down, it was Angel who took the worst of it, ending up with a concussion. While JPA was being tended to on the sideline, the game continued and the now 10-man Metros surrendered a goal to Taylor Twellman (the first of many times the current television talking head would attempt to bring glory to his name from a concussion) that sent New York out of the playoffs yet again.
And there’s the security in New England. There’s a name for what the security at Gillette Stadium is, but I don’t want to give honest, hardworking jackbooted thugs a bad name in this publication. It got so bad in 2009 that the wage slave goons decided it would be a good idea to pepper spray a group of New York fans indiscriminately. Among the victims were women and a man in a wheelchair. Classy. Lucky for us we could just get on a bus and leave. The New England fans, whatever you think of them, were unfortunately stuck with those thugs and their particular brand of “security”.
So there’s reason to hate, but was anyone coming into this week thinking “Oh, I can’t WAIT to get my hands on New England”? Probably not, and there’s a very good reason for that.
Think of Philadelphia as a tiny mosquito buzzing around in your face: annoying, but ultimately harmless. They’re on one end of the spectrum. DC are way far down on the other end of the spectrum, the worst of the worst, the sort of people that would write an essay on Hitler and devote an inordinate amount of time to his art career, if you follow my meaning.
New England fans? Not even on the spectrum. Nice enough folks. Some’ll even offer you cookies.
Now, it’s impossible to paint large swaths of people with the same brush, and for sure New England has their fair share of knucklehead supporters as much as New York does. Yes, there have been some instances of scarves ending up in the wrong hands somehow. Maybe some salty language lobbed back and forth. Perhaps some threats of violence as well? Sure, but things get said in the heat of the moment.
But if you go back to the days before soccer-specific stadiums in the United States opened up the center of the country, the US Men’s National Team always played on the coasts, specifically in Foxborough or East Rutherford, and the New England fans did their national team duty right. (If you worried that I’m going to “tell you how to be a fan”, kindly go pleasure yourself sexually.) They didn’t wear their club gear to national team matches, nor did they bring their club baggage. It was understood as read: what’s past is past, and next week we’ll look at the schedule again, but for right now we’re supporting America. Done. No further discussion needed nor wanted.
I can recall a few times gathered around a car in the Giants Stadium parking lot before a Red Bulls game. New York fans and New England fans, standing shoulder to shoulder peering at a monitor blinded by the summer New Jersey sun trying to watch a US game. Once the game ended, we all went our separate ways, back to the MLS business at hand. From those experiences, true friendships have been made across the line.
So this Saturday if a broadcaster tries to feed you a narrative about how it must be a massive local derby, it’s a bunch of tripe. And if you tune in expecting to see a huge New York vs. Boston rivalry, perhaps you just should stick to baseball. Even before this week, you were going to be disappointed. Saturday is going to be about a lot of people, from both sides, once again turning up to a stadium to blow off some steam and get some of the negative energy out of their system.
We stand with Sandy Hook Elementary School and the people of Newtown, Connecticut.
We stand with New England’s Kevin Alston, who has stepped away from the team after a leukemia diagnosis.
We stand with New England’s Matt Reis, whose father-in-law was among the dozens injured on Monday.
We stand with Boston.
Saturday, April 20: New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution – See? Wasn’t that unexpected and nice, New England? It would be mighty keen of you to repay my kindness by rolling over and giving us an easy win. Fair’s fair. Join the Empire Supporters Club at El Pastor (570 Market St. Newark) as we once again just try to get through this thing called ‘life’.