NYCFC, Red Bulls and the Cosmos: The three-way battle for New York City's soccer soul

New York City soccer fans love their teams – and hate each other

At Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium on Wednesday, 11,446 fans packed in to see New York City Football Club, or NYCFC, play the New York Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup. It was dubbed the “East River Derby” and given the level of animosity between the sets of fans, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t the first time the two teams met.

Cosmos and NYCFC fans alike came out in force, screaming abuse at the players and each other, resulting in several violent incidents. Other fans chanted only positive encouragement for their team. Both sides of the soccer fandom were loud and proud.

The game saw the Cosmos please the home crowd, coming back from a 2-0 score line late in regular time to win the game in a shootout.

Say what you will about American soccer; this game had everything a true game should.

Last year, the New York Red Bulls were welcomed to Shuart Stadium, the Cosmos’ temporary home until a proper stadium can be built, in the same competition. While the two fans didn’t hate each other quite so much, the Cosmos again won against a NY rival, this time 3-0.

Over the last three years, I’ve found myself rooting for the Red Bulls, the Cosmos and NYCFC at different times. The simple reason is that all these teams have their own claims to be “New York’s Team.”

Let’s start with the oldest team: the Red Bulls.

The Red Bulls go back to 1995 when they were known as the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars. They must’ve realized how cumbersome of a name that was as just three years later, in 1998, they became just the Metro Stars. In 2006, the team was bought by the energy drink company Red Bull.

The team originally played in Giants Stadium in New Jersey until building their own stadium in 2010, still in New Jersey.

So what’s a team from New Jersey named after an Austrian energy drink have to do with New York? Well, in truth, not much. Their main claim to the New York soccer throne is simply they were here first. They have a history dating as far back as Major League Soccer does and with that comes a long standing fan base.

Club giants like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have given the Red Bulls heroes to sing about, but while the supporters may sing loud enough to give Red Bull Stadium a great atmosphere, the trek to New Jersey and the name itself keeps them from being the clear New York soccer team.

Now, let’s talk about the newcomers, NYCFC.

Founded in 2013 and currently in their inaugural season, NYCFC plays their home games in the capital of New York sports: Yankee Stadium.

Owned by City Football Group, the owners of the famous Manchester City Football Club, and Yankee Global Enterprises, owners of you-know-who, NYCFC isn’t exactly the most legitimate of teams. Rival fans call them “plastic” while fans of the team fear becoming Manchester City’s farm team.

Their fears aren’t coming from nowhere. When the team was announced, one of the first signings they announced was Frank Lampard, the legendary Chelsea player. The fans were obviously excited at such a world-class signing. He was loaned to Manchester City to play so he could stay fit while NYCFC awaited their first season.

Lampard played very well, so well in fact that rumors started circulating that Manchester City would keep him until June, halfway in to NYCFC’s inaugural season.

That rumor became reality in January and a seemingly dangerous precedent was set that Manchester City would be the primary focus of City Football Group.

So while NYCFC plays in the heart of New York, the owners’ hearts don’t seem to be in NYCFC or New York.

The Cosmos are the last professional New York soccer team left. They have a long famous history going back to 1970 and have played home to legends such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

Well, sort of.

The current Cosmos were founded in 2010 as a reboot of the original Cosmos. They play in the reboot of the North American Soccer League, which originally died along with the original Cosmos in 1984.

Unlike the old NASL, the new one is the second highest league, having been replaced by the MLS.

While they are in the second league in the United States, the Cosmos have beaten both of the Red Bulls and NYCFC in both of their meetings in the U.S. Open Cup, a competition of all U.S. teams.

The Cosmos don’t play in the MLS. While the true underdog in me loves rooting for them in U.S. Open Cup games, it’s hard to get fully into a second-class team, let alone to claim they are the true New York soccer team.

So which of the three teams should you go out and buy season tickets for? Well for now, the New York metropolitan area is red for the Red Bulls, the city is blue for NYCFC and Long Island is green for the Cosmos. Maybe it will always be like that, maybe one team will step up enough for the state to rally behind them.

Until then, choose for yourself. All teams have something to love and something to hate. The New York sports rivalries are always exciting, such as the Islanders-Rangers or Mets-Yankees. So pick a side carefully and hate the other two because we’re New Yorkers.

That’s how we love sports.

Dan McKeon is the features desk editor. He can be reached at