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Creating a fan identity at NYCFC

Guest post by Luca Morganti

Before we had a chance to stand in a long queue on a frigid March Sunday, where the wind reminded fans that spring has not sprung, many of us weren’t sure if we’d be there. We didn’t want to be Man City-New York Yankees B. Could a joint venture between two of the richest clubs in world sport really be representative of New York? Then there was the Lampard fiasco. Do we want to support a club that lies to us about who is on the squad? Are we just some feeder club so City can get around FFP regulations and the Yankees can fill the seats when the baseball team is out of town?                                                       

But as the season approached and the number of season tickets grew, I felt a need to be a part of it. I am a fifth generation New Yorker from Queens. My great-grandfather arrived on a boat from Italy. My great-grandmother arrived on a boat from Russia. They met at silent films. He played the piano, and she sat in the front row to watch him play. It seems we never left. But you don’t have to be from here to be a New Yorker. You can be like my great-grandparents, arriving from a foreign place looking to make your way in the world. There is only one requirement: it’s our city, so do it our way.

I do not support the Red Bulls for many reasons, the main one being that they play in Harrison, New Jersey. For that same reason, I do not support New York’s American football teams. We are a city before we are a metropolitan area, and I refuse to have our unique identities grouped into one marketable, convenient commodity in New Jersey “because there is more space." NYCFC offers a unique identity to us because they are the only top-tier soccer club that plays in the five boroughs, despite our pleas in Queens for Cosmos to join MLS.

The politics of the new club got pushed aside as New York City pride set in. The squad was set. Our season tickets were on the way. The supporters, like the City, are from everywhere. But as we wait together outside Yankee Stadium awaiting entrance to the first ever home match of NYCFC in MLS, we wonder if we’ll make it in by kickoff. I luckily did; many behind me didn’t. How isn’t the organization ready for the 40,000 plus fans it knew were coming?

Inside, the TIFO is a mess. Are we ready for this? New England is the perfect opening day opponent because of the storied histories between New York and New England sports teams. In baseball, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is one of the two most famous in the country. It is fitting the two clubs are playing on this narrow, illegal pitch. Sloppy play ensues. A quick yellow card to NYCFC in the sixth minute is followed by a reciprocal to the New England Revolution in the ninth. Sloppy play continues. We’re off on the wrong foot in all facets. But then, David Villa takes the ball down the left side of the narrow pitch and cuts right. He and Grabavoy one-two. A gentle but pointed flick passes right of the keeper. The crowd erupts as Villa ironically runs to celebrate outside the Yankee dugout where traditionally the most expensive seats in the ballpark are. It’s his first goal with NYCFC, only the club’s second in its history. There is no politics. He can celebrate wherever he wants.

New England is no match for Villa and NYCFC. Despite consistent crosses into the box, the Revolution manage one shot on goal. José Gonçalves’ red card didn’t help their cause, and the cheers gave a hubristic feeling that victory was near. Still, a 1-0 score is nothing to be comfortable with, especially with a half hour remaining. Revolution keeper Bobby Shuttleworth is the best player of the match in the losing effort. Without his performance, the score line would have been more heavily tilted. Unfortunately for Shuttlesworth, another lovely bit of play from Villa on the left side leads to a cross to the six-yard box, which finds Patrick Mullins and seals the match 2-0 in favour of NYCFC.

 The initial negative sentiments about security, the pitch, and the opening play were relayed in the almost thousand languages spoken in New York City. But now they are gone. And that’s perhaps the beautiful thing we overlooked waiting in the cold with all the politics leading up to the season on our mind: this mishmash, thrown together squad that struggled to find practice space now playing football on a hilariously narrow, sodded baseball field is the perfect representation of an expansion team in New York. Like many residents, NYCFC’s players come from all corners and are thrust into our controlled chaos, trying to find their way however they can. It isn’t ideal – not much in the City ever is – but it’s what we’re used to, and we’re going to make the best of it. Start spreadin’ the news – there’s a big team in town.

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