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The East River Derby: A Foolish Name for a Phony Rivalry

Guest post by Luca Morganti

So you guys want to hear about two shitty teams playing in Hempstead, Long Island amidst all this great Copa America? NYCFC play the sort of world famous Cosmos in the 102nd U.S. Open Cup, the third oldest soccer tournament in the world (go America). But in lies our typical American sports dilemma: who the hell goes in the starting XI for this strange tournament that falls on a Wednesday?

On to Long Island for this disaster! For starters, Howard Stern is from Hempstead; that tells you enough. The Cosmos play on a university ground with goddamn turf.  Turf! I didn’t know this until I got there. Our pitch is a laughably small baseball field, but at least it’s a literal professional venue with grass! Matches at Yankee Stadium look a pick-up game in some rich person’s backyard in Dubai (cough, Sheik – build us a damn stadium), but Cosmos in college is a ridiculous porno Pele never got to make. You ever think your football club is just one big Ponzi scheme? I think Cosmos and NYCFC fans do….

I bought myself a VIP ticket that comes with free parking (because it takes two hours to get there via public transit – this is why we need a team in the actual City) and all-inclusive food and drink. As my “editor” knows, it doesn’t take much to push me over to the fancy. I knew the food would be awful, but I also knew I’d need a lot of the all-inclusive drink portion that can only be had in “designated areas and responsibly” (from the Cosmos website). Yeah. Sure. I’m about to watch 42-year-old Raúl and his merry men play against C-list MLS players in the middle of nowhere. And this isn’t like Eibar middle of nowhere Spain. This is like industrial-they-might’ve-done-nuclear-testing-nearby-in-the-50s middle of nowhere. I shiver. It’s not cold. It’s probably radiation.

The official count is 11,446, including an entire sold-out section of 1,000 NYCFC fans. We travel well! Coming in, I was sure nothing of interest would happen. Villa and Saunders aren’t playing, although Poku looks like he’ll be carrying the team because he’s fantastic and should be starting for this shit squad. NYCFC are finally able to open up on a normal sized pitch, and it works to our advantage. If we had a real field, we might actually be good.

Per usual, I’m a psychic. Poku scores in the 24th minute to give us the (1-0) lead in an otherwise uneventful first half. Poku puts a second in the net in the 57th minute (2-0), and suddenly we’re kind of whooping ass but also in our worst position: with a lead. Even though we’re playing Diet Long Island, I can see Raúl just crushing a hat trick in the final thirty. After a few subs in the 64th, the Cosmos score (2-1), and my worst fears haunt me. Raúl comes off in the 87th to a huge ovation from all supporters because we’re not barbarians, and Cosmos tie it (2-2) in the 90th. Wait, what? Raúl didn’t crush my dreams? Oh but we just blew a two goal lead to a second league American team. It’s in our DNA. I’m starting to really hate this manager, and I’m really not like that. I like to put trust in and see the plan come to fruition over time. The plan here seems to be “make consistent shit decisions that lead to our demise.”

Oh there’s extra time in this portion of the tournament, which I find out while I’m internally cursing out this (still) idiot of a manager. Well, I’m not going to pretend I knew that. It gets chippy in the second portion of extra-time with three yellow cards issued in three minutes. But no goals, and we head to PKs. NYCFC go up (3-2), then Cosmos keeper Some Guy Who’s Not Very Good saves NYCFC’s Definitely Not Good’s shot. Cosmos knock in a tie (3-3), save another, and win (4-3). Wait, what? Did we just blow another “lead” in penalties? Yes we did. OK I officially hate this manager.

So some reflection: it feels like many of my brethren are not really saddened by this loss, myself especially. It’s weird to call this a derby for so many reasons. One, this is the only time we will ever play competitively because there is no relegation system. It’s also strange because a lot of Cosmos and NYCFC fans seem to be from a similar cloth, i.e. in favor of putting a team in NYC-proper. I wear Cosmos gear. I’ve seen NYCFC fans do the same. They’re a historic club in this City. Some fans initially wanted Cosmos instead of a new team, but MLS commissioner Garber seems to hate Cosmos.

Garber’s feelings aren’t unfounded. Cosmos are like soccer Disney without billions of dollars and ESPN. Cosmos consistently go bankrupt (are doing so now) and don’t really have a chance at surviving long-term, especially playing on a university ground on Long Island. Can I mention how weird it is to see Fly Emirates sponsoring a second tier American team on Long Island? You know the last place I’d expect to see an Emirati? Hempstead, Long Island.

It was cool to see Raúl live, but he’s playing with trash. I’m more impressed that he can run for 90 minutes. I can’t run for 90 minutes, and I’m half his age. I wonder what he thinks when he steps out on that awful turf or they play a road game in Minnesota. Probably “what the fuck am I doing here?” Cosmos stadium is a catastrophe – no place for professionals to be playing, so that oddly made me feel better about where we play.

And finally, this match gave me an opportunity to see what our main problem (because we certainly have a boatload): our manager Jason Kreis. He doesn’t start the correct players (read: Poku, though he’s begun to). He uses questionable formations that leave us vulnerable. And honestly, it seems like every time he makes a substitution, the other team scores immediately. Maybe that’s just me, but the other team scores on us a lot, so I’m probably right.

NYCFC fans might have to adopt the moto of New York Mets fans: next game is another chance to lose! This is why I treasure off-days.

Photo via Third Rail