#360USA: New York derby success a major coup for MLS

Steve Brenner 06:43 18/05/2015
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At the double: Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The derby honours were clinically grabbed by Bradley Wright-Phillips but really there was only one winner.

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Back in Manhattan, the men in blazers who run MLS would have been clapping gleefully with broad smiles on their faces similar to those worn by NY Red Bulls fans in New Jersey earlier this month following the triumph over their newly found NYCFC enemy.

The inaugural New York derby was a huge moment for commissioner Don Garber. It also was an important moment in time for soccer in the United States. When Garber accepted the money from Abu Dhabi in 2013 to set up NYCFC, his thoughts would have instantly forwarded to the possibilities of a fiercely popular, local Big Apple battle with long ranging after effects.

Forget the problems of foreign owners using his league as a cash cow which can market other notable ventures (Manchester City) in North America.

In such a vast country, local derbies in MLS are simply not an option. Seattle versus Portland is seen as the most raucous of rivalries yet that’s thanks to their similarly fanatical, exuberant fan base rather than proximity.

The now-disbanded Chivas USA and LA Galaxy matches were branded as the ‘Superclasico.’ Funnily enough, that never caught on.

No, what Garber and his friends who walk in the corridors of power needed was something to light up a massive, global media and sporting market like New York City.

Get people talking. Get people, non-believers and general sports fan alike, interested. Rivalries breed interest like no other.

At the end of a lively 90 minutes played live on Fox TV here in the US as well as on Sky Sports in the UK, the fevered build-up which preceded the match itself was not misplaced. The atmosphere, something which has been lacking in MLS and certainly at Red Bull Arena in the past, was cranked up a welcome few notches.

I was in Orlando for the start of the season and, with over 60,000 in attendance at a brilliantly renovated Citrus Bowl, was hugely impressed with the whole experience. That’s not to say stadia up and down the land are going ballistic every week. The big four of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL remain in the forefront of the US media.

Without doubt the drama being played out in the basketball and ice hockey play-offs over the last two weeks has been sporting drama of the highest order.

Yet the events have been interpreted, certainly with this particular observer, as a watershed moment. The run up to the game – the phony war, the social media sniping, the extended coverage in the baseball heavy New York tabloids – pointed to a certain shift in attitude. This was, after all, a derby with no history. ‘El Plastico’ was the joke doing the Twitter rounds.

Thankfully the evening played out perfectly. A healthy travelling contingent of 1,500 (once again, the size of the US ensures traditional away support remains minimal at best) played their part and people, crucially, were left wanting more.

In a city with so much sporting choice, it remains a surprise that the initial crowds at NYCFC’s temporary home of Yankee Stadium have been eye-catching.

An average heading upwards of 30,000 has given instant notice that NYCFC have a role to play in the Big Apple’s historic and vibrant sporting fabric.

“The atmosphere at our home games has been fantastic all season,” said NYCFC president Tom Glick. “We are pleased with the momentum we have had in ticket sales.”

It’s all the more impressive considering the shambolic run up this season. The fiasco over Frank Lampard’s predictably protracted arrival blotted their copy book early on.

A soccer specific stadium needs to be built sooner rather than later to give fans a real home. They are pencilled in for a three year stay in the Bronx. That’s too long – a viable alternative needs to rear its head yet options are limited. Of course, it’s early days.

The fact that defeat to the Red Bulls left Jason Kreis’ side with just one win from their first 10 matches should not be overlooked. Star striker David Villa has been struggling with hamstring and hip problems while Lampard’s arrival simply cannot come soon enough.

With the advent of the US national team impressing at the World Cup last summer, TV ratings are on the rise as well as NBC’s Premier League coverage raising awareness every week, it’s boom time for fans.

The battle now is to maintain these heady heights. Steven Gerrard and Lampard’s grand entrances this summer couldn’t have come at a better time.

NHL

Alex Ovechkin will think again before daring to speak of the blatantly obvious. The Washington Capitals star enraged the New York Post to a level close to utter explosion with his declaration after game six of their enthralling playoff clash with the NY Rangers ended in favour of the Big Apple’s finest.

“We’re going to play our game, and we’re going to come back and play either Montreal or Tampa in the Eastern Conference finals,“ he said without the hint of a taunt or blast.

Effectively, the Russian declared his side would win. If he had said, ‘no we will lose’ or ‘I hope all Rangers fans catch the bubonic plague’, it would have created a far greater storm.

The rage though was clear. ‘SHUT THE PUCK UP’ and ‘PUCK OFF’ were the over-the-top headlines thrown at Ovechkin.

Naturally, the glee of seeing the man known as the ‘Great Eight’ fail once more was mixed in nicely with the euphoria of the Rangers coming back from the dead to win the series.

NFL

If in doubt, or angry at the NFL, chain yourself to each other and moan about the whole injustice of it all.

While the country was still trying to come to terms with the astonishing fall-out from ‘Deflategate’, four attention-seekers who happen to all work for the same sporting website decided to take matters into their own hands.

Brave soldiers David Portnoy, John Feitelberg, Hank Lockwood, and Paul Gulczynski made their way to NFL HQ in Manhattan and staged a sit-down protest at the fines and bans dished out to Tom Brady (above) and the Patriots.

They handcuffed themselves to each other and held signs mocking commissioner Roger Goodell, reading ‘Free Brady’, ‘Fire Goodell’ and ‘Hate us cause they ain’t us.’

Thankfully the quartet were arrested, presumably for wasting everyone’s time.

NBA

It was the kind of debilitating defeat which sparks change. 

The look on the face of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thiboeau’s facepretty much said it all as the Cleveland Cavs swept into the Eastern Conference final. To lose to an inspired LeBron James is one thing, yet to be destroyed 94-73 on your home court is something else.

 Downcast: Thibodeau.

It was the worst defeat in their proud history and there will be repercussions. But Thibodeau won’t go easily. And why should he? With two years left of a $9m deal, he can just sit tight.

The Bulls’ perfect scenario would be for New Orleans, after they sacked Monty Williams, to make an approach and trigger a move involving compensation.

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