NEW YORK (AP) Rivalries can take years, often decades, to develop in world sport. Not so in the United States, where an established team can find itself with a local challenger almost overnight as enough cash and ambition can buy an immediate ticket to the top division.
In New York, where dividing lines between the city’s baseball and American football franchises have been long entrenched, it’s taken until 2015 for Major League Soccer fans to get their first taste of the type of cross-town soccer rivalry previously seen erupting – often violently – thousands of miles away.
Already they have been able to witness how a derby can become the battleground for a weekend skirmish between locals.
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Although New York City FC has only been playing for five months, the team’s third-ever meeting with the long-established New York Red Bulls was still preceded by a bloody, albeit brief fan confrontation.
Sandwich boards were used as weapons and glass bottles flew from black bin bags being tossed between fans last week outside a gastro-pub used by Red Bulls supporters in Harrison, New Jersey, before home games a mile away.
Mimicking English soccer chants as the altercation became increasingly antagonistic, the foes chanted at each other: ”Who are ya?”
It lasted barely a minute before the police intervened. Given the fledgling rivalry, the fans had little other material to goad each other with.
For 19 seasons, the Big Apple was New York Red Bulls territory, with the team morphing from the Metro Stars after being bought by the eponymous energy drink company.
This year, the Red Bulls have had to get accustomed to their hegemony being gatecrashed by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership using New York as the latest stop on its global expansion tour after a $100 million start-up fee was paid to the MLS.
”It’s amazing to have this birth of a team in a sport that’s exploding in the United States,” NYCFC President Tom Glick said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Soccer’s Stateside boom has seen large audiences for the men’s and women’s World Cup matches on network television and many Premier League games getting higher ratings than MLS fixtures.
Although NYCFC plays in virtual replicas of Manchester City’s sky blue kit, the team is yet to be as formidable on the field. In their first three MLS derbies since the season began in March, the Red Bulls have enjoyed a clean sweep over NYCFC.
”It’s always difficult on the sporting side early on because you are putting the team together for the first time,” Glick said.
And the so-called ”Designated Players” on higher salaries being relied on are a trio of Champions League winners in Europe all in their 30s.
Former Barcelona forward David Villa is the youngest of the trio at 33, earning $5.6 million. Andrea Pirlo, who left Juventus in June to receive $2.3 million annually in NY, is three years older.
Frank Lampard is 37 and the highest paid with a $6 million salary. By contrast 14 players on the NY squad earn below $100,000 a year.
When MLS starts to attract European players at their peak, Glick said it will be ”an additional sign of progression” for the 20-season old competition.
”A lot of times it comes down to salary,” Glick said.
Lampard’s arrival in New York has been the most controversial NYCFC signing. After leaving Chelsea in June 2014 and pledging never to play for another English team, Lampard initially announced he had joined NYCFC but in fact spent last season at Manchester City before finally arriving in the U.S. a year late.
”There was a lot of disappointment he didn’t come straight away,” said Glick, an NBA executive whose first job in soccer was with English club Derby in 2008. ”Despite his later arrival, the establishment of the club has continued at breakneck speed.”
The creation of NYCFC follows investment by Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, in Melbourne City in Australia and Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos.
Sheikh Mansour’s starting point in soccer beyond Abu Dhabi was in Manchester in 2008, and his money has helped turn perennial underachievers who lived in the shadow of all-conquering Manchester United into two-time Premier League champions.
Now City Football Group boasts a 40-strong global scouting operation and is developing sporting expertise that the network of clubs will reap the benefits from.
While City is the early Premier League leader, NYCFC has a long way to go to be as competitive. In its first season, NYCFC has lost 11 games, won seven and drawn six but is only a point behind sixth place and a route to the playoffs.
”I’m very confident the ability we’ve got here,” Lampard said. ”Once it’s all gelling and we are all firing and fit, we can win the games we need to get into the playoffs.”
But it’s not just about building a squad to win silverware. NYCFC also needs its own stadium.
Currently a soccer field is squeezed within the home of baseball’s New York Yankees, who own 20 percent of NYCFC. Glick and his team are searching for a plot of land within the five boroughs of New York rather than extending into New Jersey like the Red Bulls.
”New York is built up,” Glick said from NYCFC’s offices overlooking Manhattan. ”It’s not easy to find the right piece of land.”
They are also competing for soccer fans in a catchment area which only had the Red Bulls to support for the first 19 seasons of MLS. But NYCFC already has 18,000 members and had 28,000-plus fans at its last home game.
Rather than fearing fans might desert them for the wealthier newcomer, Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch welcomes the new local competition.
”I’ve never seen the city so alive with soccer,” Marsch said. ”I was on Fifth Avenue and crossed the street. A guy in a Red Bulls jersey and a guy in a New York City FC jersey were yelling at each other … it was awesome.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris