The MLS season has begun; the home opener is only a few, scarce days away. We've all been poring over the season previews, and I couldn't help but notice a disturbing trend:
New York City are quickly becoming the league's villain.
Take this Telegraph article, which neatly hits the highlights. Yes, I know it's the Telegraph, but they have great soccer writing.
Maybe it's the close — some say, too close — relationship between Manchester City and New York City. Maybe it's the fact that the team doesn't just play in Yankee Stadium, but is partly-owned by the team people love to contemn as the "Evil Empire". Maybe it's the swagger that comes with playing in the five boroughs, and representing them.
Whatever that reason, "neutral" fans seem to dislike New York City FC. That bothers me not. Far from it; to paraphrase one of America's greatest presidents, they may be unanimous in their hatred for Gotham City — and I welcome their hatred.
For me, anyway, I've been dealing with the haters long before New York City FC was a glint in the eye of MLS. l come from deep, rooted New York Yankees stock. Literally: my mom and dad bought me a baby bottle with the Yankees logo before I was born. I drink deep from the well of Yankee fandom. That also means I have deep and abiding experience loving the teams everyone else loves to hate.
Let me fill you in: it's a fantastic situation to be in, both as a team and as a fan.
One of the biggest tropes in sports is the "siege" mentality; an "us against the world" identity. It's one of the easiest ways to forge team unity; useful in success, even more useful when facing adversity. Small clubs have to work overtime to convince themselves that the world stands against you. Ask yourself: does anyone really bear a club like Sporting KC or FC Dallas ill will? Maybe if you're a devotee of fine barbecue, but otherwise...not so much.
A big club though...when you're a titan of the sport, it hardly takes work to convince, because it really is the truth. The fans can feel the hate; the players feel it, and it forges an ironbound soul. Few things create a steely sisterhood and brotherhood more quickly or effectively than that siege mentality. It's why we remember the Alamo and the gates of Thermopylae.
New York City FC has it now, right from the start. They will not surrender it easily, if at all.
More than that, though; it is a clear, clarion signal that everyone is threatened viscerally by New York City.
Put it another way: would there be this much trash talking about New York City if they thought they were insignificant? If no one lost sleep about playing them?
Quite simply: no.
That you see people going this far out of their way to make this team a villain is proof positive that we have a strong team. You can already see the hackles of opposing players rising, their will wilting as they play us.
Take Sunday's game against Orlando; that team threw everything they had against us in the first half. Time and time and time again, they threatened to breach our defenses. Yet resolute we stood; tireless in our efforts. We went into the locker room all square at the half, and you could sense the disbelief from both Orlando's team and fans at the run of events.
As the game went on, their efforts to score grew more frantic by the minute. Our team remained patient, and then — we struck. As Mix wheeled away from Orlando's goal to celebrate with David Villa and the rest of the team, you could see Orlando fold like a cheap fairground table, their will crushed, utterly spent, with no recourse left.
It took a moment of magic from Kaká for Orlando to swipe a point, but the point was made: we were, by far, made of the sterner stuff. Which is fine, considering that Orlando is where you go to escape reality, and New York City is where you embrace it, and then overcome it.
Sports is littered with examples of teams embracing that "villain" identity, suffusing themselves with that swagger, and using it to spur themselves to ever greater glory. Brady and Belichick's Patriots; LeBron's Heat; Mourinho's Chelsea; Isiah's and Laimbeer's Piston's; the Broad Street Bullies of the NHL in the ‘70s. They all wore their villainy lightly; they were also laureled with surpassing success.
Now, I'm not predicting that New York City is on that level, especially after just one game.
I am saying, though, that if everyone else is this threatened this soon, then that can only mean we're doing things right. And I can't wait to build on that. As the old Romans used to say: Oderint dum metuant — let them hate, so long as they fear.