It was a quiet weekend for New York City FC fans. While the rest of MLS were at full throttle, the NYCFC and Seattle Sounders squads were off in training—their games had been rescheduled to allow the players to prepare for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals on Tuesday at Red Bull Arena. Pretty much every team in every league on the globe had a match to play, but New York City supporters didn’t have any scorelines to worry about these past few days.
However, there was a marquee matchup in England, where first-place Manchester City hosted second-place Liverpool. It was a clash of the titans, two of the greatest teams ever assembled in the history of the sport, managed by two of the most intelligent footballing minds ever to stand on the touchline, facing off on a bright Sunday afternoon in front of a capacity crowd at the Etihad Stadium in a game with immediate consequences for the Premier League title. It was the cream of international footballing talent going at it in a high-stakes contest that had the intensity of a late-stage UEFA Champion’s League tie, not a league match potentially worth just three points.
It was easily the most-anticipated game of the weekend, and the most-watched in the world, but it barely seemed to register among the New York City faithful. To judge by the chatter on NYCFC Twitter, it was no more or less important that Jack Harrison scoring for Leeds, or Frank Lampard’s Everton beating Manchester United, or Gio Reyna leaving the Borussia Dortmund game with an injury, or Gianluca Busio getting the start for Venezia FC, or Jordy Alicvar scoring an Olimpico for Charlotte FC. Even the admittedly riveting matchup between LA Galaxy and LAFC in el Traffico got more play, more tweets, more comments, more attention.
That ambivalence is both completely reasonable, and fairly puzzling.
It’s reasonable, because no NYCFC should be expected to fall into line and obediently support all ten (eleven?) teams owned by City Football Group, the parent company of Manchester City and New York City. Besides, for many Americans the team you support in the Premier League is a combination of legacy and luck: It might be the club that one of your youth coaches followed, or that you stumbled on in your 20s. Maybe you support a particular team because a relative came back from a trip to England and gave you a t-shirt. Or it could be that a player from the country where your parents were born was signed to a club and now an entire nation follows that team.
As Nick Hornby wrote in Fever Pitch, “Few of us have chosen our clubs, they have simply been presented to us.” Not every New York City fan was presented with Manchester City, and it is understandable that even though you dearly love NYCFC, which first took the field in 2015, that might not be enough to end it with the English team you fixated on years ago just because both clubs wear sky blue shirts, and have “City” in their names, and draw on the same unregulated offshore banking accounts.
This brings us to why it’s fairly puzzling: Not only do both clubs wear sky blue shirts, and have “City” in their names, and draw on the same unregulated offshore banking accounts, NYCFC was created by CFG. Unlike the other nine (ten?) teams in the family, NYCFC wasn't purchased, it was cut from whole cloth by CFG, and anointed to become a high-end regional performer while Man City chases after global excellence. The sky-blue of NYCFC doesn’t draw on a local tradition, or represent the tides of the Hudson River, it’s the color of Manchester City. We’re blood.
When NYCFC won the MLS Cup the club was congratulated by Manchester City, which brought the trophy and a handful of New York City supporters to a game in England. It wasn’t an EPL tour, with stops at Stamford Bridge and Selhurst Park, it was a simple round-trip between New York City and Manchester City. That’s because we have a “Special Relationship,” as they say, one in which we share information, and expertise, and the occasional very important coach, but don’t cross any ethical or legal boundaries because that would be unethical and illegal.
Yesterday, the lack of interest that NYCFC fans expressed in the Manchester City game was striking. Not only were there few vocal supporters, there weren't that many who seemed to pay the match any mind. One NYCFC friend who was watching texted: Fun to be a neutral.
It brings up the question: How do the NYCFC faithful feel about Man City?
We’re bound by history, but are we compelled to support them? If so, is that obligation more powerful than the bond we might already feel for another club? If not, then could Man City be your other, other club? Here are two polls to gauge your feelings, and you should feel free to leave a comment below.
In the English Premiere League, I support...
This poll is closed
Manchester City first, then another club
Another club first, then Manchester City
I feel that NYCFC fans...
This poll is closed
Should support Manchester City: We’re family
Should support Manchester City and your other club: We’re family
Should support whatever club they feel: We’re free to choose
One more thought about Manchester: Not only are City family, they’re easy on the eye. Beautiful technique, tremendous players, professional organization. By the way, they drew Liverpool yesterday—the two sides traded goals in a zinger of a game that ended 2-2. Man City remain in first place, ahead of Liverpool by one point with seven games left in the season, just in case you missed it.