The altercation took place between the Garden State Ultras, or GSU — a small but extremely vocal group of Red Bulls supporters — and fans of NYCFC before the game, and the scene was reminiscent of the European soccer hooliganism of the ’90s, something many countries worked hard to eradicate. The difference, of course, is that these were fans of two New York teams, fighting on a sidewalk in New Jersey. As many on Twitter noted, it appeared to be a low rent version of “Green Street Hooligans,” the 2005 movie about a particularly violent group of soccer fans in London.
Fans actually used affected English accents to shout the popular taunt “who are ya” while throwing sandwich boards and garbage bags at people. According to Empire of Soccer, the confrontation was some level of retaliation for an incident that occurred outside of Yankee Stadium earlier in the season, in which GSU members allegedly assaulted a group of fans.
Tony Meola, the former U.S. men’s national team and New York/New Jersey MetroStar goalkeeper, told the New York Post that the rivalry is real — and that his friend is a Newark cop who refuses to work on these game days.
Of course, this was all particularly embarrassing for a league still looking to expand as the sport gains more popularity at the professional level. While violence isn’t necessarily a league-wide problem for MLS, there’s a larger question about just how far the league is willing to go to promote its brand.
In 2013, when the Red Bulls franchise got sick of their fans yelling obscenities during their chants, they offered to pay groups to be less profane in the stands. GSU took a defiant stance against the front office and boldly declared they would not be accepting any payments for “censorship.” Infighting among supporters is nothing new to American soccer, but it doesn’t typically spill over into the street.
American soccer fans face a bit of an identity crisis, which is evolving. Some believe that assimilating European/South American stadium culture is the only way to truly legitimize the experience, while others are content to wear the colors and watch a game. Whereas one used to be able to show up to a “soccer bar” on a Saturday morning, now nearly every place purporting to be footy friendly is hosting some Barclays’ Premier League team’s supporters.
Whatever that identity may be and evolve into, adults fighting over a game in public is a bad look. And if fans in the country’s biggest TV market are working on round two of a physical confrontation based on two teams that have played less than a handful of times, the league has some things to address. It might be unfair to blame front offices for the activities of a few shirtless rowdies, but naturally it does reflect on the league.
For the record, NYCFC has lost all three games in the Hudson River Derby and the New York Red Bulls have never won MLS Cup.