New York Red Bulls defend their status as the city's team, ready to prove it on the field

HARRISON, N.J. – What does it mean to be New York’s team?

For years, the USA's major domestic sports leagues have been able to participate in that debate. Yankees-Mets, Giants-Jets. Knicks-Nets, Rangers-Devils-Islanders; New Yorkers have always been spoiled for choice. In 2015, with the introduction of New York City FC, Major League Soccer has entered the fray.

Now home to two teams in the greater Metro area, allegiances are there for the picking, and the teams present two noticeably contrasting options.

On one side stands the New York Red Bulls. An MLS original, the Red Bulls have boasted legendary players dating back to their days as the NY/NJ MetroStars, but very little silverware to show for their 20 years in the league. Across the Hudson, NYCFC have laid claim to the Bronx, touting their own big name stars and all the fanfare that comes with them, much like the Red Bulls of yesteryear.

And for all of the talking points surrounding these two clubs, perhaps the biggest point of contention has nothing to do with the their play on the field, but rather their stadia. Indeed, the infamous state line dividing New York and New Jersey has been a part of the banter between NYCFC and Red Bulls fans since the new team's inception. With NYCFC calling Yankee Stadium home, the Harrison-based Red Bull Arena disqualifies RBNY from being considered a New York team to some. Just don’t count Red Bulls midfielder and Long Island native Mike Grella among those people.

“What is this, 15 minutes outside the city?” Grella asked rhetorically. “You can get out here with the train; it’s just outside the city. [Red Bull Arena] is an unbelievable building to play in. It’s fantastic for the fans, fantastic for the players. Our location being 15 minutes outside of New York has nothing to do with anything, really.

“It’s a non-factor. That’s maybe their only arguing point.”

Since the league’s inception in 1996, the MetroStars and Red Bulls have called the greater New York area their home. Whether at the Meadowlands or Red Bull Arena, Red Bulls fans will surely contest that the red side has always represented New York. A lifelong fan of the club himself, Homegrown product and New Jersey native Sean Davis shares that same sentiment.

“These teams that are well-established like [the Giants and Jets], they found a way to attract New York sports fans while playing in New Jersey,” Davis told MLSsoccer.com. “Over the years, we’ve established that as well. We try to market both areas and connect with both New Jersey and New York fans and I think that’s worked well for us.”

No longer the only show in town, the Red Bulls have recently played second-fiddle to NYCFC in the headlines as the likes of David Villa and Frank Lampard have grabbed the attention of the New York media. Yet for all the big money backing that the Yankees and Manchester City provide, the Red Bulls have something that you simply can’t put a price tag on: history.

“We were here first,” Grella said. “The Red Bulls were here first. The MetroStars were here first. This club has a huge history here in this league and it’s been a major player in growing this league and bringing a lot of soccer fans to New York. It’s given them a product, they can feel something in their heart because it’s been here for a while. It’s good that the other club has joined, but they’re new. There’s a lot more history here.”

As the derby date inches closer, the time for talking will soon be at an end. For all intents and purposes, the chatter between both fan bases has been just that. Those within the Red Bull locker room have certainly taken notice, but know the battle for three points (and bragging rights) will ultimately be decided between the lines on Sunday night (7 pm ET, FOX Sports 1).

“To be New York’s team is something we always have been,” Red Bulls Homegrown defender Connor Lade said after training. “Now that there’s new competition in town, it makes the match even more special to put your stamp on it that you’re the best team in New York. That’s our mindset right now, just proving that we’re the team that people should be supporting in the New York area. We’re excited to get on the field.”

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