Soccer rivalry: NYCFC and Red Bulls fans clash in banter-filled forum ahead of historic Queens Derby

Photo by QNS

It is Saturday afternoon, and a number of soccer enthusiasts are gathered at the Queensboro Bar and Restaurant in Jackson Heights. On one side are fans of the New York Red Bulls, and on the other is a group of New York City FC fans sitting together for a fan forum. 

The event, staged for Apple TV’s documentary series on MLS that is being produced by Box to Box films, examines the beating heart of the rivalry between the two clubs ahead of the latest installment of the Hudson River Derby held on May 18, the first such derby held in Queens. 

Photo by QNS

Even for the MLS, the Hudson River Derby is a relatively new rivalry. Saturday’s game was just the 28th meeting between the sides since NYCFC was founded in 2013, but a genuine rivalry is blossoming between the two sets of fans. 

It may lack the volatility and violence often associated with inter-city rivalries in Latin America and mainland Europe, but there is certainly a healthy level of banter and pride among the two sets of supporters. 

For NYCFC supporters, winning an MLS Cup before their nearest rival is a source of gloating.

Felix Palau, President of the Bronx Chapter of the Third Rail supporters group, is certainly quick to bring it up, taunting Victor Arroyo of the Red Bulls’ Empire Supporters Club with a championship ring adorned on his finger. 

“Hey Victor, come see how it shines in the sun,” says Palau. “They don’t make these in New Jersey.” 

That brings up another bone of contention between the two sets of supporters. For NYCFC fans, the fact that the Red Bulls are located across the Hudson River in New Jersey is an opportunity to poke fun. NYCFC supporter Juan Juarez did exactly that on Saturday afternoon, pointing to the word “City” on the NYCFC crest to remind Arroyo that his team plays within the five boroughs. 

“You guys only cover the city,” Arroyo shoots back. “That’s why we’re the true New York team.” 

For Red Bulls fans, the fact that NYCFC has spent their entire history playing in two baseball stadiums is just as much of an opportunity to get one over on their rival supporters. 

Photo by QNS

“Credit to you guys – you guys have to sell a good time in a baseball stadium,” says long-time Red Bulls fan Andrew Pollock. “We have a proper football stadium, the real deal. You guys have a pitchers’ mound and fans sitting a hundred miles away from the field. Your mascot – what is he, a pigeon?” 

Juarez is quick to fire back a riposte. 

“A pigeon does symbolize New York.”  

No matter what direction the conversation turns, NYCFC fans are keen to divert it back to their main source of pride – their 2021 MLS Cup victory. 

“They (the Red Bulls) have to get win a title to get on our level,” Juarez said. 

As kick-off approaches, several red-clad Red Bulls fans admit that seeing NYCFC lift the MLS Cup before them “stung.” 

Arroyo, however, is less willing to give any kudos to his cross-city rivals. 

“I’m going to attribute that star to Covid,” Arroyo says, pointing to a star on the NYCFC kit denoting their MLS Cup success. 

NYCFC won the MLS Cup after beating a COVID-ravaged Philadelphia Union outfit in the Eastern Conference final, and Arroyo is keen to remind his NYCFC counterparts of that fact. However, the NYCFC supporters gathered at Queensboro are happy to ignore that fact. 

It is that exact obstinance and pettiness—from both sets of supporters—that will help the rivalry grow and blossom in the coming years, especially when NYCFC moves into its new stadium in Willets Point in 2027. 


A rendering of the new Willets Point once completed, including the new soccer stadium for NYCFC. Rendering courtesy of the NYC Economic Development Corporation

It may never reach the levels of hatred and bitterness seen in some derbies in Latin America or Europe, but it does not lack passionate supporters on both sides of the divide. 

Jenniffer Quezada, for example, has not missed an NYCFC game since 2019, even missing her own graduation to see the Boys in Blue. 

“True New Yorkers support New Yorkers,” Quezada says. “Those New Yorkers are like my family,” she adds, pointing at the other NYCFC fans gathered at the Queensboro. “They’ve been family to me and friends to me. Most likely I’ll see them at my wedding and every event in my life.

The Third Rail and Los Templados—the two supporter groups associated with NYCFC—have done Trojan work to build crowds and atmosphere at home games. 

On Saturday, Los Templanos held a memorable pre-game parade outside Citi Field featuring flares and other pyrotechnics as the atmosphere built to a crescendo. 

NYCFC’s hardcore support greeted both of their team’s goals in Saturday’s 2-1 win by setting off a number of flares, while a memorable Tifo banner unfurled at kickoff and pointed in the direction of the Red Bulls supporters again celebrated the club’s MLS Cup success and the coming of their new stadium in 2027. 

Saturday’s Hudson River Derby had all the feel of an authentic inter-city rivalry, with both sets of supporters adding to the atmosphere at a rain-soaked Citi Field. 

Everyone agrees on one thing: the atmosphere and rivalry will only increase once NYCFC moves into its permanent home for the 2027 season.