Gotham Derby Revival: Part I

Over 80 years have passed since the last matchup between two fully professional New York soccer clubs. Dr. David Kilpatrick explains why a New York Derby revival was no easy feat.
Published Jun 13, 2014

Part I

The dream of a derby for Big Apple bragging rights becomes reality when the Cosmos host the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June  14th at Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University.  

The U.S. Open Cup allows for interleague play, so this matchup is the first derby between two fully professional sides representing New York since 1932, when the first American Soccer League folded. The Open Cup was the primary cause of the Soccer War of 1928, a conflict that marked the beginning of the end for the Golden Age of New York soccer history.  

Charles Stoneham, owner of the New York Baseball Giants, purchased the Indiana Flooring club to play at the Polo Grounds as the New York Nationals in 1927. This intensified the team’s rivalry with the New York Soccer Giants, who then played at Starlight Park in the Bronx.   Despite a dismal last place finish in the ASL Apertura, Stoneham’s Nationals won the 1928 Open Cup over the Chicago Bricklayers.

Rather than have his New York Nationals attempt a repeat as Open Cup champions, Stoneham urged all ASL clubs to withdraw from the open single-elimination tournament due to conflicts with regular season play.   The league complied, but the New York Soccer Giants and others still wanted to compete for the Open Cup and remain loyal to the USFA (now the USSF). Those clubs were suspended from the ASL.  

The rift between the ASL and USFA wasn’t repaired until October 9, 1929.   Twenty days later, Black Tuesday signaled the start of the Great Depression.   The energetic throngs, which often required police on horseback to keep order during New York derbies, did not return.

When Madison Square Garden bought controlling interest in the NASL’s Washington Diplomats in 1978, MSG President Sonny Werblin tried to bring an NASL team to Shea Stadium, where the Cosmos had played a 1976 playoff game.   By then the Cosmos were tenants west of the Hudson at Giants Stadium, where they maintained a streak of 70 consecutive home league games with 30,000+ spectators in attendance. The Cosmos asserted their territorial exclusivity clause, preventing the move and the prospect of a Gotham derby.

The Cosmos and the NASL suspended play in 1985. Nine years later, one of FIFA’s conditions for the US hosting the World Cup was the restoration of fully professional soccer. Although initial plans involved teams in both Long Island and northern New Jersey, the Cosmos former home in the Meadowlands hosted Major League Soccer’s sole franchise in the New York metro market.  

Charged with the task of assembling the NY/NJ side, Charlie Stillitano initially pursued the Cosmos identity, but was discouraged by MLS.   Still, his choice of Eddie Firmani as Head Coach was a clear nod to the fabled NASL club; Firmani held the same position with the Cosmos in their final season at the Meadowlands.  

When the NY/NJ MetroStars took the field for the first time at the Rose Bowl against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Giovanni Savarese netted the first goal in franchise history. He went on to score 44 goals in three seasons with the MetroStars.   In goal was a former Cosmos ballboy, Tony Meola. Tab Ramos, a first-round pick in the Cosmos last NASL draft in 1984, patrolled the midfield.

Click here for Part II.

Kickoff for the match between the Cosmos and Red Bulls is 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 14th at Hofstra University's Shuart Stadium. Click here to get your tickets for the match! The Sam Adams Beer Garden will open at 5:45 p.m. ET and there will be a viewing party for the Italy v. England match! A match ticket is required for admittance into the Beer Garden.