In New York Soccer Rivalry, Cult Figures Outnumber Championships

More recently, across the river at New York City F.C., Frank Lampard lingered with sister club Manchester City for half a season longer than planned, missing the start of the team’s inaugural season and damaging a relationship that never truly recovered. Andrea Pirlo and Mix Diskerud did arrive, only to disappoint, and then disappear.

To fill this affection vacuum, fans of both teams have created their own favorites. First there was Petke, whose accent and attitude underlined his Long Island roots, and later players like the largely pedigree-free Mike Grella. At N.Y.C.F.C., jerseys in the stands honored the lightly used (and now departed) Kwadwo Poku as well as the scrappy but opportunistic midfielder Tommy McNamara.

Early this month, McNamara, who entered the league with a mullet and became recognizable (and renowned) for his long locks, cut his hair short, to the consternation of both fans and teammates. The decision — revealed in a tweet hours before a game — was of no consequence to McNamara. “I just wanted a change,” he said this week.

But the sudden shearing caused a stir on social media, an over-the-top reaction that spoke clearly to how fans connect to him, something that he admitted surprised him. “I mean, it’s just hair,” he said.

Photo

Coach Mike Petke applauding fans after the Red Bulls won a playoff series in 2014. “I never felt like they were cheering for me more than I was cheering for them,” he recently said.

Credit
Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

To supporters whose local soccer fandom itself makes them outsiders, especially in a sports city like New York, the roots of the cult-hero status some players enjoy may lie not so much in their talent, but in the understanding that they are just as devoted to the team as the fans are.

“They know what we’re like,” said Steve Ferrezza of the…

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