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Childhood friends turn foes during Hudson River Derby

Best friends Ian McCarthy (left) and PJ Norton are on opposite sides for the Hudson River Derby

NEW YORK — What happens when two childhood friends enter the young adult world of work and play with a shared passion for the sport of soccer?

In the case of PJ Norton and Ian McCartney – one bleeds Blue and the other favors Red.

New York City will host the New York Red Bulls in the 13th edition of the Hudson River Derby on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and the two lifelong friends will be foes for 90 minutes.

“I always send him my weekly text to tell him how we are going to win, and a few other things that I can’t elaborate on,” the New York City FC supporter Norton said. 

Norton grew up  a block from New York Red Bulls season ticket holder McCartney in suburban Basking Ridge, New Jersey. They both attended Ridge High School, the home of U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Tobin Heath.

Although McCartney is three years senior to Norton, their appetite for the baseball boys from the Bronx began a friendship that has lasted more than two decades.

“Our main bond from the beginning was the Yankees,” Norton said. “Us going to games together.”

“Our older sisters were friends and we always went to family things, and shoot hoops and play wiffle ball all the time,” McCartney said. “We’d make impressions of all the Yankees. I had a really good Ken Griffey and Gary Sheffield.”

Ironically, Norton ended up back at Yankee Stadium for his introduction to professional soccer.

“I’ve known Yankee Stadium forever – when it was the old stadium and became the new stadium. I’ve always been in love for the Yankees,” Norton said. “I was taken to a soccer game there for the new NYCFC club. I was intrigued because I never thought a soccer team would be able to play at Yankee Stadium given the dimensions of the field.”

It was 2015, the club’s inaugural year, and NYCFC played host to its expansion rival Orlando City SC and unveiled a former World Cup champion from Italy.

“(Andrea) Pirlo made his debut and I immediately fell in love,” Norton said. “I’ve never looked back – it was great. Now I can say I’m a season ticket holder and a Third Rail member. I couldn’t be prouder.”

McCartney credits his soccer junky father, Jack, for his thirst for the game.

“One of my earliest memories is us getting up for the 2002 World Cup and watching the U.S.-Mexico game or the U.S.-Portugal game at three in the morning,” McCartney said. “Those kind of memories. That’s the reason I love soccer.”

Both McCartney and Norton agree the metropolitan area they grew up in offered great benefits.

“I think it was good for the league to add another New York team,” said Norton, a senior pricing analyst at Forever Collectibles. “And now with the announcement of the World Cup final in 2026 at Met Life Stadium, it’s huge for both our clubs. Two clubs with a real intense rivalry.”

McCartney, in charge of Account Management at White Ops, a cybersecurity company in the city, said the mass transit experience after matches played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., epitomizes the conflict.

“PJ doesn’t see it, but on the PATH train on the ride home back to Hoboken or the city, there’s this level of intensity and passion I didn’t see coming from even Yankees-Red Sox or Giants-Eagles,” McCartney said. “You don’t have a massive train to yell at Eagles fans. While it can ugly at times, all in all it makes both sides better.”

The ugly sprouted at the very first derby at Red Bull Arena in May of 2015, when NYCFC fans set off smoke bombs and threw flares onto the field, resulting in 1,000 fewer tickets in the away supporters section for subsequent rivalry matches.

This season, the NYCFC supporters are prevented from leaving their section during their derby clashes at RBA.

“I have to go all away around Red Bull Arena to go see PJ at halftime because he’s not allowed to go through section 124 when I’m at 226,” McCartney said.

McCartney’s Red Bulls have led the three-plus years rivalry 8-3-1. Along the way, three players that were prominent protagonists in the rivalry have been traded away by New York – Dax McCarty, Felipe and Sacha Kljestan.

“I think Felipe likes to stick it to any team that’s not his color,” McCartney said. “Dax was honestly the biggest blow; My mom is still not over that trade to Chicago. Secretly, I think she roots for the Chicago Fire when they play the Red Bulls.”

Norton has a different view: “We didn’t like Felipe, we didn’t like Kljestan, we didn’t like McCarty. Currently, we still don’t like BWP (Bradley Wright-Phillips) for the amount of emotion he puts behind his celebrations.”

The revelries have been plentiful for BWP, who leads the series with 11 goals, while New York City’s David Villa is next with four scores – three in New York City’s 3-2 triumph at Yankee Stadium in 2017.  BWP had the two goals for RBNY in that game.

Although New York City FC is unbeaten in three of the last four regular matches, the Red Bulls recorded a pair of 4-0 thrashings over the Boys in Blue this year – one in the regular season and another in the U.S. Open Cup.

A NYCFC supporter would be disingenuous to appeal that New York is anything but Red in 2018, although Norton had a message for his great friend McCartney.

“We are going to get a result this Sunday and win the season series,” Norton said.

The Empire State Building will provide a lighted signal on its top floors after the match Sunday night – will it be Red or Blue?






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