Major League Soccer continues to evolve, with new clubs and players bringing different dynamics to the pitch each season. Meetings between the New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy go back to the league’s first campaign in 1996, and they have produced several thrilling encounters. However, few matches exhilarated fans quite like their battle at Giants Stadium in the summer of 2007.
New York vs. Los Angeles: One wild night at Giants Stadium in 2007
MLS has a multitude of guidelines in terms of building squads, with the salary cap being a notable piece to the puzzle. This ultimately restricted teams, until the addition of the Designated Player rule ahead of the 2007 season. With David Beckham set to sign with LA that year, the path was set to see franchises pay higher sums to sign marquee talent (dubbed “The Beckham Rule”). Arriving after his time with Real Madrid, the English international brought a circus of media attention and massive hype.
Not to be outdone, New York brought on former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Ángel to boost the attack, and he paired well with teenage sensation Jozy Altidore that year. When the Galaxy visited Giants Stadium that August, Beckham’s first MLS start attracted a stunning crowd of 66,237 (the Red Bulls averaged under 12,000 per game coming into the match). High expectations can lead to disappointments in sports, but this game 11 years ago was one for the ages.
Red Bulls head coach Bruce Arena kept the pressure on the opposition throughout the 90 minutes, while his counterpart Frank Yallop did the same for LA. The result was a wide-open and intense flow to the match, and nine goals kept the atmosphere buzzing.
The scoring began early, with Ángel netting the opener off a free-kick, just getting the ball by Galaxy goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Injuries had hampered Beckham’s start to life in MLS, but his form was sharp in the midfield. He connected twice with Carlos Pavón to give his side a 2-1 advantage. The cameras were flashing and the boos rained down with every touch of the ball for Beckham, and he appeared to be feeding off the energy of rival supporters.
New York would level the match prior to halftime, as Clint Mathis made it 2-2 just before the break. It would turn out to be Mathis’ final goal for the club, and came at just the right time to set up a dramatic final act.
Altidore made his mark on the game in the second half, netting a brace to give the Red Bulls a 4-2 lead. Despite the cushion, the scoreline was not safe. Landon Donovan responded almost immediately to bring LA within one, before Beckham’s third assist on the night found Edson Buddle for the equalizer.
A draw seemed to be on the horizon. In the dying seconds of the match, Mathis fired a blast that Cannon was able to parry away. From a seemingly impossible angle, Ángel scored and secured all three points for the home side in a 5-4 win. It was a match that never truly allowed fans to catch their breath, and it is fascinating to look back on the changes that have come since that evening 11 years ago.
After initial excitement, MLS was at a crossroads in 2001. The Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion folded, and there was genuine concern about the financial stability of the league (as there had been in the past for American soccer leagues). But things were starting to turn a corner, with two new expansion teams (Real Salt Lake & Chivas USA) joining in 2005.
2007 saw the launch of Toronto FC, and designated players were bringing attention both nationally and internationally for the growing division. For New York, the faded gridiron lines of Giants Stadium are thankfully a part of the past, with Red Bull Arena eventually opening in 2010.
The 2007 season would be Bruce Arena’s last for the Red Bulls. The Brooklyn-born coach would take over the Galaxy the following summer, establishing a true dynasty on the West Coast. Under Arena, LA would win three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields. Frank Yallop moved on to the San Jose Earthquakes after the 2007 season, as well as the Chicago Fire and Phoenix Rising FC in later years.
David Beckham’s time with the Galaxy was tense at first, as loans to AC Milan did not exactly endear him to the Galaxy faithful. But his final runs with the club brought success in the form of two MLS Cups, and his arrival remains an important milestone for the league. He retired from professional soccer in 2013 after a stint in France with Paris Saint-Germain.
Landon Donovan was coming off his second FIFA World Cup with the US national team, and would provide an iconic moment for American fans with his last-gasp winner versus Algeria in the 2010 tournament. High on the list of the country’s all-time best players, the MLS MVP award now carries his name.
Juan Pablo Ángel played three more seasons for New York, walking away as the club’s all-time scoring leader (a record since broken by Bradley Wright-Phillips). A skillful and talented striker, he represented a dangerous option up front for the team.
Jozy Altidore would move to Europe the following year, completing a $10 million transfer to La Liga side Villarreal. It was the most expensive outgoing deal ever for MLS, until the recent announcement of Vancouver Whitecaps forward Alphonso Davies joining Bayern Munich. Altidore’s European travels would lead him back to MLS in 2015, now playing for Toronto FC.
After several campaigns with the Metrostars, Clint Mathis returned to New York for one more year in 2007. His contributions would help the club to clinch a fifth consecutive postseason berth. After spending 2006 with New York, Edson Buddle moved to the Galaxy only weeks before the famous match at Giants Stadium.
The rivalry between the Red Bulls and the Galaxy would hit new heights in the next decade, as the likes of Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Rafa Marquez made their matches must-see events. There was even a playoff meeting in 2011, with LA claiming a 3-1 aggregate victory.
Now, the two clubs find themselves in an oddly similar situation in terms of the league’s newest teams. New York City FC and Los Angeles FC entered the fray in 2015 and 2018 respectively, and both offer a specific alternative to their “MLS 1.0” rivals. As the Red Bulls and the Galaxy focus on their new noisy neighbors, there is a bit of a kinship developing amongst supporters as the league redirects rivalries and narratives.
Part of the original ten in the first MLS campaign back in 1996, New York and Los Angeles have been at the heart of the league’s progress and growth. Incredibly entertaining matches are still to come in the future, but it is doubtful that anything quite like August 18th, 2007 will be seen again anytime soon.