Luge Pravda takes us on a journey west from New York to the barren wastelands that were once home to Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston and Tara “mmmmmmm” Reid for the opening day of the 16th MLS season.
A few weeks ago I had one of my oldest and dearest friends over from London, Rich (aka @rich_swin on twitter for those of you into cycling, death metal and Manchester City). I did not take any time off work, as I had my boss in New York also, but we did have a busy evening schedule for the week packed with our two loves – live sport and live music. That week saw me see The Pogues twice and I am sure The Ball is Round will not mind a shameless plug to a blog review of the St Patrick’s night show here.
The Saturday evening saw the New York Red Bulls open their Major League Soccer season against the Seattle Sounders. Our attendance was a no-brainer, with Rich keen to sample some MLS action. He needed some respite after seeing my team, Manchester United, in his words, fluke a win against Bolton earlier that day. Late in the afternoon we made our way over to Harrison, New Jersey, home of the New York Red Bulls. This is the thing with New York City sports, due to a lack of (affordable) stadium space in the “5 Boroughs”, the NFL franchises – the New York Giants and Jets and the MLS franchise – the New York Red Bulls – all play across the Hudson River in New Jersey. I last found myself in New Jersey for sporting reasons for an NFL Giants game last year.
A few things about the New York Red Bulls:
- As a founding member of the MLS, they were originally called the MetroStars
- The team used to play in Giants Stadium (far too big to create an atmosphere)
- They moved to their own stadium, the smaller more intimate Red Bull Arena in March 2010.
Harrison, NJ is a nothing sort of place (population 15,000) with lots of space easily accessible on the PATH train system from Manhattan, and therefore perfect for a new stadium. The stadium has a capacity of 25,000 which is more than the town itself (note to TBIR editor, know of any more stadiums with a larger capacity than their location?) The stadium sits on reclaimed wasteland, just 10 minutes walk from the station:
On the PATH train over, Rich and I discussed a few points of concern: “was Seattle to New York the longest away trip in any professional football league in the world” and “what was the likelihood of any away fans making the long trip”? A few tweets to football encyclopedias @theballisround, @DannyLast and @Hartch answered the first question; close but no cigar. The longest trip is apparently in the Russian league, involving FC Luch-Energiya Vladivostok and any trip west. The second question was something we would be able to answer ourselves, and we were left in no doubt when we exited the PATH train to the sound of a throng of a couple of hundred Seattle Sounders fans singing and banging drums. If you are going to make any MLS trip, why not make it a long weekend to the Big Apple. To the best of my knowledge no other US sports embrace the terrace chanting that is such a fundamental feature of football in the rest of the world. For those fans looking for something approaching the tribalism we all take for granted, the MLS is their outlet to sing, bang drums and have a jolly good time. Other US sports fans love their teams for sure, but there does not appear to be as much regard for the opposition nor chanting and singing. Which is a shame surely? “Let’s go Giants/Knicks/Jets/Yankees” is as good as it gets in my experience.
Opening pyrotechnics and the national anthem out the way and we settled into the match. The Red Bulls have two “designated” players – Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez – players allowed to smash the MLS salary cap and a rule specifically introduced to allow the LA Galaxy to be in a position to lure David Beckham over the pond. During the player introductions both Rich and I were surprised to learn ex Spurs and Sunderland Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio had also signed for the Red Bulls. This was to be his debut. If you wondered where Tainio was, wonder no more.
We had expected a half decent game what with Henry and Márquez on the Red Bulls, against the Sounders, one of the best supported teams in the MLS (no doubt aided by the Wimbledon FC like migration of their NBA franchise – the Supersonics – to Oklahoma in 2008). The Sounders had reached the conference semi-finals in the 2010 season, being eventually beaten David Beckham’s LA Galaxy. Unfortunately, the game was quite poor. Rich posited the idea that a decent League One side would give either team a good game, and I for one wasn’t going to argue with him. The Red Bulls dominated possession, but there was a nagging over reliance on raking cross field passes from Marquez for nippy forward Juan Agudelo (who recently scored in the excellent humdinger friendly between the US and Argentina). Henry on the other hand was not doing quite as much running. Indeed, Henry’s overall contribution was questioned in no uncertain terms by Rich:
“Henry, he doesn’t seem that bothered, are you getting that feeling?”
You would think for $5,560,000 per year he might put in some more miles. But judging from the female cries for Henry from the crowd (one in particular with a distinct London accent) the fans don’t care all that much.Hehha
The game was settled with a single goal from Juan Agudelo, who showed great strength to run onto a long up field pass from, who else, Teemu Tainio, then shrug off a defender and with the outside of his right boot stab the ball into the net at speed.
Did I mention a certain John Rooney, brother of Wayne, is on the Red Bulls roster, via a number of MLS drafts. He has not played for the Red Bulls yet. Rich was gutted as he had seen him play recently for Macclesfield versus our hometown team, Torquay Utd. OK, as a Man City fan Rich was not that gutted, but it would have been amusing to see a League Two player in the top US league.
An enjoyable evening. Not Premiership standards by any means: probably somewhere between League One and League Two depending on the passage of play. But a fun evening all the same: a few beers and hot dogs with one of my oldest friends in town, watching some live sport. And that is what it is all about at the end of the day. A few days later we would find ourselves at the Knicks vs. the Celtics at the iconic Madison Square Garden. TBIR would like a few words on that evening too, so you haven’t heard the last of me for the time being.
Why not sample some of the highlights here, the goal at 5:00 or so is worth a look.