A Night At The Arena: RBNY 3- Santos 1.By: Ben | March 23rd, 2010
A stadium unveiled.
A giant toppled.
A deal reached.
How sweet of a weekend it was.
To begin at the beginning:
4:45 PM, Saturday: Considering how the Hebrews had to wander in the desert for forty years, four months of offseason doesn’t sound so horrible. Yet, as the top of Red Bulls Arena poked its head above I-280 and the sign for “Soccer Arena Next Exit” came into view, I was sure I was dreaming. Finally, after ten long years of empty promises and lost plans the New York Metro-Bulls had a home of their own. And damn, did they have a home. To call this place beautiful is an understatement. For those who don’t know, going to Harrison New Jersey isn’t exactly a trip to the Four Seasons. Yet, this beautiful testament to the tireless work of MLS’s advocates and supporters stands out like a swan at a duckling convention.
5:00: Three things have struck me. First, parking sucks. The Arena doesn’t actually have its own parking lot, so instead they rented out all the lots in the surrounding area and are now charging me 12 bucks for a space. I suck it up. Second, there is a huge amount of people here. When they said that 25,000 people were coming to the game, they damn well meant it. The streets are flooded with people singing, chanting, and banging drums as they walk to the game. But this is not just Santos fans, mind you, and is in fact a great mix of supporters from both sides. Third of all, Red Bull really pulled out all the stops on this one. There are billboards all over the area, teams of jugglers around the stadium, dancers, celebrities including Lindsey Vonn, Ryan Sheckler, and Reggie Bush, giveaways, and an interactive fan zone. Kudos to the people at Red Bull for putting together such an event.
5:30: After entering the stadium I realize that I don’t have a 2010 scarf and sprint to the nearest souvenir stand. The line isn’t too long, but there is only one register and it has the same IQ as the person running it. I am stuck in line with my friend Sebastian for what I realize will be a long time. This would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that Sebastian is what many MLS fans call a Eurosnob, whose main purpose in life is to point out every minute flaw with the Red Bulls and their new stadium. His greatest hits include:
“For every Red Bulls jersey I see there are at least 10 Santos jerseys”
“There is no way there are 25,000 people here. Maybe 500. Not 25,000.”
And of course, everyone’s favorite: “It doesn’t even matter. The Red Bulls are gonna get completely crushed”
With some work I am able to resist the urge to punch him in the face.
5:45: Almost game time. I finally take my seat in the last row of section 102, right behind the Santos goalie. Lindsey Vonn comes on the field in a race car and though she is shorter in person than I imagined, I have no complaint with staring at her for a few minutes. Bruce Beck from Chanel 4 is on the field with a newswoman who I don’t recognize.
I look over to section 101 and see what I can only describe as perfection. The Empire Supporters Club is out on full force tonight singing their signature song, “Soy Del Metro”. Sebastian and I quickly realize what a mistake we have made in sitting in section 102 and run over to join the crowd. This place is heaven.
6:15: Though Angel is mysteriously not playing and Wolyniec on the bench, kickoff time is reached. The energy coming out of the stadium is complemented nicely by the Red Bulls’ surprisingly high level of play. With the help of new signings such as Joel Lindpere and Tim Ream, it is clear that 2009 is long dead and gone in the minds of the team.
6:26: Number 29 on the Red Bulls, Ibrahim Salou, earns a free kick just outside of the box. Lindpere takes it, slamming it into the Santos wall, but manages to catch the rebound, smacking it far back into the Santos goal. 11 minutes in, I am shocked to have witnessed the first Red Bulls Arena goal.
6: 37: After New York dominating possession for essentially the whole game, Santos squeezes out a shot which Coundoul easily gobbles up.
6:59: Kanji is pulled down just outside the penalty box. Robinson’s free kick is deflected, but he dashes to the corner and sends an excellent ball to the head of Tim Ream at the far post. The rookie defender’s header whizzes in front of the goalie and is slammed into the goal by the beloved Mike Petke. The crowd is going nuts as the score stands at 2-0.
7:01: Only two minutes later, as the game neared halftime, Ubiparipovic is able to get in between a pass from Santos’ midfield and makes a mad dash up the left side. He then passes to Kanji up field, who in turn passes to Dane Richards on top of the box. From there Richards rips and uncharacteristically gorgeous shot into the top left corner, extending the Red Bulls’ lead to 3-0. I honestly cannot put into words how insane the Empire Supporters Club went here. To say that they were excited is like calling a nuclear bomb a bad idea to play with. If they were plugged into the energy grid, their spirits alone would have been the answer to the world energy crisis. It was really that big.
7:20: The second half kicks off. Agudelo has come in for Robinson on the New York side, and Marcel replaced Giovanni for Santos. The Red Bulls are keeping up their tempo, but something seems to be missing. Suddenly, a group of five or so players in orange come out and start stretching on the sideline. Among them is the legendary John Wolyniec. Immediately, having not heard the news yet of the new CBA, I sprint to get as close as I can to him and shout out, “WOLY! GET THE CBA DONE FOR ME!”. He gives me a thumbs up. Shoot me, my life is complete.
8:06: After a slightly disappointing half, Santos scores on a complete garbage goal from Germano. The whistle blows, and the postgame celebration of fireworks begins. I only recorded the first half of it (sorry).
9:30: I arrive home completely exhausted. I guess this night can be best described by Sebastian’s famous last words in the car after the game, “I actually have a shred of respect for the Red Bulls now.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, a new era of MLS has begun. This stadium is everything I could have dreamed of and more: it’s big, spacious, has a real grass field with no football lines, and is truly devoted to the beautiful game. For all future MLS stadia, this will be the gold standard against which they will be measured, and I honestly believe all 15 home games this season could be sold out.
Welcome to Red Bulls Arena.