Sunday, May 16, 2010

Red Bull Arena Victorious, Red Bulls Not So Much

I'll discuss the Yanks-Twins series in my next post, most likely tomorrow. I have to talk about the Red Bulls.

Last night, I attended my first match at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Suffice it to say, the experience was far better than my 1st Red Bulls game, last year in front of 60,000 empty seats at Giants Stadium.

That was a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy -- a.k.a. the Gals -- in which David Beckham was washed up and yet was still the 3rd-best player on the pea-green sheet of Meadowlands concrete that passed for a field/pitch. "Metro" (a nickname from their days known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars) were never in that one.

This time, they faced the Seattle Sounders, a relatively new team named for a team in the old North American Soccer League, and it was a terrific game, full of good defense. Goalkeeper Boula Condoul and defenders Mike Petke and especially Tim Ream were on their game.
Tim Ream! There's only one Tim Ream!

Unfortunately, Seattle scored in the 85th minute to win, 1-0. Even worse, the Red Bulls got cheated out of not 1 but 2 2nd-half fenalties: There was a Seattle handball in the box a few minutes before the goal, and a Red Bull player got tripped in the box in injury time. This should have been a 2-1 New York victory, but it wasn't.

I sat in the 3rd row of Section 133, in the "South Ward" -- probably so named to connect them to the City of Newark right across the river -- home to the Garden State Supporters, one section over from Section 101, home to the Empire Supporters Club (New York City-based). Together, they do their damnedest to make a Red Bulls game sound like an English or European game. If I'm going to go to any more games, though (and I intend to), I'm going to have to learn their songs.

Fortunately, some of their songs are adaptations of familiar ones, for example, to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In":

Oh, New Jersey! (Oh New Jersey!)
Is wonderful! (Is wonderful!)
Oh, New Jersey is wonderful!
It's full of tits, fanny and the Red Bulls!
Oh, New Jersey is wonderful!

They did not, however, do the accompanying one for the opposing team:

Oh, Seattle! (Oh Seattle!)
Is full of shit! (Is full of shit!)
Oh, Seattle is full of shit!
It's full of shit, shit and more shit!
Oh, Seattle is full of shit!

Maybe it's because, despite 3 Yankees-Mariners Playoff series between 1995 and 2001, there isn't a rivalry between the New York Tri-State Area and the Pacific Northwest. Maybe they'll do it for games against the New England Revolution, D.C. United, or the new Philadelphia Union. Empire Supporters Club top boy Matt Doyle has already outlined the relationship, saying that D.C. will always be their big rivals, that they hate United, but they pity Philly.

I chose last night as my RBA premiere because Seattle has Freddie Ljungberg. This marked the 1st time I ever saw an Arsenal player (or ex-Arsenal player) live. Freddie's 33, and he's still got some game. He didn't score, or get the assist, but he moved the ball well, he moved himself well, and he still does corner-kicks better than anybody on the current Arsenal squad except Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie. And, unlike in many of his Arsenal appearances, he did not have ridiculous hair. (In fact, he had hardly any, going with a crewcut.)
To extend the Arsenal part of the story, Seattle's goalie was Kasey Keller, an American who once played for Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

The Red Bull ultras in 101 and 133 seemed to harp on the fact that Keller is a disgrace to his country, that he's the backup to Brad Friedel on the national team, and that he's old. (In fact, he's 40 -- 3 weeks older than I am.) In defiance of Major League Soccer's demands that a family atmosphere be in the building, we gave him hell.

But while I saw 3 Arsenal shirts in the building (and 2 Manchester United, 1 Chelsea, 2 Barcelona, 1 Ajax Amsterdam, and, interestingly, 2 Newcastle United), I was, as far as I can tell, the only fan who called Keller a "Tottenham reject." And the only one to bring up April 25, 2004, when Ljungberg played for Arsenal and Keller for Spurs, and "We won the League at White Hart Lane!"

I was 50 feet from Keller's net, and I swear, he turned around, and the look on his face said, "Fucking Gooners, I can't get away from them! Why won't they leave me alone?"
Because you're Tottenham Scum, that's why!

I don't know how he and Freddie can now be on the same team. But both had the last laugh, winning the game.

Attendance at the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena was 17,900. That's less than the 23,000 or so they claimed for the L.A. match last year, but that was probably just tickets sold, and I doubt it was more than 18,000 at the 79,000-seat Giants Stadium. (Good riddance, that place was bad enough for football, but for soccer it was deeply awful.)

A small contingent of Seattle fans was in the upper deck in the northeast corner. They didn't make asses of themselves. In fact, we even did, to "Bread of Heaven":

We forgot!
We forgot!
We forgot that you were here!
We forgot that you were here!

You know, to "Guantanamera," "Sing when you're winning! You only sing when you're winning!" Well, they barely sang even then.

And I thought Seattle was a good sports town.

Anyway, I will be back. Hopefully, my next match will be a week from today, when, with Italy's Serie A completed today (Internazionale completed the domestic double by winning their 5th straight league crown), Turin-based giants Juventus come in for a "friendly." The Thieves. I don't know if that'll bring a lot of Italians into the place -- it's been a while since Newark had a huge Italian community, much of which moved out to the suburbs -- but I want to see it.

Because, while the home team did not win last night, the home crowd sure did. And so did the new house.

Forza Red Bull! Let's put together a season worthy of the fans and the stadium!

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