At long last, we’re finally here. After fifteen mostly gut-wrenching seasons for this jaded fanbase, today has actually come. It’s a day many New York Red Bulls fans have waited over a decade for, and quite frankly, tonight’s unveiling of the brand new Red Bull Arena will be the franchise’s finest hour. Truly great moments are few and far between throughout MetroStar/Red Bull history. There’s Giovanni Savarese’s bicycle kick goal in the franchise’s first ever win in 1996, the Metros coming back from a 3-0 hole. There’s the 2000 season, the team’s finest overall campaign, with Clint Mathis’ five goal game and Mike Petke’s “Crime of the Century/Revenge Is Coming” t-shirt. Then there was the team’s unexpected 2008 playoff run, with Dave van den Bergh’s goal against Real Salt Lake sending the team to its only ever appearance in the league final.
Yet tonight, an exhibition match trumps all. I remember a couple years ago when ground was first broke in Harrison and construction first started. The first thing to go up was a row of steel beams. Having passing the site so many times, it was as though I saw each and every step of the process taking place. Every time I’d be on the train, or drive down Route 280, I’d catch a glance. Then this past week, on the train on my way into Manhattan for St. Patrick’s Day, there it was, a finished product, ready in a few days to finally open its doors and become a reality. Tonight, the Red Bulls host Brazilian power Santos FC in the first ever game at Red Bull Arena, the newest soccer stadium in the world.
The key word in the phrase “soccer specific stadium” is “soccer”. But when looking around the league, at the different stadiums, it becomes clear that many of them aren’t built for just soccer. For instance, I’ve never been to Toyota Park in Chicago, but have seen it numerous times on television. It’s a great looking place, that even looks like a Premier league stadium at times. That is, until behind one of the goals, you see a stage. This stage finds itself in other MLS stadiums, and while you can't blame the teams and the league for wanting to maximize revenue through multiple events, it seems a little ironic to call these places "soccer specific stadiums". It's a silly term to begin with, because most all sports venues host non-sporting events. Yet there is something to be said for Red Bull building a $200 million stadium and buying out AEG's stake in order to redesign the building (AEG wanted the permanent stage on one end). This truly will be a soccer stadium, and will be the preeminent one in the country at that.
Tonight, 25,000 fans will enter and watch the Red Bulls take on Santos. There will definitely be a contingent of Santos fans there, but for the most part, there will be local soccer fans who have waited a long time to go to a soccer match in a place not called Giants Stadium. Section 101, where the Empire Supporters Club and other Red Bulls supporters groups will lead the charge, will be chanting and singing for 90 minutes. Except this time, in the upper deck across the field, their songs will be head loud and clear. This is truly a great day for the franchise, and one that is long overdue.
Check back later as we'll have an official match preview.