The New York Red Bulls couldn't have asked for anything more.
It was a dream night from start until finish, as the Red Bulls thrashed Brazilian side Santos FC 3-1 in the first ever match at Red Bull Arena in front of a sold out crowd of 25,000 fans. The night that everyone waited so long for finally came, and for the Red Bulls it was simply fantastic. The brand new stadium was filled by kickoff, and it didn't take long for the fans to erupt.
In just the 11th minute, trialist Ibrahim Salou earned a free kick just outside the box, and newcomer Joel Lindpere stepped up to take it. Lindpere's first effort ricocheted off the defensive wall, but it came right back to him. The Estonian fired on net and sent Red Bull Arena into a complete frenzy. It was a great strike and the first of three brilliant first half goals for the Red Bulls. Lindpere, regardless of how his Red Bulls career goes, now forever has his name etched in Red Bulls history. Although the game was just an exhibition, it was indeed the first ever goal at the new park, and a beautiful one at that.
The Red Bulls really controlled the entire first half. Santos had some good possession, and a few threats, but the Red Bulls defense was organized, confident, and dispatched every chance. Where the team looked most different than it did last year was the organization and distribution from the back. Rookie Tim Ream was outstanding on the ball. The Red Bulls' defense looked more confident on the ball than they ever did under Juan Carlos Osorio. It didn't seem like they tried a long ball once. That is a welcome change.
The greatest moment of the night, however, came on the Red Bulls' second goal. Late in the half, Carl Robinson fired a corner from the left side, and the ball went all the way past the far post. Ream rose and got his head to it, and directed it toward the net. Standing in the six-yard box uncovered was Mike Petke, and the longtime Metro volleyed the ball into the net. You could see the sheer emotion from Petke during his celebration, as he kissed the Red Bulls badge on his jersey. For all the players on the Red Bulls to score, Petke getting one on this night was downright special.
The goal must have put the entire team on a high, because what happened next might not ever happen again. Just minutes later and right before haltime, the Red Bulls counter attacked, and Mac Kandji found Dane Richards open on the right flank. Richards, known mostly for his speed and certainly not for his finishing, raced toward the box and unleashed the greatest shot he's ever taken. He blasted the ball with his right foot into the top left corner, and the game was officially all-Red Bulls.
Germano added a stoppage time goal for Santos, but the night was over. The Red Bulls were really fabulous tonight. They weren't perfect, but for Red Bulls fans tonight was just that. It was a two hour party in their brand new cathedral, one of hopefully many. We'll have much more analysis of this game, including reactions from players and coach Hans Backe. It starts for real next week, but for now, this will certainly do.