It was announced yesterday that the New York Red Bulls game on Sunday against rival DC United has been sold out. Ticket sales thus far in 2012 have ranged as high as 21,000 for the home opener, not quite a sellout, to as low as 11,000 for a Wednesday night match against the Houston Dynamo. The average across six home matches has been just over 15,000, but as many supporters will attest the Arena rarely looks that full.
After these disappointing attendance numbers to start the season, a combination of a rival team coming to town, ticket promotions, and the club’s recent form (5-1-2 in league play since the end of April), seems to be bringing in a lot of fans for Sunday night’s game. Many of these fans may love soccer but do not follow the Red Bulls tenaciously. Even the group of soccer obsessed friends I’m going with have only been to Harrison a combined handful of times this season.
Here are some of the least offensive questions they have asked leading up to our New Jersey adventure. For them and all the other fans who may not be as familiar with the 2012 Red Bulls, this one is for you.
1) So how’s the team doing so far?
Two tough losses to start the season against FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake and complete smack downs from DC United and the Chicago Fire have been relatively small hiccups on an otherwise great start to 2012. Despite an almost comical amount of injuries at times, the team has shown off its improved depth and ability to score early and kill off low-scoring games. They are in third place in the Eastern Conference just behind DC and Sporting Kansas City and with a lot of space between them and the 4th place Chicago Fire. Except for an early exit from the U.S. Open Cup, there’s still hope for the team to compete for MLS Cup and even the Supporters Shield.
2) How are our designated players Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez doing?
Henry had a great start to the year and is near the top of the league in goals despite being out with a pulled hamstring for the majority of the last few weeks. Marquez has been disappointing after having what sounded like a recommitted effort during the offseason. His occasional skilled passing over the top has led to a couple of goals, but he just hasn’t had the tenacity in the center of the field that the position requires. He has also spent a lot of time injured or suspended. With any luck, the Red Bulls will move him during the summer transfer window but no one is holding their breath for that to happen. The good news for fans interested in seeing the team’s two highest paid players is that they are both expected to start on Sunday.
3) What is Larry Bird doing playing keeper?
That Larry Bird doppelganger is Ryan Meara who just finished classes at Fordham University and is a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. A local player growing up, Meara has filled a much needed hole in the Red Bulls lineup and for a ridiculously low salary, especially compared to the Bouna/Sutton/Rost trio last year. He’s playing so well that the Irish U-21 team called him up during the most recent FIFA international break, but he stayed with the team since the Red Bulls weren’t obligated to let him go.
4) Who else has been a big surprise this season?
Dax McCarty has been tremendous playing box-to-box but rarely getting caught forward. Brandon Barklage and Connor Lade are two off-season acquisitions that have helped the team tremendously. Barklage has stepped in at right back which allows Jan Gunnar Solli to move into the midfield. Connor Lade is versatile and has been used at left back as well as on the wings. His speed and vision is incredibly impressive for such a young player.5) How is the development around Red Bull Arena coming along?
The PATH train can still be a drag when leaving the game, and the area around the Arena is still mostly barren. The front office has been better about organizing activities and tents for fans to check out before the match, which has actually gone a long way to create some kind of pre-game atmosphere. Besides that I think a Five Guys opened up and we’ll be checking out the relatively newly opened Dinosaur BBQ just across the bridge in Newark, so there’s that!
6) I love Juan Agudelo - is he going to get to play?
About that... Juan Agudelo was traded recently to Chivas USA for defender Heath Pearce and financial considerations. But it sounds like Luke Rodgers may be back on his way stateside after some visa issues, so despite New York being a little thin at forward while Henry has been injured, the trade has seemed to work in both team’s favor.
7) How are the tacos this season?
With low attendance the concession lines have been pretty manageable. We’ll see if that continues with 10,000 additional hungry and thirsty fans than the vendors have been used to. And while the tacos are delicious, I’d still recommend the "Mucho Nachos" instead.8) I heard DC destroyed us a couple of months ago. WTF?
That was a tough game. The Red Bulls came out a little slow and played right into DC’s counterattacking trap, conceding four goals in seventy minutes despite having a majority of possession in the match.
9) Will I really still be subjected to an entire half of "You Suck A…..?"
Yes. And if you’re lucky perhaps a rendition or two of "I believe that we will win."
10) Where is Michael Ballack or Kaka? I’m paying good money to see them!
Red Bull tickets are cheap so quit crying! Anyway, the MLS transfer window opens June 27, so no big name signings will be introduced on Sunday. The biggest names being thrown around were Stephen Ireland and Michael Ballack, though New York has said pretty definitively they are not pursuing the latter player. The Kaka speculation was revved up after comments made by the Brazilian’s agent, and then commentator/analyst Kyle Martino and the NY Post have both made reference to the club being in serious pursuit. I guess you’ll just have to make another trip to Red Bull Arena for the next home game on July 15th to find out…!