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View from a visiting fan: First (but not final) impressions of Red Bull Arena

Arsenal fan Johanne Edgington has been trying to get to Red Bull Arena since 2011 to watch Titi. She finally got her wish, and here's what she thought of the experience...

Our House
Our House
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

We've all been away from RBA too long. June 27's match against Toronto FC is the first game at the Arena since May 24. So to celebrate getting back into the stands, here are the impressions of one RBNY fan, for whom that last home game in May was the culmination of a three-year effort to get to Harrison. Over to you, Johanne Edgington...

I am foremost and always will be an Arsenal fan.

However, while visiting relatives in October 2011, I’d planned on seeing Thierry Henry play for the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. It didn't work out: the last regular game of the season had been played before I even arrived Stateside and, being a MLS virgin, I had no idea about MLS playoffs.

Even if I had known, on Saturday 29 October a snowstorm hit West Orange, NJ bringing down power lines and leaving me forcibly housebound that weekend.

It didn't work out for RBNY either: the playoff game against LA Galaxy on the Sunday went ahead, Henry didn’t score and RBNY lost by a goal.

If at first you don't succeed...

Since the start of the 2014 season I’ve been keeping an eye on RBNY. I managed to watch a few games from the comfort of my sofa in the UK. Unfortunately the majority of the matches were streamed live via my laptop so were of pretty poor quality; some courtesy of BT Sport reruns that were not only ruined by the commercial breaks, but also by fitting a 90+ minute game into a 60 minute program.

Still, in readiness for another trip to the US, I bought tickets to see the RBNY vs. Portland Timbers match the day they went on sale to the public. I did, after all, want to have one of the better seats in the house, to ensure I got a great view of Thierry Henry playing in what will, in all likelihood, be his last season for RBNY. (Anyone who truly knows me will know of my "obsession".)

Fast forward to May 2014 – or 23 May to be precise: weather again. That evening a freak hailstorm struck the area followed by torrential rain, bringing localized flash flooding. My brother dared to expound his theory that if the weather continued the match would be cancelled. Many mutterings were heard in unprintable language.

Fortunately the Gods were kind and listened to my rant. The rain settled a bit, and, finally, I clapped my eyes on Red Bull Arena.

It looked impressive from the outset.

Unfortunately we’d arrived too late for the pre-match entertainment outside on the Bull-evard Bull-avard street, so we headed straight for our entry point: Gate D. Although on the far side of the stadium there were no queues, which meant escaping the rain more quickly.

The concrete interior reminded me of a mini Wembley stadium – functional but not very pretty. I thought the food, all of which appeared to be of the junk or fast variety, and the drink was overpriced: $5 for a small bottle of water; good luck with the price of a small beer; the popcorn oozed a suspicious yellow liquid. But we weren’t there for the grub.

Red Bull Arena is small compared to The Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal. So, despite its reputation, America doesn’t always do bigger. The Emirates is the third-largest stadium in England, with a total capacity of 60,361 and is usually packed to the rafters; that is almost two and a half times the capacity of 25,189 at Red Bull Arena. Even knowing that "soccer" in the US isn’t as popular as "football" in the UK it was still disappointing to see the number of vacant seats.

Their loss.

I really enjoyed the pre-match team warm-up on the pitch; something we don’t get to see in England, at least not in the Premier League. It was a fantastic chance to get some decent close-up shots of Henry and the rest – had I actually brought a camera along.

I was immediately struck by how much smaller Jamison Olave seemed to be compared to the man that usually filled my TV and/or laptop screen. In fact, all the players on the pitch appeared more diminutive than I’d expected. Even Henry.

Perhaps that's why it took me 10 whole minutes to notice the exceptionally short shorts Titi was wearing!  I’m sure it had nothing to do with the style of football – one thing I agree with my TV about is the pace of play is a lot slower in MLS than EPL– and by the second half he’d obviously got a tad cold as his shorts were a little better acquainted with his knees.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the match itself, but there were plenty of blows during the game. For starters, Bradley Wright-Philiip’s disallowed goals in the 8th and 53rd minutes. Thank goodness for his penalty in the 36th – I suppose you could say I technically didn’t see him score his third hat trick in as many home games.

The other obvious blows were Urruti’s equaliser for the Timbers in the 44th minute and his winning goal 16 minutes before the final whistle.  I’d have liked to see Thierry score a goal, but it just wasn’t meant to be that day.  Henry was named Man of the Match. My choice would’ve been Chris Duvall, with Eric Alexander being crowned my Not Man of the Match.

It was strange to watch RBNY play at Red Bull Arena without hearing Shep Messing’s commentary. However, my daughter’s observation that the South Ward, which was vociferous throughout and appeared to be carefully orchestrated by a single fan, looked like "a dance party" confirmed the overall atmosphere is definitely on a par with back home.

In the end, at least for me, it was almost as much about being at Red Bull Arena as winning or, in this case, not winning the game.

I’m now feverishly looking forward to 26 July when I will again be gracing Red Bull Arena with my presence; this time to see Titi and the New York Red Bulls take on my beloved Arsenal in Henry’s Exhibition Match.

Red Bull Arena – no matter the weather, you ain’t seen the last of me yet!