The hits just keep on coming.
Mere hours after news broke that one section of the New York Red Bulls' fan base will be staging a protest on the concourse of Red Bull Arena during Sunday's home opener, another hammer blow has been delivered to the battered reputation of this once-great club: more than 20,000 fans are plotting to descend on Harrison and watch the game.
The news literally could not come at a worse time for a club hemorrhaging supporters - some of whom had visited RBA as many as six times in the last five seasons - to new neighbors NYC FC. Buoyed by the support of RBNY's erstwhile hardcore, New York's sleepy Yankee Stadium was filled by an unprecedented crowd of 43,507 last week - and that was the first time they'd ever played there!
The city was shaken to its core: such attendances for soccer in New York were unimaginable. The Bronx venue had pulled in a mere 49,653 when Liverpool played Manchester City there last summer. A paltry 81,994 turned out to watch Argentina play Brazil at MetLife stadium in 2012. Soccer simply doesn't have an audience in the New York area.
Especially MLS soccer. Especially for a team starting from scratch.
RBNY started life as the MetroStars, 20 years ago, playing in Giants Stadium, an arena so ignored by New York's sporting faithful it is now a car park. The club's history may be long, but it bears no comparison with that of its new powder-blue rivals. The MetroStars' inaugural match was played in US soccer's dark ages, a time when the sport was thoroughly marginalized and unloved by all Americans; the organization's marketing effort has historically flipped between "ham-fisted" and "invisible": no surprise the first ever MetroStars game pulled in a pitiful 46,826.
Truly, New York has never before seen 43,507 people turn up for a local MLS club's debut in a major stadium. Soccer has come a long way.
How to explain the disparity between the two club's inaugural games? Well, NYC FC is simply playing a different game: offering stars like David Villa (three La Liga titles, one Champions League, one European Championship, one World Cup) and Mix Diskerud (27 USMNT caps and counting). The poor, befuddled MetroStars never had the wit to try anything like that: their inaugural roster was stocked with makeweights like Roberto Donadoni (six - five at the time - Serie A titles, three UEFA club championship titles, World Cup runner-up with Italy in 1994) and Tony Meola (retired with 100 USMNT appearances under his belt).
Using a completely different, smarter, approach to selling soccer to New Yorkers, NYC FC's methods and achievements are unrecognizable to those few fans who recall the MetroStars' first game in 1996.
And of course NYC FC had to take a different approach, because even since Red Bull GmbH took over and rebranded the former MetroStars, the first MLS attempt at a New York club has been defined by steadily accelerating freefall. Average attendance was 14,570 in 2006, the year Red Bull took over. It sunk catastrophically to 18,441 in 2010 - the year Red Bull Arena (capacity 25,189) opened - and has steadily declined: last year the team could only attract an average of 19,421 fans through the gate for game days; in the playoffs, it was even worse - just 21,527 on average for three post-season matches nobody gave a damn about.
That RBNY is capable of keeping the doors of Red Bull Arena open for another season is almost unbelievable.
The latest news - that the last dregs of the Red Bulls' fan base is conspiring to watch a game at the Arena in numbers entirely consistent with every opening day since the team moved to Harrison - is further evidence of the club's terminal decline.
Some soft-hearted members of the media will try to deflect attention from the truth by focusing attention on the activities of one supporters' group that will be protesting an issue that has nothing to do with NYC FC and is largely the sort of episode one might expect of a different sort of club: a healthy one, with an engaged fan base aware of its history. The sort of club where some fans nurture grievances and air them publicly and others do not, because in a large, well-established fan base there will be significant and entrenched differences of opinion. The sort of fan base sufficiently confident in itself that one section will march around the stadium for a bit ranting at management, while other fans do other fanly things.
But do not be fooled. Once A Metro is here to tell you a hard truth: RBNY is on its deathbed.
Don't be drawn into the illusion presented by Monday morning's match reports. Win or lose, those reports will speak of protests and billboards in a benign but doomed effort to paint the team as one which still has an active and engaged support capable of producing varied and interesting reactions to the activities of the team and its management.
But that is not the story. The 20,000 or so other fans who have bought tickets to see the Red Bulls take on perennial rivals DC United have other ideas: ideas which ought to be recognized as the team's death knell. They may not grab the headlines next week, because RBNY's media coverage is traditionally soft-focused and indulgent, inclined to hide the club's failings, to try to gloss over soccer's abject failure to impact the New York sporting landscape and mask the true narrative.
But OaM has heard from members of the protest-bound Empire Supporters Club and the team's two other recognized supporters' groups who plan to "drink and sing and get a little rowdy just like every game". Some extremists even suggest they will "bring the hate for DC".
In what is a devastatingly multi-dimensional attack on RBNY's hope for survival, other fans will take a different approach: "I have three kids crying out for Dax shirts - I'll be there early cos the shop is always packed on opening day, and I'll still be lucky to be in my seats by the 12th minute," said one, under condition of anonymity.
Not everyone in the movement is entirely without sympathy for fans who stand apart from the plan to turn up and enjoy the game: off the record, ticket-holding sources suggest there are some who think it might "suck for the guys protesting if we score while they're on their march, but there are TVs and match commentary throughout the building, so hopefully they can catch a highlight at least."
The movement will be supported by another, possibly larger number, who are aggressively organizing to watch the game from home. Even fans who once cheerfully spent their time podcasting and writing about the team have been sucked into the effort to kill RBNY at its 2015 home opener, by savagely watching the match on TV in solidarity with those crippling the club by watching at the stadium: "I'd like to be there, but I have to take the dog to the vet this weekend and the car's been acting up recently," ranted Jason Iapicco, managing editor of Once A Metro.
OaM contributor, Aaron Bauer, is not among the militants but issued a statement describing his support for its methods:
"Aaron Bauer will NOT attend the RBNY home opener. He lives in Atlanta and will watch the match in bed with his dog Corsica most likely.
It makes it hard to attend when you write words on the Internet for a living and your bank account laughs at you when you check it. I hope more people pack the stands and enjoy soccer this weekend at RBA."
Long-time RBNY fan and OaM contributor, Lester Townsend, is understandably angry at the demise of his team: "Dude, how did you get my number?" he raged. In a follow-up call, he was briefly able to offer a more coherent analysis of the current state of the club and its fan base: "Leave a message after the beep," he said bleakly.
It's over, readers. Other outlets will paint a different picture: an opening day game against an old rival; some fans turning up angry, most not, all in some way present at the match, cheering or groaning before going home to prepare to do it all again for the next one. Those will be interesting reads: they will paint a picture of a lively, diverse fan base, ranting and chanting and cheering and jeering.
Don't buy it. The club has sold more than 20,000 tickets for its regular season home opener, just like it has done every year since Red Bull Arena opened. The situation is hopeless.
If you've never witnessed a club die before, a few tickets are still available. And word is some good seats close to the field may open up during the game.
[Editor's note: this piece appears to be largely a work of fiction, except for the parts that are true.]