In Part 1 (by Lester Townsend) and Part 2 (by Aaron Bauer) of our series looking at the history of New York Red Bulls' friendlies, we went from the formation of the team through a buyout by Red Bull GmbH and the early years of the RBNY era. With Chelsea and the International Champions Cup looming, let's look at the end of the time at the Meadowlands and the beginning of Red Bull Arena, or what we can call "the Modern Era".
The first two years of the Red Bulls era ended like the last few of the MetroStars, disappointing eliminations in the MLS Cup playoffs. 2008 would change that, but before their run to the MLS Cup final, a few friendlies were used to test their resolve.
First, the Red Bulls travelled to Pheonix, Arizona to take on CD Guadalajara towards the end of June, and didn't treat it like a friendly.
The only goal of the game, in somewhat true Metro fashion, was scored by Oscar Echeverry. He only appeared in 9 competitive matches for the Red Bulls in 2 seasons, and didn't record a goal during that time. The Red Bulls were lucky to get out of the game without any injuries as it was the 5th of 6 games in June that year. It was also in the middle of a 7 match, 20 day stretch. Sound familiar?
The team followed up that friendly with one more that year against a familiar opponent, Barcelona FC. Barcelona had been come by for a friendly only 2 years earlier, and would feature two future Red Bulls in Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. Unlike the 2006 meeting, the Red Bulls were no match for the visiting La Liga side. The crowd of less than 30,000 saw Barcelona dominate the meeting and walk out with an easy 6-2 win. Barcelona netted 4 goals in a 26 minute stretch and would add 2 more in the second half. The Red Bulls managed 2 of their own, but were thoroughly outclassed.
2009 was a weird year for the Red Bulls. Red Bull Arena was nearing construction, marking this as the last year at the Giants Stadium, which itself would be gone in 2010. It was also weird in that the Red Bulls did not have any summer friendlies. The team only had one official friendly of record that year, and it was against the Portland Timbers, then playing in USL-1, on March 20th. The Red Bulls had only played one league at this time, and the friendly coordinated with the announcement of Portland joining MLS in 2011. The match itself ended in a 0-0 draw with both side getting chances, but neither netting a winner. The match was memorable for Portland joining the league two years later, and nothing else.
The beginning of the Red Bull Arena era brought it with it a host of friendlies for the boys in white. In total, the Red Bulls played 4 mid season friendlies, and 1 preseason that was used to open up RBA. Before the club kicked off their 2010 campaign against the Chicago Fire, the Red Bulls hosted Santos FC in what was the grand opening of Red Bull Arena. While not a mid season friendly, it's important because of the magnitude of opening a new stadium.
The match against Santos ended in a 3-1 victory for the Red Bulls, and capped off a preseason where the Red Bulls went 8-0-2. Joel Lindpere, Mike Petke, and Dane Richards were the goalscorers on the night for the Red Bulls. It was a good opening for the stadium with a crowd of 25,000 on hand to break in the stadium. The action was open from the get go as Lindpere opened scoring in the 11th minute when he took a free kick and hopped on a deflection off a Santos player for an unassisted goal. Mike Petke scored next when he got on the end of a Tim Ream header in front of goal. Richard notched the games' 3rd goal on a counterattack late in the first half. Santos scored later in the second half to make it 3-1.
In May of 2010, the Red Bulls hosted Juventus and went onto another 3-1 win with goals by Juan Pablo Angel, Jeremy Hall, and Conor Chinn. What made this match memorable was that the Red Bull started a team of reserve players. In June, the Red Bulls hosted Cruzeiro from Brazil. Unlike the first two friendlies, the Red Bulls lost by a score line of 4-2 with Angel & Chinn again producing goals.
Late July is when the fun was had in terms of friendlies though. The Red Bulls hosted the first (and only) Barclays New York Challenge. It was special as it was the Red Bulls debut of Thierry Henry, when the team took on Tottenham Hotspur. Henry scored the games opening goal in the 25th minute but the Red Bulls failed to win as Tottenham would get goals from Robbie Keane and Gareth Bale to win 2-1. The Red Bulls then faced off against Manchester City and newly signed Yaya Toure. Macoumba Kandji scored in the 7th minute. Manchester City equalized with a 55th minute goal by Jô, but Dane Richards would put the hosts up for good in the 70th minute to secure a victory. The Red Bulls came in 3rd in the tournament with 6 points (1 win + 3 goals) with Sporting CP taking the trophy.
2011 was less crazy for the Red Bulls in terms of friendlies, with only 3 compared to 5 in 2010. However, unlike 2010, all 3 matches would be on the road. Like they did in 2009 for the Portland, the Red Bulls travelled to Montreal in May to help introduce the Montreal Impact (then in NASL) as a future MLS team. The Red Bulls were blanked as the hosts won 1-0.
In late July, the Red Bulls travelled to London to play a weekend tournament at the Emirates, home of Arsenal, in the Emirates Cup. In the first match they took on Paris Saint-Germain. Joel Lindpere scored on a breakaway after receiving a Juan Agudelo pass and that was all the game needed.
The second match, against host Arsenal, was a little weird. The Red Bulls came out in the now infamous yellow shorts. It was the first time anyone had really seen them used during a match. At halftime, Thierry Henry wanted to switch teams from the Red Bulls to his former team Arsenal. The referee wouldn't allow it. The Red Bulls secured a draw, but not from a goal they scored. The Red Bulls lone mark on the scoreboard came from Arsenal's Kyle Bartley scoring an own goal. That's all the was needed though, as the tie secured the Red Bulls the Emirates Cup in 2011.
2012 saw a reduction in friendlies yet again, as the team went from 3 to 1. The lone friendly was against Tottenham Hotspur, in an obvious bid for revenge of their loss in 2010. Eight minutes in, Kenny Cooper, the Red Bulls' leading goal scorer that year, put the hosts ahead when he converted a penalty kick. That was set up by new signing Tim Cahill, who debuted for the team, when he got ahead of the defense and was taken down in the box. The Red Bulls took the lead into halftime, but the visiting Spurs would not be deterred as they scored in the 59th minute (Gareth Bale) and 64th minute (Gylfi Sigurdsson) to leave Harrison with a 2-1 victory.
It seemed that at this point the Red Bulls have decided that less is more in terms of friendlies. For the second straight year, there is only 1 friendly on the schedule as the team hosted French side Lyon in July. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the friendly aside from Peguy Luyindula, who played for Lyon from 2002-2004. Jamison Olave opened the scoring the fourth minute, for Lyon, when he tallied an own goal by deflecting a cross into net. Dax McCarty tied it in the 31st when he ripped a cleared free kick into the top corner. Andre Akpan put the Red Bulls in the lead when he got on the end of a Lloyd Sam cross in the 61st minute. Lyon would tie the game in the 75th minute when Yoann Gourcuff slotted a cross in.
2014 was a bittersweet year for the Red Bulls. They made a run to the Eastern Conference finals, and their star player, Thierry Henry, retired at the end of the year. July 26th though was a pseudo-testimonial for Henry when Arsenal visited the United States for the first time in 25 years. Henry always had a soft spot in his heart for the team from London, and getting to play them in New York was a special moment. The hosts (and Henry) made the most of the Gunners' trip to America as they scored the games lone goal in the 32nd minute. Henry took a corner kick, which was controlled by Ibrahim Sekagya into the path of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who showed why he was the leading goal scorer in MLS. The Red Bulls held a lot of possession in the match and the defense held when needed. The Red Bulls would send the guests home with a 1-0 loss.
So what about this year? Obviously we don't know how the matches will work themselves out, but the Red Bulls are playing in the International Champions Cup for the first time. Tonight they will take on Chelsea, the defending Barclay's Premiere League Champions. Most likely the matchup will feature reserve players and/or NYRB II (USL) players as the Red Bulls played in the US Open Cup yesterday. On Sunday the team will host SL Benefica from Portugal, who is the defending champion of Primeira Liga. The Red Bulls already have 4 points in the tournament thanks to a win vs the San Jose Earthquakes and a draw against the LA Galaxy. Can they succeed in winning another meaningless trophy?
Do you think the Red Bulls will succeed in more friendlies? How does their history of friendlies look? You be the judge.