We are in Rochester, in a second-floor apartment that occupies a building clearly built before my parents were born. Not a hardship, but a distance from the original dream of waterfront property with private access. Traveling for US Open Cup has taken us to Queens in search of Freedoms. Now we're in Rochester to see some Rhinos.
We thought we'd take a more glamorous approach to this trip than the one to watch NYRB U-23s' short-lived USOC campaign. At one point, we were going to be a group of 10 heading north to enjoy the finest luxury property Airbnb can offer in Rochester. Much like our host city for the night (still accommodating Xerox and Kodak, but it ain't what it used to be), our grand ambitions took some substantial hits: a group of four took the 300+ mile journey north to see the New York Red Bulls kick off their latest attempt to capture a trophy they've historically tended to treat with disdain.
But RBNY cares about USOC these days, and so do we.
So...what to do in Rochester? We considered all the town had to offer, and decided to make an early run to the stadium.
As it turns out, the area around the Rhinos' home is not the most thriving part of the city. On the bright side, the bodega we stumbled into offered pricing of the sort you'd need a time machine to find in NYC: around $2 for a half-liter can of beer; local brew, Genesee, could be had for $1.25. Travel takes you outside your comfort zone: I found the idea of beer cheaper than water to be well outside mine, and went for the $2 options.
Beer in hand, we were officially in search of a tailgate.
Wandering all around the stadium in search of fellow RBNY fans or the Oak Street Brigade - Rochester Rhinos' supporters' group - we conducted a thorough tour of the parking lots before being directed to a street corner on the northwestern side of the stadium.
"Empire!" greeted us on arrival: we were finally tailgating. The venue was the space in front of the home of several elderly gentlemen, selected for its generous allocation of free on-street parking. Our hosts, OSB, plied us with pizza and wings and chit-chat and beer-tower jousting.
It was not recorded for posterity, but take the word of this eyewitness: our guy totally beat the Rochester fan.
Scarf exchanges and a few photos (still no evidence of our beer-tower jousting supremacy - but it happened, it really did) preceded our walk back to the stadium. The Rhinos have a high-quality facility, certainly superior to the crumbling wildlife sanctuary they call RFK. I was told Rochester has hope the stadium may eventually add credibility to a bid to join MLS.
We were given section 132, right next to the player's entrance. To my surprise, there were RBNY fans scattered all around the stadium. The people I was standing next to revealed themselves to me as supporters from Syracuse that make it out to games whenever they could.
We got ourselves in order within minutes of the teams walking out onto the field: banners and drums set up, people in their seats (standing in parts of our section). The only set-back was our attempt to get inside the bouncy castle the Rhinos had set up as part of a temporary entrance was thwarted by security.
The game started and we found we have more in common with Rochester fans then we imagined: they were singing much the same line-up of songs as we do, which served to amplify the noise in the stadium. But we were louder. A Kljestan penalty gave RBNY a lead that was never relinquished.
The goal triggered flares and smoke bombs. Standing in the lower rows, I was pretty much captured by the smoke, with only those next to me being able to see me. Some may not like the feeling, but hey, it is a lower league stadium, might as well take the liberties that have been provided and enjoy the experience. It sure did make for a hell of a photo.
We played out our regular songs for the remainder of the half, though most of my voice was lost during the goal-celebration, and by "Twist and Shout" I was pretty much done. Half time was welcomed for the simple fact that we were able to quench our thirst, naturally with a beverage of our choosing.
As the game resumed, we restarted our cheering, and I had just realized our drummer had abandoned his main instrument, and started banging on the staircase as it seemed more effective. Our chants were amplified even more as people were banging on the seats and the dividers in front in order to maximize the decibel count. However, the second half was rather boring to watch, as the fight of the home team started to pick up, and the effects of the rough turf surface began to settle in.
At the final whistle, round two of the flares and smoke bombs commenced as we celebrated what could've easily been an easy bow out of the tournament. The moment was only marred when a fellow supporter from Oak Street came into our section with a green smoke bomb, much to the displeasure of the GSU fans, who had to recall their own members from harming the brave souls that came into our section, and then escorting them out as quickly as possible.
Game over, we went to the area where we could give a proper send off to our team, and heckle those that were heckling us. After their egress we had managed to bump into Ali Curtis to pose for photos as well as chat with the man. We had some small talk about the game, when they came in, and so on, concluding with him thanking us for making the trip out for the game.
Afterwards we proceeded to hit up DInosaur BBQ for some of the best BBQ in the state. Just as we had picked our way through the overwhelming menu, my eyes lit up. Not because someone was being served a hearty rack of ribs and I was about to change my order, but because I caught the gaze of Connor Lade and Dax McCarty. At that moment, I was briefly starstruck and belched out "YO" - my whole table looked over at them, raised our beer glasses and offered an "AYYYEE." Our praise was acknowledged, and we let the players enjoy their team dinner in peace.
Missed opportunity to carouse with the team in a town where the beer is cheap as water? Perhaps. Maybe next time, if they're in the mood.
On the way out they wished us good night, and offered their gratitude for us making the trip out (they flew, we drove; it was appreciated). Our trip ended with a couple pints at another bar before we headed for home. In another edition of the supporters' view, we came, we saw, we won.
The New York Red Bulls proceed to the round of 16, taking on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, June 29th. The game will take place at 7 pm in Chester, Pennsylvania, in what is unfortunately another away game.
If you have the chance: attend this away game. USOC matches are special because of the tournament itself and what may lay at the end of it. The team would surely appreciate a big away section, and the commute is far easier than to Rochester.