Things are increasingly getting back to normal in North American soccer in 2022, which now means the return of ticket-hawking midseason friendlies against foreign clubs.
While it isn’t one of the true titans of European football like Crewe Alexandra or Go Ahead Eagles, the New York Red Bulls have snagged an interesting guest for their big friendly later this summer. On Thursday it was announced that Spanish — sorry, I mean Catalan — giants FC Barcelona will be facing the Red Bulls for a preseason friendly in Harrison on July 30 as part of their preseason preparations.
The game will mark the third time that the Red Bulls and Barca have faced each other in a friendly; the first meeting occurring in the first year of Red Bull ownership in 2006 and the second two years later, both at Giants Stadium. The 2006 match marked the largest crowd for both a Red Bulls game and match involving an MLS side at the time, with an attendance of 79,002.
While such a record will not be broken this year in the 25,000-seat confines of the “new” Red Bull Arena, the game promises to be one of the biggest events at the arena in years. Red Bulls season ticket holders will received comped tickets in their normal seats for the match against the five-time European champions, leading many to crack jokes about high re-sale potential but others genuinely looking forward to the Red Bulls being tested by an elite club for the first time in years.
But Thursday’s announcement also generated a sidebar of controversy in the news that New York will move a previously-scheduled league match against Colorado Rapids on that day to Tuesday August 2nd, three days later. While some of the backlash remarked on the sight of an MLS team in 2022 still adjusting league play for a friendly, the specter was also raised that it will further clog up an already condensed schedule for the Red Bulls, who are facing eight games in August, not yet counting potential Open Cup matches.
But as New York manager Gerhard Struber stated last week, the Red Bulls relish the rhythm of midweek games and quick turnarounds, seeing it as a dynamic that keeps his young team hungry for action. For Struber himself, the subject of rumors linking him to various European jobs in recent months, the possibility of appearing on a big stage against a club like Barcelona, even in a friendly, could be another carrot to keep him in New York for the time being.