Red Bull Arena just prior to kickoff Saturday. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Prior to the kickoff of the Red Bulls’ 3-1 triumph over the Montreal Impact Saturday, I posted a photo of the sparse crowd at Red Bull Arena and asked, “Just where was everyone?”
Really, where was everyone?
The Red Bulls announced a crowd of 15,017 showed up at the stadium on a beautiful day in April — 80 degrees and sunny — after an endless winter.
It looked a lot less than that.
I got several interesting responses from some of my FB followers:
“This is so embarrassing.”
“I guess there is no ice storm there.”
“The franchise has no fan base”.
“Beautiful stadium on a beautiful day. Should not be this empty.”
For years we have heard all the excuses why soccer fans don’t go to Red Bull Arena:
* The team doesn’t have any superstars
* The team chokes in the playoffs
* The stadium is not easy to get to
* The stadium is not located downtown in a city
* Traffic is a mess before and after games
* The lines at the trains are endless afterwards
* The refreshment lines are too long at the stadium
* If you’re from New York City, it is easier to get to Yankee Stadium
And on and on and on it goes.
This Red Bulls team is pretty good. It could be damn good and has some exciting performers. It was just eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League and its win lifted it to a 3-2 record. Including the CCL matches, the Red Bulls home record this season is 5-0-1.
Since the stadium opened in 2010, the Red Bulls probably have one of the best home records, if not the best, in the league. They have had some big name international players who have performed there: Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Tim Cahill and Juan Pablo Angel.
In recent years, two players who were not name players have forged huge reputations — Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scores goals by the bucketful, and Luis Robles, the team captain who has started and finished an MLS-record 175 regular-season matches.
Heck, they have become legends.
Yet, except for Hudson River Derby matches, they can’t fill the place, or even get close to 25,000 spectators.
Afterwards, I asked head coach Jesse Marsch and Robles: just where was everyone?
Both men were confounded.
“I don’t know,” Marsch said. “We’re trying to do everything we can. I think this team, it’s interesting, because we do, we perform at a high level, especially here at home. It’s a fun team to watch.
“So, we’ll keep trying to come up with ways to get people out here, but they should be really proud of this team because it continues to show again and again and again, like even with some turnover and new players coming in and home grown and the philosophy, it just continues to I think really grow and mature. So yeah. We’ll keep working.”
Robles had a similar response.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “All we can do is to continue to play, fun, attractive soccer, get wins and just over time we can pack the stadium. If I am being totally honest as a player, it can be a little bit discouraging when you walk out onto the field and there’s no one there. and when you think about the track record this team has had since we moved to this arena, there’s been a lot of wins. A lot of winning has taken place here.
“I know there’s a variety of different excuses, but I hope as the weather gets better, as we go into the summer as we continue to pile up the wins, the fans come and they show their support. This stadium is really an amazing place to play and when it’s full and our supporters are there, it’s the best place in the country to play.”
Can’t argue with Robles’ assessment as a top venue.
The first time I was in RBA, I said it even had plenty of atmosphere when it doesn’t have any fans.
And it has a lot more atmosphere when it is filled up with fans.
Perhaps we’ll get an opportunity to see that happen this season.