By Michael Lewis
I had the honor of opening up and closing Giants Stadium.
I was there for the Cosmos’ first game — against the Rochester Lancers in East Rutherford, N.J. in a North American Soccer League game on April 17, 1977 (the Cosmos had few problems in a 2-0 triumph as Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia scored.
I also was there for the final match as the Red Bulls rolled to a 5-0 win over Toronto FC on Oct. 24, 2009. The Red Bull ended a rather dismal season (5-19-6) as Juan Pablo Angel and Macoumba Kandji each finished with a brace.
I also had the honor of attending and covering the opening of Red Bull Arena twice — a soft opening against Santos (Brazil) on March 20 and the actual MLS opener a week later against the Chicago Fire on March 27.
Prior to kickoff on a beautiful spring night, there were fireworks. Skier Lindsey Vonn brought out the ball to midfield. And, the Red Bulls won, 3-1.
Joel Lindpere found the net in both matches, although Mike Petke sent the capacity crowd into ecstasty when he kissed the Red Bulls’ badge on his jersey after tallying the second.
My lede in the March 28, 2010 edition of the New York Daily News:
The Red Bulls started their new season at their new stadium on the right foot last night because their star midfielder connected for the winning goal off his wrong foot.
Joel Lindpere, a left-footed shooter, fired home the lone goal with his right foot to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in the MLS season opener for both teams before a near-capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Hans Backe, the Red Bulls’ new coach, said he didn’t know Lindpere had a right foot.
Of which the Estonian international told the media: “No, I don’t have. It’s for walking.”
The atmosphere was second to none in the 25,000-seat stadium. The contest had a European feel, with colorful smoke bombs and fans waving club flags honoring their heroes behind in what was going to be named the South Ward.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: RBA is my favorite stadium in all of MLS. Of course, I am biased because I have covered more than 100 many games there — Red Bulls, Red Bull II Sky Blue FC and international matches (USMNT, USWNT, Gold Cup).
As I stated before, it has a Euro feel and is cozy. Having been to Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, Austria, where the parent club, Red Bull Salzburg calls home, it is a smaller version of that venue.
Even when the Jersey version of RBA doesn’t have any fans in the stadium, it has such a great environment. Add screaming, enthusiastic fans, and you’ve got such a special venue.