Red Bull Arena will be devoid of fans Thursday night. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
There’s nothing in the world like a derby.
Two rival sides clash to establish area supremacy, at least for the time being until their next encounter, regardless how the standings look.
Supporters of both teams in their squad’s colors, cheering on their heroes, many times in a packed and boisterous stadium.
Add a slice of drama and the spice of controversy and you’ve got the makings of a classic confrontation.
But what if there are no crowds to watch these soccer gladiators battle?
What happens to the atmosphere?
We’ll find out Thursday at 7 p.m., when the Red Bulls host the New York City FC in the 17th Hudson River Derby at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. (MSG, YES,).
Your guess is as good as the players and coaches.
“It will be the most different derby match that I have been a part of because the atmosphere is one of the best especially for us at New York Red Bulls, especially when we play them and at home,” center back Aaron Long said. “It is one my favorite atmospheres, so it will be different.
“But I do not think it will affect the energy on the field because I think the rivalry is set in stone and we know we are going to go out with the same intensity and they are probably thinking the same thing. I think on the field it will not matter too much, but the atmosphere is going to be noticed.”
Red Bulls captain Sean Davis agreed and elaborated.
“It is going to be interesting,” he said. “This is new for all of us and I think throughout the year we have been able to appreciate how important the fans are. That is not to say we did not appreciate them before, but I think, especially for these derby matches. They are such a big part of creating such a fun atmosphere and unfortunately they will not be able to be in Red Bull Arena.”
This game might suit NYCFC better because the match goes down in the books as a Red Bulls’ home game and the visitors won’t have to play against the voracious RBA fans. NYCFC, incidentally, will call RBA home as long as the Yankees are still baseball.
NYCFC center back Maxime Chanot said that playing in New Jersey is “going to be easier.”
“We know he’s always tough to play this as a team,” he added.
No tifos, no rival cheers or teasing from the South Ward, where the Red Bulls most ardent supporters call home, or frm the north end of the stadium, where many away fans usually are situated.
“This is a is a tough situation to play with without fans especially [because] we both often push also super hard since, the beginning of season,” Chanot said. “I wish we could have fans back at the stadium, but I think most important than football today is a health and I think it was a good decision at this moment to maybe avoid the fans to come and get contaminated.”
The MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Fla. was played in a bubble at Disney World. There were no fans at games and a smattering of reporters.
Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas claimed the action did not lose any of its intensity.
“The game had a lot of bite and energy in the bubble,” he said. “You’re sitting there watching and you can hear all the sounds on the field and you hear coaches coaching and it’s a little bit different. You’d rather hear the fans roaring, but it didn’t change the fact that there’s tackles, there’s duels and a real competitive spirit to the game.
“I know that was a tournament setup [that we played in Orlando], but for me there’s a lot on the line in a shortened season and every three points matters and home games matter even more to us. So, derby matches maybe even more so that you can expect high energy despite the fact that our supporters aren’t there yet.”
Well, there will be fewer excuses for players to claim they didn’t hear their coaches yelling instructions from the sidelines.
NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila has been a part of more than his share of derbies in his native Norway and coached Celtic against Rangers in arguably the fiercest rivalry in the world, the Old Firm Derby. He has become accustomed to loud crowds. But this time will be 180 degrees different.
“Yes, it will be a little bit different in that way, because the fans produce something extraordinary but at the same time, it is a derby,” he said. “The players know it. And you can feel it also during the week, that this is something special. So, it’s very important to [have] calm heads, but aggressive legs.”