Sucka Free Soccer: The Nats Neglect Red Bull Arena

USMNT-Free Zone

How many people miss Giants Stadium?

No one, the answer is no one.

In the year and a half since the stadium has opened, Tri-State area soccer fans have grown to love the little stadium tucked between the Passaic River and an industrial wasteland.

After suffering through Giants Stadium any dinky stadium to call their own would have sufficed. Years of horrible turf, empty seats, buffoonish security and postponements due to Bon Jovi concerts made Metro/Red Bulls fans desperate.

Luckily Red Bull Arena is more than most fans could have imagined. The world-class facility is clearly the best soccer stadium in the country and while the service inside the stadium is horrible, most fans are already stuffed after visiting one of the many restaurants and bars in the Ironbound and Harrison.

During the game the atmosphere has improved immeasurably since the move to Harrison. Even though the Red Bulls have struggled to fill the stadium regularly, the crowd the stadium is always loud.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many teams have jumped at the chance to book the stadium. Turkey, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, Tottenham, Manchester City, Sporting Lisbon, Juventus, Manchester United and other storied sides have all graced the Red Bull Arena pitch. The appeal goes beyond soccer, the Arena hosted rugby’s Churchill Cup and Dispatch filled Red Bull Arena with their (I have no idea what kind of music they play) sounds.

There is one glaring omission from the list of temporary tenants at RBA—the Men’s National Team. Despite all of the good reviews and the importance of the new arena to soccer in the New York region, Sunil Gulati has neglected to send the USMNT RBA’s way.

The USMNT and Red Bull Arena seem like the perfect pair. The Cathedral of American soccer is just a stone’s throw away from the historic soccer city of Kearny; a bridge between America’s soccer past and its bright future. What better place for the USMNT to play a game? Yet the luminaries at Soccer House haven’t managed to connect the dots.

Of all of the soccer specific stadiums in the country Red Bull Arena already has the longest wait between its opening and its first USMNT game. If RBA doesn’t host the second October friendly, which is expected to be in Connecticut, it will be a 19th month wait. It’s unlikely that the USSF would play in New York in the winter so the gap could easily reach and surpass two years.

Previously Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado went the longest between opening and hosting the USMNT—18 months. Toyota Park in Chicago waited 15 months, while Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium waited only 11 months. The first two modern soccer specific stadiums, the Home Depot Center in LA and Pizza Hut Park near Dallas, waited 7 and 6 months respectively. Philly fans only had to wait three months to see the US in PPL Park. The rush to play in Chester was fully justified by the impressive 8,000 people in attendance (a third of the attendance for Honduras vs. Jamaica at Red Bull Arena).

So while I empathize with the fans in Kansas City who had to wait an entire business week to see the USMNT break in their new digs, I’m left wondering why RBA is getting the short shrift.

One theory is the pointy ball stadium a few exits away must be hogging all the games. If there’s one thing you can count on in addition to death and taxes it’s the USSF putting their wallet over the team, fans and common sense. Atmosphere be damned even a half empty New Meadowlands Stadium generates more ticket revenue than the smaller Red Bull Arena.

But in reality the New York area in general, meadowlands included, is getting a bum deal. The Swamp has hosted the USMNT six times since the beginning of the soccer specific stadium era (starting with the opening of the Home Depot Center in 2003). That may seem like a lot but compared to the other major cities, it’s not. In that same period Chicago has hosted the USMNT nine times, Boston 12 times and Los Angeles 13 times.

To make matters worse New York is also missing out on important games. Sure, DC only hosted five games compared to our six, but three of theirs were World Cup qualifying matches. Chicago and Boston have had two qualifiers each and Los Angeles one, while New York hasn’t hosted any. Paying $120 to watch Brazil’s B team stomp our B team just can’t compare to a vital qualifier against a hated rival.

Another reason oft-repeated for the Nats neglect of New York is the fear of US fans being outnumbered by away fans. It seems like a logical concern considering the demographics of the Big Apple. Thankfully to alleviate the problem the USA plays in isolated places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. where there are no immigrants or ethnic enclaves at all.

This particular problem actually gives Red Bull Arena an advantage. With a smaller stadium it’s easier to pack the place with home fans. After pre-sales to season ticket holders and US supporters groups it would be nearly impossible for the away fans to have a majority of the seats. Also, MLS stadiums tend to have better supporters sections for USA games due to the organization already in place.

So what are the impediments to the US playing a game at Red Bull Arena? The state of the art stadium and turf? The loud and intimate atmosphere? The proximity to the biggest city in the country? The rich soccer history of the surrounding area?

There are no excuses, give RBA a game.


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