The Sweeper: Is Red Bull Arena the Perfect Major League Soccer Stadium?

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To describe Grant Wahl’s review of his tour at Red Bull Arena, the new home of Red Bull New York, as gushing would be something of an understatement. Indeed, he even describes himself as “breathless” over it.

Wahl emphasises that Red Bull Arena is a “soccer stadium”, not a multi-purpose venue like so many other MLS stadiums:

Unlike so many other MLS buildings, which have a stage at one end and double as concert venues, Red Bull Arena is built for fútbol. Not one of the 25,000 seats — and they’re all seats; no benches here — has a bad view. The front row is a mere 21 feet from the sidelines and 27 feet from the endlines, the better for Juan Pablo Ángel to make a quick run and Lambeau Leap over the short retaining wall after scoring a goal.

This emphasis on the soccer won’t stop rugby tearing up the turf this summer, but Wahl’s point is well-made. The stadium is an exact copy of a Euro 2008 venue from Austria, and it shows.

Red Bull Arena

Wahl waxes about the location (an improvement on the team’s former home in the Meadowlands, New Jersey); the “hip surroundings” (umm, “restaurants, retail stores and condominiums”?) and the “little things” (not so little “giant HD video boards”).

I’m trying hard, and perhaps failing, not to mock Wahl’s enthusiasm for the stadium. It’s a big moment in American soccer in some ways, and Wahl is right to emphasise the quality of the arena. It does look like it will surpass anything in MLS quite comfortably as a facility. Am I jealous of it as a Fire fan?  Well, yes…aside from those giant Red Bull logos, of course.

And that’s the catch: it’s surprising that Wahl doesn’t delve into some of the deeper issues the Red Bulls still need to prove they have overcome. He mentions the problem of the quality of the team briefly at the end of his pieces, but refuses to open the can of worms surrounding the many years of Metro and Red Bull failure on and off the field.

But we will say it: this is, after all, Red Bull Arena.

Maybe our old friend the Metrologist will pop-up to remind Grant of that, if he still frequents these parts. A week tomorrow will mark the fourth anniversary of the rebranding (renaming doesn’t do it justice) of the MetroStars as Red Bull.

Three years ago, on a blog I miss, the Metrologist wrote the following:

Who can scream out Red Bull songs with a straight face? Unintentional self-parody at its worst.

Today, March 9 2007, marks the one year anniversary of the conversion of Metro into the Red Bulls, and this string of discussions is its legacy – the magic candles flickering on the taurine-soaked birthday cake. They always re-ignite. They still vastly overshadow the actual job of supporting this team. They always will, until the last of the dyed-in-the-wool Metro traditionalists give up and find something else to do. Make a wish!

Red Bull, the corporation and its fans who have embraced the new branding (it’s not an identity, folks), will say those dyed-in-the-wool folks are past worrying about at this point, and they’ll criticise this blog for even bringing up that ghost. They like to laugh at the Metrologist, now. They wish his kind gone and maybe they are, maybe the opening of the new arena does draw a line under that era. Maybe even the Metrologist doesn’t care anymore that Red Bull took his team’s identity away from him. Maybe this doesn’t matter anymore two years further on:

What today also marks is the the ticking-over of the worst year of being a Metro fan ever. While the organization itself has been jarred, and I don’t think anyone can say for the better overall (more on that in a coming post), I think what remains of the already-tortured diehard Metro crowd has only been further alienated, divided, and turned against one another. I’ve been a part of that, on a personal level, more than I’d like to admit. What used to be a pretty cooperative community, especially online at least on the surface, now has serious lines drawn through it.

I’m not qualified to offer an opinion one way or the other on the state of New York’s culture of fan support as we approach the opening of Red Bull Arena, though I’m hoping to be there at the inaugural MLS game against the Fire on March 27th. Perhaps it is all rosy and 25,000 rabid Red Bulls fans will arise from the nation’s largest metropolis to support the team they’ve had such a problem with since 1996. That capacity is over double the Red Bulls average attendance at Giants Stadium last year, 12,491. There’s absolutely no doubt that will be improved upon at the new stadium.

But I do think there’s a little more to be said about it all than Wahl’s breathless review of the arena covers; it’s still Red Bull, as the stadium itself can’t stop reminding us, and there will still be some who will question how attached a community can become to such a recently re-branded team. It’s a discussion Red Bulls fans don’t want to have, I’m sure; the proof will be in the pudding over the next decade one way or another as we’ll find out if supporters do come out to consistently fill what Wahl calls “a truly edifying edifice” once the shine has worn off.

Quick Hits

  • The “Red Knights” making their moves towards a takeover of Manchester United are calling on fans to boycott season ticket purchases to pressure the Glazers to sell.
  • The spotlight has been off Newcastle United in recent times; in The Times, George Caulkin says the pressure is still on Mike Ashley to put back together the club he broke.  “Football, like heat, can generate mirages. How else, with March upon us, can we contextualise a club which, until Portsmouth nabbed their title, was widely recognised as the most gloriously demented in England, but which now resembles the very model of stability? How else to explain the otherwise inexplicable – that Mike Ashley no longer appears the battiest of owners.”
  • Ridge Mahoney looks at the latest in the MLS labour dispute, edging towards the position of the players as he wonders if MLS couldn’t work out a model of free agency: “Other leagues have formulated tiers of free agency; while MLS is different in that it is a single-entity enterprise, one can’t blame the players for fighting to get at least some independence beyond the very narrow boundaries of MLS. While it follows complex formulas to calculate and stay within its salary budget, MLS can suppress salaries since there’s no real competition. It can’t match the salaries even Scandinavian teams give to young players, so it just ignores any aspect of the market except itself.”

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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