Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Can Haz New Stadium

I'm sure others will weigh in with their breathless reviews of Red Bull Arena after last night's 3-1 win over FC Santos.  Personally I sat in awe of the place in my seats in 107, so much so that I only remembered to take a few photos before and during the game.  I almost lost it when I emerged from the concourse and saw the beautiful expanse of Kentucky bluegrass before me.  The whole experience, from the pre-game eats/drinks at MMM Bello's, to the short walk to the stadium, to the game itself, will be etched in my mind for a long, long time.

Nearly everyone who has written about the stadium and what it means for the Red Bulls has, of course, has added one major caveat - the stadium will only be successful if the team is good.  Nobody wants to turn out for a losing team, no matter how nice the Arena might be.  On last night's evidence, Hans Backe and Erik Solér have already done quite a bit of work improving the squad and instilling discipline.  The team's defensive shape, coolness on the ball and smart decisions were all on display yesterday.

The soon-to-be-replaced has a recap with video of the goals, regrettably taken from Fox Soccer Channel's atrocious feed.  Lindpere's goal reminded me a little bit of a Adrian Mutu's strike for Chelsea against Leicester City (sorry for the poor quality).  OK maybe not quite that good, but it was sweet.  Let's hope that Lindpere's stay in New York is happier than Mutu's was in London.

As for the rest of the squad I am starting to think that Tim Ream could end up being a contender for Rookie of the Year.  He is über-cool on the ball, never panics and almost always makes smart decisions.  The center of defense was a huge problem area for the Red Bulls last year.  With Ream developing a nice partnership with Mike Petke (how great was it to see him, of all people, score last night?), Backe and Solér seem to have shored up this problem area nicely.  Elsewhere, Carl Robinson showed a lot of grit and graft in midfield before leaving with an injury (hope it's not too serious) and Dane Richards caused all kinds of problems, scoring the evening's "oh my God" goal before leaving with a knock of his own. 

The games that actually mean something next week, and with a tough Chicago team coming to town, next Saturday should be the first legitimate test of the new regime.

OK so now that we have the good stuff about the Arena out of the way (and it was 95% insanely positive), here are a few areas for improvement:
  • The free trolley from the Ironbound is a great concept in theory, but traffic in and around the stadium meant that it was faster to walk than to use the service.  The club and officials in Newark will need to either find a way to get the trolleys to and from the stadium faster or abandon the idea entirely.
  • The PA system needs to be cranked up a notch.  I don't know how others felt, but I could not hear the player interviews or much else that was being said.  I'm not saying make it Giants Stadium ear-splitting loud (that one went to 11), but try to make it clear and audible above the din of the spectators.
  • The congestion around the gates may have been a function of opening day excitement and the loss of last week's soft opener run through, but more needs to be done to direct patrons to the less congested gates on the east side of the stadium.
  • As was the case when the new Yankee Stadium first opened, lines for concessions were long and slow-moving.  I am sure they will work on improving the system as the season goes along.
  • Please, please for the love of God make sure that paper towels are re-stocked in the restrooms at the end of the match.  Either that or add a few hand driers.  There are few things worse than having to wipe your hands on your jeans.
I don't mean to sound like a grump, and overall the staff was very courteous and the matchday experience was a good one, despite the general mayhem.  The killer fireworks display at the end was a nice touch.  Moreover, the PATH train service from Harrison, though it looked like it might be a mess, flowed nicely following the match.  We were back in Manhattan in about 25 minutes.

Well done Red Bulls!  You have created a stadium that will be a new benchmark for the league and for soccer in North America.  Those of us who were there for the Grand Opening can count themselves lucky.

*Props to my daughter Madeleine for the lolcat
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