Friday, March 19, 2010

Red Bull Arena: Finally, The Day Has Come!

It's finally here! The day that every MetroBulls fan has been waiting for. The Cathedral of Football will open its doors for the first time, as the Red Bulls face fabled Brazilian club Santos in the RBA Grand Opening match. Unfortunately, Brazilian National Teamer and current Santos superstar Robinho won't be on the field as a result of a recent injury (although he does send his regards) but who cares? The real star of the day is Red Bull Arena.

Take a look at the above photo. That's me on the left, supporting the MetroStars in the cavern known as Giants Stadium. If memory serves, that picture was taken during the 1998 season. I've been a MetroStars/Red Bulls supporter since the Curse of Caricola game back in 1996. As a matter of fact, I would argue that I've been a supporter ever since I sent in my $50 season ticket deposit, in 1994, for the local, and as yet unnamed, Major League Soccer team that was supposed to start play in 1995. As we all know, the League didn't actually start until a year later. In 1996, the nascent league was loaded with teams bearing silly names (Clash, Wiz?), loaded with silly rules (countdown clock, shootouts in case of ties, etc...) and, most importantly, loaded with crappy players.

As God is my witness, I've stood (yes, stood - not sat) through games that no soccer fan should ever have had to stand through, with some of the crappiest players ever to grace a football pitch (Edmundo Rodriguez anyone?). Not only that, the Giants Stadium experience just really sucked. I'm not going to complain about the hassle of getting there, as I've always lived within 10 miles of the place. I'll leave that to my NYC MetroBulls brethren, for whom the trek to Giants Stadium was a major pain in the rear end. I will, however, complain about the concrete-like playing surface (especially in the early years), where a through ball would actually pick up speed or balls would bounce about 20 feet in the air when they came down. I'll complain about the awful atmosphere in that cavern of a stadium, which became progressively worse as our horrible team lost fans year after year. I'll complain about the Giants Stadium security, who took joy (or so it appeared) in f***ing with us. Good Riddance!

Alright! Now that I've gotten that out of my system... Originally, the MetroStars stadium was supposed to be a cookie cutter type place, much like FC Dallas' Pizza Hut Park or the Chicago Fire's Toyota Park, complete with a dedicated concert stage on one end. Mercifully, in 2006, the MetroStars were bought by the great Red Bull Corporation, led by our beloved "Uncle" Dietrich Mateschitz, and rechristened Red Bull NY. The best part about the change of ownership was Red Bull totally taking over the stadium project from AEG, removing the stage and approximately 2,000 premium seats from the original plans, as well as adding a full roof covering all spectators. Although Red Bull Arena was pushed back a year because of the many changes, one can't argue that the result wasn't worth the wait.

Ok! So, yes - If you haven't already noticed: I'm absolutely thrilled about the opening of Red Bull Arena. Finally, football as it was meant to be experienced. No more artificial turf crap, with throwball lines on it. No more playing in a cavern staffed by (and this is putting it mildly) less than friendly people, with only rudimentary mass transit service. Now we get to watch our football in a stadium owned and controlled by our team, with a perfect grass pitch, a full roof around the stands and many mass transit options. The stadium is also located in a real urban neighborhood with many restaurants and pubs nearby. The only thing left is for management to build a team actually worthy of playing there.

Finally, I was reading a Michael Lewis column on Big Apple Soccer where he pointed out that early MetroStars GM Charlie Stillitano first mentioned building a stadium for the team way back in 1999. I'm going to have to break it to Mr. Lewis, next time I see him, that he's just a bit incorrect about that. As my good buddy You Suck Corrales (also in the above picture, with sideburns, McDonalds scarf and funky shirt) recently reminded me, Stillitano actually mentioned a new stadium back in 1997, during one of his legendary meetings with supporters. Someone asked the question and Mr. Stillitano answered: "Yes, we're looking to build our own place". Well, thirteen (13) years after making that statement, the Western Hemisphere's Cathedral of Football finally opens. Better late than never and, as Homebrew likes to say, Better Red Than Dead. Thanks Uncle Dietrich! This day, we bask in your glory! Hosanna In the Highest!
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