A Day Out in the MLS. New York Red Bulls vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
So the day, or night I should say, finally came. I was going to get my first taste of MLS. No hurricane Irene was going to spoil it this time. I didn't know what to expect. I wanted to experience it first hand and up front in person. Untainted mind, trying to figure out the quality of the product, the day out, and all that.
The game didn't start until 8pm EST, which fitted us nicely as we had a busier day at work than expected. In any event, I went on-line and found that the New York Red Bulls actually puts an electronic copy of the Match Program on-line, all easily accessible from their site, tweeter or face book. And it is FREE. Fulham take notice!! I liked that a lot. It was a very nice piece as well with several good and well produced stories. I thought that was neat. Actually, when we arrived at the match they gave us a paper copy for FREE as well, but more about that later. Again, for one that is used paying money for these kind of items no matter how much or little, this little fact gave me a positive impression right away.
After a glass of wine or two at home, it was time for the trek to Newark and New Jersey. We decided to get there early. Doors open 90 mins before matches, and we pretty much arrived around that time. It is surprisingly easy to get there by public transportation from anywhere in Manhattan. Just get on the PATH train (leaves from several spots in lower Manhattan) and it is actually a very short ride to Harrison, NJ. We took it from Ground Zero so that gave us a bit of somber sobering up before we headed under the Hudson. The trains were very busy, but that was because of hitting NY rush hour more than the match itself.
Not many colours to be seen, if any. I found that a bit strange and was getting worried about what kind of atmosphere we were going to be getting. More Riverside and less Hammersmith was the immediate thought.
Anyway, we got to the station in Harrison pretty quick and then it was just a short walk to the stadium. I must say the Red Bull Arena looks fantastic from the outside. It sits kind of in nowhere surrounded by some old "bombed out" warehouses and empty space. It looks like a huge space ship just landed there but it is very nicely done. It reminded me from the outside of an even more modern version of the Reebok but without those silly steel posts criss-crossing the outside. Capacity wise it is also similar as they both hold about 25000 I think. This was a sell-out, but because of the re-scheduling from a weekend due to the hurricane to late Tuesday night, I saw quite a few empty seats.
Outside there were a few stands of various kinds, but no bars in a mile and none of the stalls sold any beer. There were some decent entertainment, a few fan things to do, especially for kids. There were a lot of families with kids. Much more so than you see in a typical prem game. So after a quick pat-down at the gate just to make sure Missus Finnster didn't carry a dirty bomb in her handbag, we were off to enter the arena. Access is very easy. There are lots of concession stands that sold standard sports fare. Burgers, chips, hot-dogs, pizza, cheesesteak etc. Loads of beer stands with no long lines, including some excellent draft Austrian Beer I had never tasted before. Same for the bogs. New and clean. Staff working there were very polite and nice, wishing us welcome to the Red Bulls and even though we had so called "nose-bleed" seats they treated us really nice. Beers come in bottle, cans, draft (small/large) and costs anywhere between 7-11 US dollars. Hot dogs were 4 dollars. I can't remember the chips price or a slice of pizza. So typically stadium prizes but less than Yankee stadium or Madison Square Garden. I can actually see how a family could afford going to a match in New York for a change. Our tickets were 30 dollars (each) face value but because of the Beckham effect and the sell-out we had to scalp on the internet and paid 50 dollars a piece. Not bad at all actually.
After buying some grub and drinks we took our seats. They were up on top and next to the cornerflag. I thought it was going to be bad, as these were the cheapest tickets in the stadium I could find, but boy was I surprised. In fact, shocked. I do not think it is possible to find a bad seat in the whole stadium. We had a perfect birds eye view without trying to figure out who any of the ants were. Great view and not too far away from the pitch. That stadium is very well put together.
After getting Missus Finnster an authentic "Limited Edition" Red Bull New York scarf (which should have been cheaper, paid 30 dollars for that) we could focus on the game. I was a bit disappointed that Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane didn't make the trip for Galaxy, but old Beckham did and Thierry Henry for NY was there. It was weird to see them not in a Man U or Arsenal shirt, but the "testimonial" effect I had dreaded to experience didn't happen at all. They both have quite a bit of football left in the tank, although I will argue Henry more so than Beckham. Becks was never going to be mistaken for Usain Bolt, but now he is slower than Shefki Kuqi.
The game itself ended 2-0 NY, with goals from Luke Rodgers and Thierry Henry. BTW, Luke Rodgers looks just like a poor mans AJ which made me giggle. I am not going to go into the match in more detail (you can get a match report from ESPN), but I will speak in general about MLS and my observations.
I never expected to see a Prem match. As many has pointed out before, the pace is significantly slower. Yet it can not be compared to the Championship either because you do not have the bone crushing tackling and tight marking either. It is sort of a different animal all together. Players also fall over far too easily and make a meal of it (I can see where Clint picked up those habits). Also (especially New York) defense seems to be a complete afterthought and I was surprised this game ended with only two goals. Having said all of that, there are some good individual players with proper skills. The question is whether they could take those skills and make it to the next level under pressure and less time on the ball. Henry still can play though. I felt like I was watching him at Arsenal in the olden days.
In terms of the crowd, I do not think I have seen that many Mexicans gathered in one place ever. They had two announcers (one English and one Spanish). No disrespect to Mexicans, but I expected to see more "locals". The home end made good noise and drummed and sang their heart out. Only problem with that is the rest of the stadium was more silent than Riverside on a slow day. The away fans were very silent.
Getting home was a bit of a problem as it was late and congested, but eventually we got home in one piece. I think for the future I would rather go to a weekend day-game though.
All, in all, we both had a great time. Can fully recommend any travelers coming through NY to give it a go. It is a great day out. I think the MLS product is:
1) Viable and getting better. It is here to stay
2) Need to hire some defensive oriented coaches. Now I understand why US keepers are so good and defensive players usually leaves a lot to be desired.
3) There is individual talent, but the league needs to make it attractive and develop programs so they do not all leave too early and go to Benfica to play for the reserves the rest of their careers.