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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

March 29, 2010
Some questions about Red Bulls crowd

Joel Lindpere and the Red Bulls hope to bring in capacity crowds at Red Bull Arena this season.
Joel Lindpere and the Red Bulls hope to bring in capacity crowds at Red Bull Arena this season.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

On one hand, it was encouraging to see so many spectators at the Red Bulls' MLS season opener against the Chicago Fire at new Red Bull Arena Saturday. The Red Bulls attracted a near-sellout crowd of 24,572 at the $250 million jewel of a stadium.

On the other hand, it was a little disappointing that a capacity crowd did not witness the Red Bulls' 1-0 win, which just fell short of a sellout of 25,000.

Is it something to be concerned about? Hopefully not.

Is this a small quibble? Perhaps.

But with a new stadium, with the excitement generated from the grand opening match against Santos FC of Brazil on March 20 and bing smack in the middle of the largest soccer market in the country, it is logical to expect a capacity crowd.

Don't get me wrong. The crowd and atmosphere was a marked improvement over what was turning up at the Meadowlands last year., just about doubling last year's average attendance of 12,491.

The reasons for less than a sellout?

Well, it wasn't typical soccer playing weather. Game time kickoff was 39 degrees.

And let's face it. Parking isn't the greatest around the stadium and public transportation did not work at optimum for the grand opening, which might have forced some fans to stay away. Heck, fans still were finding their seats in the first half, an obvious indication that it took a while to reach the stadium or park.

Then there's another factor, something that we have learned about the tri-state area sports fans, which is not necessarily related only to soccer.

Ten years ago, when the team was known as the MetroStars, the club enjoyed a major renaissance after a horrendous 1999 season. The team, one of the league's most exciting sides with the likes of Clint Mathis in his prime and former Colombian international Adolfo Valencia still a scoring terror, took awhile to bring more fans into matches.

Nick Sakiewicz, the team president and general manager at the time, wondered why bigger crowds weren't filling Giants Stadium.

I had a theory, basing it on the Mets' experience that season. Just like the Metro Stars, the Mets were enjoying a resurgence themselves in 2000, but weren't necessarily filling up Shea Stadium.

I figured that while we don't live in Missouri, we have a little of the Show Me State in us. Fans wanted to make sure the product was for real, not a flash in the pan for one, two, three or even four games.

That could very well be the case this season, even with the best soccer stadium in the United States.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Bulls repeat history this season, especially they get off to a good start.

A 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire certainly wasn't the prettiest of matches, but it was a start. Unlike many home games last season, in which the Red Bulls endured many problems closing out matches (watching wins turn into draws and ties into devastating loses), they managed to grind this one out.

Until the league starts giving out points for playing beautiful soccer, it's worth the same as, let's say, the Kansas City Wizards' 4-0 triumph over D.C. United. The three-point result was important for the team's confidence, which was eroded by last season's 5-19-6 debacle.

As for the next test, the Red Bulls will try to win a league match on the road for the first time in nearly two years. Their last regular-season away victory? A 2-1 triumph over the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 10, 2008 (they did register a pair of key road wins on the way to MLS Cup in 2008).

This season will be about overcoming challenges and leaving the recent past behind.

Michael Lewis would like to hear from you. If you have a comment, drop him a line at email.
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