March 20, 2010
A GRAND OPENING NIGHT
Red Bulls inaugurate Red Bull Arena with a 3-1 win over Santos
By Michael Lewis
|Mike Petke scored the Red Bulls second goal Saturday night.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
HARRISON, N.J. -- When push comes to shove, in the long run, it really didn't matter who won Saturday night's encounter between the Red Bulls and Santos FC at Red Bull Arena.
What really mattered was that a soccer game was played at the crown jewel of MLS stadiums -- the Grand Opening of the soccer-specific stadium.
"It's a fantastic soccer stadium," said former German and Cosmos great Franz Beckenbauer, who was in for the occasion. He is friends with Dietrich Mateschitz, owner of the Red Bull energy empire and the man who purchased the MLS club from Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2006.
For the record, the Red Bulls registered a rousing 3-1 victory over Santos of Brazil, which looked like at times the team might have had a late night in New York City Friday. The win completed the Red Bulls' pre-season record at undefeated 7-0-3.
Many of the 25,000 who crammed the stadium for the opening match barely probably were wondering, "Why couldn't they do it when it really counts."
Of course, Saturday night's game was only an exhibition match. Reality for the Red Bulls starts next Saturday when they host the Chicago Fire in their MLS opener at the stadium.
A week after a nor'easter forced the cancellation of the soft opener, the soccer gods were kind to the Red Bulls Saturday night. The weather was perfect. There were clouds in the sky, but far away. The temperature was a very unMarch-like 73 degrees.
Santos is the fabled team that gave the world and eventually the Cosmos Pele, who was a no-show. Pele has a history of asking for money to make appearances. Too bad. It was his loss.
Many former MetroStars/Red Bulls came out for the occasion, including Tab Ramos, Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Youri Djorkaeff and Mark Lisi.
And there were some non-American and non-soccer celebrities, including Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, who kicked out the first ball, Super Bowl champion Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints, former Dutch international midfielder Edgar Davids and actor Andrew Shue, among others.
Veteran defender Mike Petke, who bleeds Red Bulls red, led the team out onto the Red Bull Arena pitch as the team captain, followed by Jeremy Hall and the rest of his teammates for the pre-game warm-up.
The home faithful got an opportunity cheer in the 11th minute, when Joel Lindpere, who signed so late that he didn't make the Red Bulls' media guide, had the honor of christening the arena with the very first goal. His free kick from atop the penalty arc was blocked by the Brazilian defensive wall. The ball came right back at the Estonian midfielder and Lindpere didn't miss this time, depositing a left-footed, 17-yard shot past goalkeeper Fabio Costa and into the lower left corner.
"Of course, in every arena opening, especially this nice one, it's good," Lindpere said. "To win over Santos, it is more important."
Beautiful soccer it wasn't as the game was at times a chippy affair with players on both teams tumbling to the grass after hard fouls.
An early one for the Red Bulls occurred in the 33rd minute, when forward Ibrahim Salou, a trialist from Ghana, suffered some sort of leg injury at the perimeter of the penalty area. After getting working on by trainer Rick Guter, Salou got up and walked off the field under his own power with a slight limp. He returned to the action.
Petke made it 2-0 in the 44th minute on nifty little play off a Carl Robinson corner kick. The ball found rookie defender Tim Ream midway through the penalty area and he headed the ball toward the goal that Petke deflected into the net.
Petke then ran to celebrate his special goal in front of the Red Bulls supporters, kissing the team badge on his white jersey before pumping his arm into the air in triumph.
"It's a goal I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Petke told announcer Bruce Beck and the crowd at halftime. "Hopefully, there will be more of it."
And oh yes, there was plenty of pushing and shoving and fouling in this friendly encounter. Many times Santos players found themselves on the RBA grass, trying to convince referee Jorge Gonzalez that they were fouled. Most of the time he wasn't buying their act.
Before the stadium PA announcer had an opportunity to announce Petke's goal, the Red Bulls were on the attack again. This time it was midfielder Dane Richards firing home an 18-yard shot from the right side for a stunning 3-0 advantage in the 45 minute.
The only setback the Red Bulls when Robinson was injured at midfield just before the halftime whistle. Petke and Lindpere both were upset about the injury. Forward Juan Agudelo was standing on the sideline, ready to come into the match before Gonzalez whistled the end of the half.
Agudelo, a former member of the Red Bulls' youth academy team, came on just before the start of the second half.
Even Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul got into the action in the second half, twice denying long-range Santos efforts within a minute with quick-reflex saves in the 52nd and 53 minutes.
Coundoul did not last the entire 90 minutes as he was replaced by goalkeeper Greg Sutton in the 61st minute. Luke Sassano also came on in the 61st minute for Richards, who was shaken up on a foul by Zezinho, who was awarded a yellow card.
John Wolyniec, who replaced Kalou in the 67th minute, received a yellow card six minutes later for a tough tackle while retaliating on a foul by Bruno Agular. Only a minute prior, Woly was clocked in the mouth by Agular while the two players were running after the ball toward the sideline.
Germano scored Santos' lone goal a minute into stoppage time, but it was too little and too late.