April 25, 2010
WHERE WAS EVERYONE?
Red Bulls-Union game falls short of expectations in the stands
By Michael Lewis
|Tim Ream: "You're not going to have packed houses every night and that's OK, as long as the fans come out are as loud and rowdy as they were today. Still, you've got your 12th man advantage."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
HARRISON, N.J. -- As he left Red Bull Arena after yet another Red Bulls victory at 7:55 p.m. Saturday, team captain and striker Juan Pablo Angel tweeted his followers:
"Leaving the stadium!! Want to thank all the redbulls fans for the great support today."
Of course, Angel did not address the fans who failed to show up to the start of what is expected to be one of the best derbies in Major League Soccer.
The Red Bulls prevailed over the Philadelphia Union, 2-1, before an announced crowd of 15,619 at the new soccer-specific stadium.
If this was 2009, a crowd of 15K at Giants Stadium would have been quite encouraging.
But this is 2010, with a new, state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium and a new and improved team that leads the Eastern Conference with a surprising 4-1 record.
Add to it that Saturday was a beautiful day -- game time temperature at 4 p.m. was 68 degrees -- and you've got one of the more intriguing mysteries of this MLS season.
"It was a very beautiful day," Angel said while working out on a stationary bicycle in the team's training room Saturday. "It is not an expensive sport to watch and we're getting results. It's probably not being as pretty as we'd like to, but we're getting results. Hopefully people will come in numbers for the next game."
Coach Hans Backe admitted he was confounded by the disappointing crowd.
"They told me a week ago there would be around 5,000 fans from Philadelphia," he said. "It was probably just a couple of hundred. I don't know why."
Three busloads of Sons of Ben, the Union's supporters' club, watched the game. It was not known how many other Union fans drove here. Many Union backers watched the game from the upper deck on the opposite end of the stadium from the Empire Supporters Club.
"The last game was very entertaining with Dallas even though if it was a game that could have been 4-4," Backe said. "It's a stadium that should sell itself.
"In this area, there are a lot of South Americans, Europeans, Portuguese who love soccer. It should not be sold out, but an average of between 17-20,000. But I have no answer why."
As it turned out, neither did any of his players.
"I thought it was going to be more of a packed stadium for this first game here," right fullback Jeremy Hall said. "It didn't really feel like that rivalry yet. They brought a good crowd over here. I think it will turn into a rivalry, but it didn't turn into so much today."
OK, so where were the fans?
"I don't know what it is," Hall said. "The first two games were sellouts and we got two good wins there and played well. If we continue to keep winning, T'm sure more fans are going to trickle into the stadium. Before you know it, it will be packed again."
One thing the Red Bulls do know is that the stadium can be one loud arena, which makes for a home-field advantage. The Red Bulls are 3-0 at RBA, 4-0 if you count the 3-1 exhibition win over Santos FC (Brazil) in the March 20 grand opening.
"It's so loud in there with the fans we do have makes it a tough place to play," Hall said. "So, we love playing there."
Rookie central defender Tim Ream agreed.
"You know what? To be honest, it still was a lively crowd," he said. "Of course you're going to want more fans, want packed houses. Unfortunately, you're not going to have packed houses every night and that's OK, as long as the fans come out are as loud and rowdy as they were today. Still, you've got your 12th man advantage."
Which will be put to use on Tuesday at 8 p.m., when the Red Bulls host the Union in the second leg of their derby series in a Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open cup play-in match.
In case you're wondering the Red Bulls have attracted 53,858 fans in their first three games of the season, for an average of 17,953 per match. That's good for seventh in the league. The 16 MLS teams are averaging 16,656 per game.