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No bull out in Jersey

New York's newly named team understands spectacle

Posted: Tuesday April 11, 2006 11:34AM; Updated: Tuesday April 11, 2006 2:36PM
Red Bull shelled out for a halftime show that featured Wyclef Jean, which likely cost more than the team's entire payroll.
Red Bull shelled out for a halftime show that featured Wyclef Jean, which likely cost more than the team's entire payroll.

Before we praise Red Bull -- and trust me, we will praise Red Bull -- first allow me to express a small measure of disappointment.

A few weeks ago, yours truly and a few co-workers got an e-mail invite to the New York Red Bulls home opener, their first game at the Meadowlands since the team we used to know as the MetroStars rechristened itself. There was mention of pre-game festivities, including a party and visits from Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer, among others.

Somewhat foolishly (and kind of vainly), we figured we were going to be hooked up in the posh VIP area of Giants Stadium, where we'd hobnob with various legends of the Beautiful Game before taking in the Red Bulls (tough not calling them the Metros) in action against the Revolution.

It didn't quite turn out that way. After we missed our complimentary bus to the Meadowlands (thanks, Gabe), we called a car to take us to Giants Stadium when it quickly became apparent that the Red Bulls weren't rolling out the red carpet for us snobby magazine types. Rather, they had invited the whole world to the pre-game party. That meant no rubbing shoulders with Pelé, no cavorting inside the stadium (where it was nice and warm). Rather, it meant drinking beer in a parking lot with a large group of dudes and a disproportionately small number of girls. You know, the average teenage Saturday night.

As it turned out, it was much better that way. Red Bull went to great lengths to entertain what seemed to be just about anyone known to be an avid soccer fan in the Tri-State area. They plied us with food (tasty empanadas, chorizo, shredded pork and polenta), drinks (brews, booze, soda and a certain energy drink that, after a few sips, had the younger members of our group racing around like DaMarcus Beasley on a run down the left wing) and a couple other diversions.

Someone named Rihanna got up on stage and sang, flanked by two women in cheerleader outfits. I have no idea who they were, but they earned my respect; it was pretty cold, and they were troopers. There was also a round cage in which kids could play games of two-on-two. The only thing it was missing was Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation blaring on the P.A. and Eric Cantona providing commentary. (One thing I learned watching the youngsters play: Soccer's future in the U.S. is much like soccer's present in Portugal -- lots and lots of stepovers.) After watching the sun set magnificently over a not-so-magnificent Jersey horizon -- a Secaucus sunset, one local called it -- we were on our way inside.

As for the game itself, we were given tickets in the Revolution end of the pitch. (Our fault -- we could have gotten better seats by walking to a will-call window, but that would have cut into the refreshment time.) It was actually kind of nice sitting among the visiting fans. There was some talk before the match of the fan violence before the Red Bulls-D.C. United game the week before, but everyone was well-behaved. There were three busloads of Revs fans, and their chanting (Rev-o-lution dum-dum-da-da-da/ Revolution dum-dum-da-da-da) was met with the occasion friendly jape (Sucks/ Sucks).

For the most part, though, no one got too riled up, except the Red Bulls fan in front of us who was there with his four kids and spent almost all of the first half lamenting to anyone who would listen that New York wasn't going to get anywhere without attacking out wide instead of trying to force everything through the middle. (He seemed to have a point.) Everyone was civilized, and we all settled in for what turned out to be one of the more entertaining nil-nil draws you'll see.

New England peppered goalie Tony Meola in the first half, but he was up to the challenge. Much of the Revs' attacking was down their left, which wasn't a good sign for Red Bulls right back Marvell Wynne Jr., the top pick in the '06 SuperDraft. The team's other newcomer, Edson Buddle, looked pretty dangerous at times, though, good enough to make one wonder if he shouldn't be hanging around the periphery of the national team. (All right, maybe that was wishful thinking among us Red Bulls fans.)

After watching Shakira and Wyclef Jean at halftime (on the monitors -- the concession lines were rather long), we switched ends and sat with the Bulls supporters for the second half (the ushers are a pretty laid-back crew at soccer games). It was a nice half -- Wynne looked better, Youri Djorkaeff wasn't quite as rusty as he was in the first 45 minutes and New England wasn't dominating the run of play quite so much. The end result was fair, and also a pretty good one for New York: a draw against a really good side.

But the best thing about the day was seeing just how much Red Bull seems to, for lack of a better phrase, get it. Before the game we had a chance to say hi to Don Garber. The MLS commish looked around and marveled at how Red Bull had thrown together a giant block party and decked out the exterior of the stadium with giant pictures of the players, all in a few weeks.

They can talk all they want about bringing Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane to America, but the most important thing Red Bull can do right now is show New York's soccer fans that it's committed to giving them a team worth rooting for and making games an experience worth trekking out to the Jersey swamps to see. And in a big parking lot on a cold Saturday evening, that's just what they did.