New York Red Bulls 4 Seattle Sounders 1 (20th Sept 2014)
As far as most New York guide books are concerned, they might as well have “dragons live here” written on any map that shows the western side of the Hudson River. Even the most exhaustive, I suspect, would make no mention of Harrison, NJ, around 8 miles west of the edge of Manhattan.
I took the train through New Jersey the last time I was in New York, en route to Washington DC, and unless the tracks specifically picked out the ugliest parts of the state to pass through, it’s not hard to see why the guidebooks ignored the place. Maybe I went over the same tracks from the subterranean 33rd street PATH station to Harrison, as the trip would have been a paradise for lovers of industrial wasteland. When Frank Sinatra chose New York rather than New Jersey to be a part of, it clearly wasn’t a difficult choice.
However, Harrison was my destination for the evening. The awkwardly named New York/New Jersey Metrostars my have lost the New Jersey (and Metrostars) part of their name when taken over in Red Bull’s latest chapter in world sporting domination, but they most definitely stayed in New Jersey. With them came the final push to move to what is now (unsurprisingly) known as the Red Bull Arena, but also the decision to ditch the MLS SSS template of a ground with a stage at one end, and replace it with an incredibly European looking design. Anyone who can remember the grounds used in Austria for Euro 2008, which included another Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, won’t have to think too hard about where they got their inspiration.
To be fair to the town of Harrison, some bits north of the railway line look quite nice, with rows of smart well-tended wooden houses. South of the track though, is clearly ex-industrial, and it’s on such a brown field site that the ground is built.
The stadium certainly adds to the surroundings. Stadium apart, the area doesn’t make the best backdrop for a pre-match tailgate, with a derelict factory on one side, and not a great deal on the others barring the odd plane flying overhead, heading for Newark Airport, a couple of miles to the south.
The ground, perhaps especially in the setting sun of early evening, is a fine venue. True, at a total cost of $200 million for only 25000 seats, one wouldn’t expect a cheap-looking stadium, but it’s the quality of design as well as the build that sets the ground apart from even the other good stadiums MLS has added in recent years. It’s a statement of intent for a club that wants to be taken seriously. Going out and signing an established name like Thierry Henry as the star player for the new era send out the same message. OK, then tacking Red Bull onto the club name reels in a lot of the good work, but their ownership/sponsorship of the club has a lot more ticks than crosses in the ledger.
One thing about American stadiums is that they do love their open concourses. Fine for a day like this, but perhaps not so great at the start an end of seasons, where the odd breeze might be a tad nippy. It’s also a bonus on a clear day being able to look across and see the Manhattan skyline in the distance. You just have to train your eyes to not notice the industrial landscape in the foreground. It is, to a tourist at least, quite captivating.
Another thing you notice on American concourses is how much more choice you have over food. Rather have one supplier supplying the same overpriced crap, as is common in English grounds, you have a variety of suppliers offering different wares. Still overpriced, mind you – that doesn’t change. Buying “chicken tenders” (think big nuggets) and chips (or fries as I refuse to call them) and a beer, and getting little change for $20 only makes sense if you go by the “it’s not “proper” money so it doesn’t really count” rule I use on holiday to justify wasting money. Mind you, even that thinking couldn’t change my mind earlier in the day when tempted by a 5-10 minute helicopter ride over Manhattan. Even the “not real money rule” got overruled when the price was quoted at $180. To be honest I felt almost the same when I saw beer was $9, but went for it anyway.
One thing I did do, in order to get value for money, was turn up on time. It staggers me how many American fans aren’t there for kick off. I guess if you are used to sports that last 3 hours+, missing 20 minutes isn’t a big deal, but one group of fans didn’t even take their seats until nearly half time. What was worse was that they were wearing Seattle shirts. Maybe they lived locally, but if not then they travelling 2500 miles to see a game, and only saw half of it.
For once though, there actually was a decent away support. Seattle to New York is as far as Glasgow to Cairo, but Seattle did manage to have a good 300+ or so at the game, both in a reserved block and dotted about the crowd. With the best record in MLS going into the game they must have fancied their chances against a rather average New York side, but by the end they probably thought those who only saw half the game got the better deal.
It took just 29 seconds for New York to go in front. A nice move down the right saw an initial shot parried right back into the danger area by the Seattle keeper, and ex-Chelsea, Man City and QPR striker Shaun Wright-Phillips, wearing the No.99 shirt, smashed in the rebound. It set the tone for a very uncomfortable evening for the Sounders.
In truth they probably had the better chances in the rest of a first half which cooled after a bright opening, with Kenny Cooper firing one shot high and wide, while clipping the crossbar with another.
If my 44th minute joinees were hoping for a better second half, they would be disappointed, and very quickly. Within 10 minutes it was 2-0, with Wright-Phillips tucking in a penalty after a mistimed tackle on speedy winger in the box. Just a minute or so he was at it again. This time, with the smoke from the post-goal fireworks still not having receded, he ran onto a deep cross to steer a first-time shot in at the near post.
Seattle brought Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins off the bench – as an outsider I’d have to wonder why they didn’t start – in an effort to get back into the match.
It looked to be working at first. Poor/non-existent marking allowed Dempsey to pull it back to 3-1 with an almost nonchalant left foot finish.
It didn’t last though, with Tim Cahill adding the gloss with a shot in off the post. More flares, noise, and flag waving, and if Seattle needed any more signs that this really wasn’t their night, it came not too soon after.
A Seattle shot took a deflection, but was terrifically saved by the New York keeper, who had to adjust the way he was going to reach out and palm the ball away. It was only flicked up and central though, and as Dempsey ran in unchallenged to head the ball from 8 yards out, a goal looked certain. Somehow though, Luis Robles, the New York keeper, manager to leap back to his feet and dive to the right and pull off a miraculous double save.
There was still time for the home side to force another couple of saves from the Seattle keeper, but four was enough for a very convincing victory. It was a good evening, and even the lights of Newark across the river looked took on a pleasant outlook. Harrison was a good place to be this night, and at $9 a pint, it certainly wasn’t the beer talking.