The old adage goes that “Kids say the darndest things.” One 6-year-old aptly summed up Saturday night’s opening of Red Bull Arena with a simple question.
"Is this just for the Red Bulls?” Max Fishkin asked his father Mark upon entering the stadium.
Forgive Red Bulls fans just a little bit at their disbelief that the stadium in Harrison is finally done, but after 14 years of waiting, New York area fans finally have a home to call their own.
No more football lines on the field come September, no more horrendous plastic turf or poorly laid sod at Giants Stadium. Gone is the hassle of over-eager ushers and tightly wound security guards who didn’t quite understand the enthusiastic joy that comes with the supporters’ culture.
Finally with the opening of the stadium in Harrison, area fans have a home befitting the sport, in a venue that is perfect for a MLS team.
“Absolutely surreal," said Joe D’Angelo, a season ticket holder in section 105. "Walking from the parking lot and seeing the stadium for the first time was special. But the most surreal moment was seeing the grass field for the first time. The view from the concourse is great and seeing that field knowing it was built for soccer was special.”
And as one supporter , with arms stretched out and a Red Bulls’ scarf tied around his wrists shouted before Saturday night, “Is this real?”
Yes New York fans, it is very real.
“After so many years of watching soccer in a soulless mausoleum, it almost felt as if I were watching a game in Europe," said Manhattan native Eugene Corvallis, who has front-row seats in the new arena. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. We went to stadiums in Germany for the 2006 World Cup and Red Bull Arena was on par with -- or better than -- those. I give the organization credit: It promised the finest stadium in MLS ... and it delivered.”
Saturday night was a celebration of soccer as a new cathedral for the sport was christened. From a dominating performance by the home side to the festivities which marked the pre-game and post-game pageantry, there was a buzz about the game and the stadium. Fishkin watched the passion unfold from his seats perched in section 201, seeing the supporters clubs below him keep a non-stop wall of sound coming from below him.
“I was quite surprised by how close we actually were to the field of play," said Keith Brown of Fair Lawn. Brown stood throughout the match as part of the Empire Supporters Club in section 101. "At Giants Stadium, even front-row seats were a long way from the field of play. This was great to see, and sometimes, [you could] even hear the players set up for corners and free kicks.”
There were some complaints. Long lines for concessions and fans bantered about the need for dividers at the urinals in the men’s room. Certainly, the traffic pattern for a downtown stadium built with mass transit in mind will take some getting used to and the field’s condition seemed to suffer a bit after several days of torrential rain earlier in the week. But all things considered, it was a success and had the desired result.
It even left New York fans feeling a tad bit bullish about the future.
“I brought a friend who was attending his first MLS match," D'Angelo said. "He was blown away by the stadium and had a fantastic time. He's looking forward to seeing more games at the stadium. That experience is something he would have never enjoyed if we were still at Giants Stadium."