This is the second part of a series in which we introduce Orlando City fans to the teams our Lions will be facing in 2015 when the team starts play in Major League Soccer. Today we take a look at the New York Red Bulls.
What are the three most important things Orlando City fans need to know about the New York Red Bulls?
1. We used to be the MetroStars. Some Orlando City fans might remember the bad old days of MLS 1.0. Well, during that period, the Red Bulls were first the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, then just the MetroStars. Those guys in red-and-black vertical stripes playing home games in Giants Stadium? Same team.
In 2006, soft drink giant Red Bull bought the team and rebranded them the New York Red Bulls, much to the consternation of many fans. It’s come with some good—Red Bull Arena wouldn’t be the same facility without the injection of money from Red Bull, nor would the team have Thierry Henry or Tim Cahill on the roster—but a lot of bad, as the owner is loath to recognize the team’s early history and regularly puts incompetent people in charge. Despite dropping more than $200 million on a stadium, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has never actually been to it.
Recently, though, the team has put Andy Roxburgh, who might have more connections to the world game than anyone else in MLS, in charge of the soccer side of things, and team legend Mike Petke at the helm. Roxburgh’s willingness to learn the ins-and-outs of the MLS game, along with his massive rolodex, and Petke’s experience as a life-long MLSer, have put the team on something resembling the right track. (Editors note: Matt sent us his answers prior to this report last night that Roxburgh is on his way out of New York.)
Not that we’d know what the right track looks like. Which brings me to point number two…
2. Lovable losers (or maybe just losers). The combined Red Bulls/MetroStars history has yielded precisely one trophy in its 19-year history (I’m still holding out hope at this point that it’ll be two in 20): the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. The team has made only two cup finals, the 2003 U.S. Open Cup Final, which they lost to the Chicago Fire and the 2008 MLS Cup final, which they lost to the Columbus Crew.
All this, despite having huge names in both MLS and world soccer come through the team’s ranks. Guys like Roberto Donadoni, Youri Djorkaeff, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Dwayne De Rosario, Nick Rimando, Claudio Reyna, Juan Pablo Angel, Jeff Parke, Jozy Altidore, Lothar Matthaus, Tony Meola, Juninho, Brad Davis, Mike Magee, Clint Mathis and Tab Ramos are all players who have played for the team over the years—in addition to Henry and Cahill—and the arrangement either didn’t work, the front office couldn’t put a good enough team around them or they were inexplicably traded.
3. The team actually plays in New Jersey. Yeah, let’s get this one out of the way now: Like the Giants and the Jets, the Red Bulls play in the New Jersey suburbs. Though, thankfully, Harrison, a small town caught between Newark and the city, is a bit closer and easier to get to than East Rutherford.
Harrison has a ton of soccer history, too. West Hudson Athletic Association was one of early American soccer’s dominant teams, and played not far from where Red Bull Arena sits now. The town adjacent to Harrison, Kearny, spawned players like John Harkes, as well as the aforementioned Meola and Ramos.
What nicknames, chants and slang are unique to New York, and can you please explain them if they aren’t readily apparent to the outsider?
MC: The Red Bulls are cheered on by one of the league’s oldest—if not the oldest—supporters groups: the Empire Supporters Club. Talk to those guys, and they’ll swear up and down they at least helped popularize, if not wrote, several of American soccer’s most favorite songs. Chants like “We Love Ya” have been a staple in the South Ward—where the Red Bulls’ three supporters groups sit—for years and I distinctly remember doing “I believe that we will win” as early as 2010 (though we don’t do that one anymore).
I’ll leave for you to decide whether that’s all bluster or if there’s a nugget of truth to those claims, but there’s no doubt there are fans who have been making noise behind the goals at Giants Stadium and Red Bull Arena for the better part of the team’s 19-going-on-20-years of existence.
What are the can’t-miss things to do when Orlando City fans visit a Red Bulls game?
MC: So you guys seem to have a penchant for Portuguese and Brazilian players. So I’ve got the perfect place for you.
Adjacent to Red Bull Arena is a Newark neighborhood called the Ironbound. It’s been an immigrant community for a long, long time, and it’s most recently home to Portuguese and Spanish, who have proceeded to open a whole slew of restaurants along Market and Ferry Streets.
The supporters also drink in the Ironbound before games, but there are plenty of places to go if you don’t want to banter with Red Bulls fans (you’re going to have to banter).
Who are the key players on the Red Bulls we should know about?
MC: There are rumors Henry is going to retire and Cahill is going to be sold or leave in the off-season. The nice thing is, even without the designated players, the Red Bulls have a solid core of talent. Luis Robles has quietly been one of the league’s better keepers over the last two years, playing behind a back line that’s been weak or just plain bad for stretches. Dax McCarty probably deserves more credit for the work he does in midfield, and his strength lies in breaking up plays and starting counters. Lloyd Sam is a speedy winger with skill on the ball, who works well with rookie right back Chris Duvall, another quietly good player. On the left Roy Miller has been one of Petke’s great reclamation projects, going from disaster waiting to happen, to a World Cup player who contributes both offensively and defensively from the fullback position. Ambroise Oyongo is a promising young player, who can play left wing in addition to left back. He’s got tons of speed and plenty of skill on the ball.
Up front, there’s Bradley Wright-Phillips, who’s two goals away from tying the single season MLS goals record with two to play. Wright-Phillips could always find the back of the net while playing in England, but it seems the change of scenery, and some coaching from Henry and Petke has made him considerably more lethal.
Which New York players might get exposed in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft?
MC: The Red Bulls’ off-season strategy was to keep as many players from the 2013 Supporters’ Shield-winning team together, and add some veterans who could provide depth. It wasn’t a terrible strategy, especially since turnover with the Red Bulls has been so high.
That strategy hasn’t worked out. But it has set them up nicely for the expansion draft.
There are going to be a lot of aging veterans unprotected if they’re still on the roster come expansion draft time. Guys like Bobby Convey, Ibrahim Sekagya, Saer Sene, Richard Eckersley and Kosuke Kimura could all be available.
Looking at the roster and doing a rough list in my head, it looks like the Red Bulls may have to leave one of Ian Christianson, Marius Obekop, Eric Stevenson and Ruben Bover unprotected. Obekop is a speedy, albeit one footed winger, while Stevenson is a skilled midfielder, who can play wide or centrally, but I don’t recall him being particularly physically imposing. You’re familiar with Christianson from his loan stint with Orlando City already and Bover has a ton of promise as both a winger and central midfielder, but is lacking seasoning.
I’d bet the Red Bulls do their best to keep Bover and Christianson, leaving Obekop and Stevenson to the wolves.
We’d like to thank Matt for his insight into the New York Red Bulls, and we look forward to more banter with him in the future.
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