The Red Bulls will pop the cork on the Red Bull Arena against famed Brazilian side Santos on Saturday evening. But before fans start flocking to the newest soccer oasis on the fringe of New York City, MLSsoccer.com reporter Kristian Dyer takes a look at the news and notes from Wednesday's media day and looking forward to this landmark opener.
To Open Things: Saturday’s sold-out match vs. Santos will be the debut of Red Bull Arena, the new $180 million dollar home of the Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J. The area is in a soccer hot bed, just minutes from “the courts” where John Harkes and Tab Ramos grew up kicking the ball in the 1980s and the site is easily accessible from New York City’s mass transit system. There are now officially no excuses for the franchise with the breaking of the seal of the 25,000-seat stadium and an investor in Red Bull who is unafraid to splash some cash.
Practice Report: New head coach Hans Backe and his team had an opportunity to trot out onto their new home turf on Wednesday for the first time and soak up the new digs. Some players were slipping as they adjusted to the Bermuda grass which was still a bit water-logged, but that’s no surprise considering the torrential rain which pelted the area the past week. At the end of practice, Backe went so far as to direct players to walk the field in a line and replace the divets formed as a result of morning practice.
Wednesday’s practice was the first time anyone has ever played on the new field.
The starting 11 from the practice will probably closely resemble the team which will trot out on Saturday vs. the Brazilian club side. Backe appears to favor a 4-4-2 formation:
GK: Bouna Coundoul
D: Jeremy Hall, Mike Petke, Tim Ream, Roy Miller
M: Dane Richards, Carl Robinson, Joel Lindpere, Mac Kandji
F: Ibrahim Salou, John Wolyniec
Forward Juan Pablo Ángel is out for the Santos match with a knee injury.
Albright Update: One of the biggest moves of the off-season was the Red Bulls trading for former D.C. United and New England Revolution defender Chris Albright. Albright, who played just one game last year for New England, said he hopes to see the field soon and that his rehab is going along fine. He participated in conditioning with the team at Wednesday’s practice.
The Numbers Game: Red Bulls managing director Erik Stover confirmed at Media Day on Wednesday that the club has sold-out the Santos match and is closing in on a similar result for the March 27 MLS opener against Chicago. Stover estimates that by the league opener, the club should be close to topping 8,000 season tickets, nearly double the number from last year. Stover added that the club had a goal of 6,000 season tickets for this season.
Brazilian Connection: Santos coming to North Jersey for the stadium debut is a big deal, but the MLS franchise has seen its fair share of samba-styled soccer since the league’s inception. The New York franchise has a long history of Brazilian born players, from Branco in 1997 to Rodrigo Faria’s scoring success in 2001 and 2002 and most recently, Thiago Martins. According to the extensive all-time roster on MetroFanatic.com, nine Brazilians have suited up for the club and one, Carlos Alberto Parriera, strolled the sidelines as a coach. Only Colombia, with 11 players who signed for the team, has produced more internationals for New York than Brazil.
Weird Fact: Saturday will see the debut of new Red Bulls’ left back Roy Miller, a Costa Rican international who boats European experience at the position. Ironically, the only other player in franchise history to have the given name of “Roy” was also a Costa Rican international. Roy Myers had three separate stints with the club in 1999, 2000 and 2001 as a midfielder with the MetroStars.