The Red Bulls entered Saturday night’s match-up with Chicago hoping to wipe the foul taste of a disastrous 2009 out of their mouths.
After finishing in last place just five months ago, the club’s 1-0 win over the Fire at least erased the memories of last season for one night.
“Coming off a very good pre-season, this was important for us,” said midfielder Danleigh Borman. “This was the way we needed to start.”
The Red Bulls clearly showed that they can and will be competitive, especially within the cauldron of Red Bull Arena. The game was marked by some sloppy play and jitters, marks of a team coming playing its first real game in a new stadium.
“We forced it a little too much in the attacking game,” head coach Hans Backe said. “We had some unforced errors.”
Unforced errors or not, the Red Bulls made the most of their chances. After an evenly played first half, the deadlock was broken five minutes before the half when Joel Lindpere pounced on a bouncing header from Juan Pablo Angel and hammered a shot past a diving Andrew Dykstra.
“He’s a friggin' pit bull out there,” right back Jeremy Hall said of Lindpere. “Offensively and defensively he links up so well and does so many things for us in settling the team down.”
Also impressive for the Red Bulls were the long stretches of composure they showed, spraying the ball wide to Richards and maintaining possession well. With a more defensive-minded Borman on the left wing, much of the Red Bulls’ attack was funneled down the side of Richards on the right flank. It was Richards’ ability to move wide and stretch the Chicago defense that helped maintain steady pressure on Dykstra and the Chicago goal throughout the night.
“Coach allows me to express myself in the final-third,” Richards said.
The Red Bulls both defended and attacked in numbers, and controlled the middle of the field for much of the night.
Several times, however, the Fire managed to break through the New York backline and found ample opportunity to look dangerous. Following an exhibition opener where he made several big saves, goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul displayed strong control of his area. In the 61st minute, Coundoul made the save of the night, diving to deny Mike Banner on a free kick opportunity from just outside the box and then making a save on the Fire’s follow-up shot.
“Bouna had a couple really good saves out there,” Hall said. “In particular, that free kick. Bouna is incredibly athletic out there.”
But the talk of the night was the first league game in Red Bull Arena and the crowd of 24,572 that filled the new stadium almost to capacity. Spirited by the crowd and the constant urging of the fans, the players felt the effect of the home crowd for the first time in league play. With a European feel to the game and the backing of the singing of the home faithful behind the goal, the Red Bulls have a home field advantage for the first time in the franchise’s 14 year history.
Backe said that an atmosphere like the one on Saturday night is worth “six or seven points” over the course of the season. It is a point that the Red Bulls’ players concurred with.
“An unbelievable environment to play in,” said defender Mike Petke. “I hate clichés – the twelfth man – but this really is [just that].”