HARRISON, N.J. – Gary Smith just changed his opinions about Red Bull Arena.
Days after downplaying the Red Bulls’ home-field advantage in their brand new digs, the Rapids’ head coach watched as New York surged to a 3-1 win over visiting Colorado on Saturday to the delight of more than 19,000 fans in attendance.
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“It may be ‘just’ 20,000 fans, but it sure feels like 40,000 the way they generate noise in this place,” New York’s Carlos Mendes said after the match, which bolstered New York’s postseason hopes and snapped Colorado’s two-game winning streak.
The Red Bulls have won three of their last four matches at Red Bull Arena, and are 8-3-1 in the first season in their new home.
Smith earlier this week said the Red Bulls were a beatable club at RBA, adding that “it’s not like going to Old Trafford and having 65,000 people screaming down your neck.”
But the field seemed to tip Red Bulls’ direction almost from the opening whistle on Saturday, leading up to first half goals from Thierry Henry and Tim Ream that put the Rapids on their heels.
“Today, more than any other game, we did a good job of putting our imprint on the game early,” defender Chris Albright told MLSSoccer.com. “As a road team, you never like that feeling of being under pressure from the start, it doesn’t make you feel comfortable from the start. We did that tonight to Colorado, made it tough on them in the first 10 to 15 minutes.”
The Red Bulls seem settled on the starting lineup they trotted out on Saturday afternoon, a lineup that has seen Joel Lindpere pushed to the left wing. This allows New York to play to its strength right down the spine with two tough centerbacks and holding midfielders Rafa Márquez and Tony Tchani in front of the back four, playing deep and providing interchange when one pushes forward into the offensive half.
Colorado had few quality opportunities on goal, despite a 35-yard laser from Omar Cummings in the 52nd minute.
“We set up a great tempo in the first 10 to 15 minutes where they couldn’t get the ball off their backline,” Red Bulls forward Juan Pablo Ángel said.
The confidence at home comes at a time when the Red Bulls and their high-priced summer acquisitions are beginning to gel.
‘We just want to be positive at home,” said Dane Richards, who scored his second goal of the season on Saturday afternoon. “A team coming into Red Bull Arena shouldn’t feel comfortable.”
“From this point on and probably well before we got here, this is a very difficult place now to come play a game of football,” Smith said. “So there’s a buzz around this place, you can feel it when you’re here.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012