Dream start for Red Bulls in new arena

HARRISON, N.J. -- For one night, it was as if the previous 14 years hadn't been filled with misery and suffering.

Born in 1996 as one of the 10 original MLS clubs, the former MetroStars franchise was supposed to carry the mantle for the league, but never came close to reaching such lofty expectations. Now in Harrison, N.J., the New York Red Bulls have given soccer in the New York Metropolitan Area a second chance.

The Red Bulls finished last in the standings last season, but they may have washed the bad taste of last year out of their mouths with Saturday's 3-1 exhibition win against Brazilian club Santos -- and perhaps provided their fans hope for the season ahead.

Three first-half goals spurred the revival of the New York team, who christened the $200 million dollar Red Bull Arena with some occasional flair.

Offseason signing Joel Lindpere will be credited as the first player to score a goal in Red Bulls Arena history -- his 11th-minute strike perfectly blasted past the Santos keeper -- but it was Long Island product Mike Petke who fans will remember most from opening night.

Team captain Petke poked in the game's second goal in the 43rd minute to send the faithful followers of the franchise into a frenzy.

"Seeing Mike score, to him, this is a dream come true," goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul said after the game. "He was with the team in 1998 and then left and is now back. He is local, he loves this team. To see him score like that, it was special for all of us."

On Petke's goal, former Toronto FC midfielder Carl Robinson sent in a looping corner onto an on-rushing Tim Ream, whose header was placed in front of goal. Cool and collected, Petke, who was originally drafted by the MetroStars in 1998, one-timed the ball into the back of the net. His post-goal celebration, a hard run through the six-yard box, unleashed a scream from Petke who stopped to look into the crowd as his teammates mobbed him.

"Through the good times and the bad, this is where I wanted to be," Petke told earlier this week.

And for Coundoul, who sees the hard and dirty work along the back line, Petke's goal couldn't help but bring a smile to his face.

"Mike is a veteran on this team who is a leader in every sense," Coundoul said. "This was a special night for him anyway, and now it was just a little more special."