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MLS – A Glimpse into the Future?
By Steve MacClare
November 4, 2008

 

     As every human being on the planet knows, Major League Soccer is coming to Seattle. Whereas the talk around the water cooler as I write may still be more about national defence than San Jose’s defence, many people in Seattle are beginning to wonder what MLS game day in Seattle will look like. So I flew into the future – 3 hours to be exact – and went to observe my first ever MLS game as the New York Red Bulls took on the table topping Columbus Crew.

     I went with several goals in an open mind, and ended up seeing a goal I never thought I would. I hoped to see what they did well there that perhaps Seattle Sounders FC should try and emulate and keep an eye put for anything worth avoiding. I went to see the tifo the diehard fan base organized, and most of all observe if the quality of the play was something from which Sounders FC should quake in fear. Here’s the story of our day ...


Heaven Sent -
Juan Pablo Angel Scored Twice for the Bulls
Photo:
New York Red Bulls FC

     Game day started with a taxi ride in from Manhattan and a cab driver who had no idea there was a game on at the Meadowlands where NFL Giants Stadium is located. That alone set my mind racing. Cab drivers can be the best advertisers an entertainment business can have. They have more access to that subset of people who don’t know the buzz in a city than anyone outside hotel receptionists. So, wouldn’t be a good idea to get those fixture lists and calendars to every cab company HQ in town and every hotel lobby? In a recent interview, Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer extolled the virtues of being “obsessed with detail”. Given how well the club has done everything so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is exactly the kind of detail they thought of already, but if not the pedantry starts here.

     The Meadowlands Complex can be safely described as not very near anywhere. New York City’s sporting landmarks appear as one big building site at the moment. There are two Yankee Stadiums, one being built right next to the old one, and the NFL New York Giants are constructing a replacement one once more adjacent to the old Giants Stadium. But back to our cab ride. Our cabbie approached what was marked as the entrance, only to be stopped by a large woman in the type of coat worn only by people in the parking industry. She demanded $10 or she wouldn’t let us in. “You can’t come in until you give me ten dollars,” she assailed our cabby in that way I’ve only ever heard New Yorkers do. She then sent us on a circuitous route to approach the stadium from another direction. This took twenty minutes of unnecessary time and cab fare. Luckily we’d left early to avoid traffic and could afford both but it didn’t sound or feel like visiting an entertainment venue should; especially a form of entertainment struggling to make itself easily available to a wandering public conscious in a competitive market.

     It seems a particularly American thing to privatize ancillary businesses to your sporting franchise so that the contractors can treat your customers poorly. Given the location of Qwest Field, it’s not a particular problem we’ll face too much in Seattle, but as a general rule, it would be nice to know that the club is keeping an eye out for how its customers are treated by those bidding for rights in and around the stadium. If the aim is to make every game day experience the best it can be for every spectator at every match, then that starts with having those attempting to profit out of soccer treat the customers well, rather than as just another revenue stream. No matter who is responsible such things reflect badly on the club. Clearly, the Red Bulls weren’t responsible for this but it would be nice if MLS clubs made a special pint of protecting their customers and acquired a reputation for such.

     Finally we got dropped off at a point acceptable to the car park staff at Giants Stadium and approached the ground. A healthy mix of ages, genders and ethnic groups surrounded the field. Kids were having a kick about, die hard fans in their scarves swapped stories, men dragged their errant kids towards the entrance. It felt safe and calm, and briefly just briefly, like soccer actually belonged in the cavernous arena lying on the other side of the turnstile. Red Bulls have built a pleasant safe environment to attend and it augurs well for their future in that soccer specific stadium they are building in Harrison, New Jersey.


The Empire Strikes Back

     But for now New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders FC have some similarities. Both play at the home of an NFL side. Both have been the subject of controversy over their name. Both play in cities where there are other attractions. Notwithstanding the massive differences between New York City and every other place on the planet, it gave me at least a starting point for comparisons. The NFL markings were bright and covered the pitch. Huge tarpaulins covered those areas of the stadium not accessible for a soccer crowd. A dark blue blanket therefore covered roughly of the seats giving the impression of holding a party in a house where the painters have been working and the furniture is covered.

     Credit has to go to the hardy fans who attended. Red Bulls have not had a great season, going into the game with just nine wins and eight draws with 35 points from 27 games. Secondly, with the NFL season underway, competition for fan and media attention is tough, although as this was the last regular season home game, that should have helped. (In the end the Bulls did make the play-offs.) The Empire Supporters Club in Section 101 behind the goal may have only had 90 people in it but their efforts made an irreplaceable addition to the atmosphere. I was too far away to be able to categorically state that all their songs were family oriented, this is New Jersey after all, but their rhythm and beat was well coordinated, pleasing on the eye and seemed to sprout from the full gamut of cultural roots, rather than just stuff copied off the EPL coverage on television. I am happy to give a ‘hats off’ to them and look forward to their visit to Seattle next year.

     As for the match itself? Well I’ve taken enough of your time here for one week but if you want to read on please click here. If not thanks for reading and I’ll see you all next week where we’ll take in all the latest Champions League action unless Diego Maradona decides to manage Sounders FC instead of Argentina.  

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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited