After 18 years of roving across the tri-state area looking for a home of their own, the Red Bulls settled into a brand new practice facility last week in New Jersey, the latest move west for a team that still includes New York on its crest.
It remains to be seen just how much longer the Big Apple can claim this team as it continues to grow in the Garden State.
After spending the last handful of years training on a field next to a train station, surrounded by a rundown tracks, the new facility in New Jersey is a multimillion dollar commitment from the team for its future. For the team’s international players, the facility is among the best they have seen. Peguy Luyindula, who recently played for European giant Paris St. Germain, was impressed with the facility as a whole and the fields in particular.
“We have the stadium which is beautiful and then you have this facility,” Luyindula said. “I was talking to the coach yesterday and telling him that even at PSG we don’t have this.”
The New York Red Bulls now have a stadium located in New Jersey and with this latest move to affluent Morris County, just minutes from the New York Jets’ facility, it seems to be signaling a shift in priorities.
It could be a detriment to the team, especially as they look to be relevant in the New York market. Star player and captain Thierry Henry came to the Red Bulls in large part to live in New York City and the commute to northwestern New Jersey can’t be ideal for the Frenchman. Others, such as Brazilian target Kaka, the Real Madrid attacker who owns an apartment in Manhattan and has been linked with the Red Bulls, might not like the idea of playing and training in New Jersey.
“I don’t see it that way. We’re called New York Red Bulls for a reason. We feel that we are a New York team,” sporting director Andy Roxburgh said. “The fact that the facilities are out here and the stadium in Harrison, I don’t think it’s that significant. New York is a state as well and a city but as a city, it’s massive and the influence is there. A number of our supporters come from New York.”
In terms of player recruitment, the club remains optimistic that it is still a New York side, despite the New Jersey area codes linked to its stadium and now its training center. The glamour of the city appeals to European stars who the Red Bulls like to recruit for their glamour and prestige.
Even being an hour away from the wonder of it all, head coach Mike Petke said the team remains very much in a New York state of mind.
“We have at least five guys living in the city and they have a quicker ride to the facility and the stadium then I do, and I live in New Jersey,” Petke told Metro. “It’s right outside of the city; I don’t think [it is an issue] at all. We’re the New York Red Bulls; we’re identifiable with the area and the area is including northern New Jersey and New York City.”
Four years ago, the team opened Red Bull Arena, their soccer-specific home in Harrison, N.J. that is still among the best stadiums in the league. It was a move that got them off the artificial surface of Giants Stadium and into a stadium fit for the sport. But even after a massive $200 million investment into building their own stadium, the team lacked a training facility of its own.
Located in the heart of Morris County, the new Red Bulls training facility will provide the franchise with a home on a daily basis. A home they feel will take them to the next level in the development of the franchise.
Petke, who had two terms with this team as a player before becoming head coach this past offseason, remembers some of the bad fields this team has practiced on in the past.
“It’s great, it makes me excited to come to work — makes you excited to do what you love to do. When you look around here, I really don’t have any words,” Petke said. “I never thought it would happen like I didn’t think the stadium would happen. My office is right there, overlooking the field. I’m honored, privileged.”
What the facility does is give a certain sense of stability to the team. Since their inception in 1996 as the franchise formerly known as the MetroStars, this organization has been a nomad of sorts. They trained at Kean University in Union, N.J. for the first few years of their existence, on a field that was part crab grass and part baseball field. From there, they then trained on a temporary grass field outside Giants Stadium — when the Giants or Jets weren’t using the space.
Sometimes, the team would show up in the morning for practice only to find one of the two NFL teams on the field, having basically bullied the MLS side off the field. They’d then pack players and equipment into vans and travel until they found an open patch of grass somewhere to play.
Several times they practiced at a public park in Secaucus, N.J., using cones as goals. Another time they practiced at a high school in Jersey City, N.J. or even at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J. There was nothing major league about the way they trained.
Since 2007, the team has been based out of Montclair State University, with a small facility in the corner of the campus near Yogi Berra Stadium. The field was relatively good but got worn down quickly and the team building was antiquated to the point that the coaching staff kept their offices in a construction trailer next door.
Here in Hanover, they have an immaculate 15-acre space. There are three fields, one of which is lit for night play and one heated to allow training in the winter. The Kentucky bluegrass is pristine and there are administrative offices as well as a full fitness center, a physio area with ice tubs, a visiting locker room for other teams to use and a complete player lounge with an outside patio area — not to mention a theater room to review game film.
In short, it is a home of their own — all the way in Jersey.
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.