HANOVER, N.J. – It was the end of a streak for the New York Red Bulls on Sunday night, a 3-1 home loss to the LA Galaxy was a major disappointment for a team that was impossible to best at Red Bull Arena over the past year.
But just as frustrating was the showing from the fans, who maybe filled the comfy confines of the stadium to the halfway point despite every reason to show up.
It is a theme from the supporters for well over the past few years who throw every excuse to not back their team fully. Outside of the hardcore regulars and the team’s supporter groups, the lackluster approach of many Red Bulls fans has grown wearisome.
The match was the first home loss in regular season play since April of last year, a stretch of 19 games in which the Red Bulls posted 16 wins. But the disappointing display against the Galaxy was matched by the tepid display off the field with an announced crowd of 18,376 at Red Bull Arena.
An announced number that likely was several thousands more than the actual number of bodies in the soccer-specific stadium. The supporters end was perhaps not as packed as usual but it is hard to blame any of the three groups that comprise the ‘South Ward’ as their turnout is always strong, in particular, the Empire Supporters Club who always represent well.
Sunday’s lack of showing from the team on the field is one thing. The lack of interest or intensity from the fans is a whole other issue.
There really is no excuse from soccer fans in the area to not come out and support the team. After years of playing in cavernous, AstroTurf, football-lined Giants Stadium, the team has a home which is a spectacular mecca to soccer and only soccer. It is located in an area packed with immigrants who love and play the sport, in a part of the country notorious for churning out United States national team stars.
Oh, and the stadium is the only soccer-specific venue in the area, something New York City F.C. certainly can’t boast. It is also right on the PATH line, a shorter trip from Manhattan than to Citi Field or Yankee Stadium.
Oh, and the team has twice won the Supporters Shield in the past four years for the best record in MLS. They also have three Eastern Conference titles in that stretch so there hasn’t been any shortage of winning. And yet the place remains embarrassingly short of capacity, an inexcusable issue.
The team and stadium are everything that New York-area soccer fans have begged for over the years. Stars such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have played here, young Americans and established national team stars from all over the world have called Red Bull Arena their home. But there is always an excuse.
Well, excuses need simply to stop.
The Red Bulls have hit a hard patch, a three-game losing streak and now their first home loss in over 13 months. The team faces Toronto FC on Friday night, a side atop the Eastern Conference and with plenty of star power.
The organization that splashed hundreds of millions on a sparkling arena and paid plenty for big star names over the years now needs payback.
It needs fans to show up on Friday night against an opponent that is as good as any in MLS. A win in a game like this can turn around a season.
Saying “It’s not an impossible task, we know how good we are at home,” head coach Jesse Marsch is hoping that the fans disguised as empty blue seats this past Sunday for the loss against the Galaxy show up this week to see a top-tier opponent but also spur his team back on track.
“The support we get from our fans is always at a high-level. I apologized to our fans after Sunday’s performance but in addition to that, we’ve been a really fun team at home. Over the last two years, you could go back even the last eight years and say this team has been fun to watch when we play at home. Certainly, we want our supporters groups to come out in big numbers, we want our fans to now come. It will be a beautiful Friday night, it will be a great chance for everybody to enjoy the night and most importantly support our teams, support our guys. We need a 12th man, that’s where we’re at right now. We need everybody behind this team, everyone in the organization. All or fans. We need to push this team through and help them become all they can be.”
The Red Bulls have seen attendance build in recent years as the club has enjoyed success under Marsch, a man who in his third year with the team is arguably the most successful head coach in franchise history. The team played poorly on Sunday against LA, a rare blip at home in a place that has become a fortress.
Captain Sacha Kljestan called the performance “an outlier” and he’s not wrong. This team is beyond solid at Red Bull Arena.
Now on Friday night, hopefully with the backing of their fans, they hope to turn around a season that has been sputtering despite showing promise.
“The day after there was anger, there was anger. I said ‘Let’s get over this’ and we’ve got a chance to right the wrong on Friday with the best team in the league coming to town. Ultimately in this business, it’s about the next moment, the next play, the next game, the next whatever,” Marsch said. “Right now we have a big chance to take a lot of negative energy that we felt from that and turn it into a positive and then go into a Saturday and Sunday feeling like ‘Alright, that was better.’ Ultimately we’ll find a lot about ourselves on Friday night.”
And perhaps we will also find out how much Red Bulls fans truly care about their team as well on Friday night.