When the New York/New Jersey MetroStars began play in 1996 they called Giants Stadium home. It was apparent early on that Giants Stadium was not an ideal place to watch a soccer game. The layout of the stadium and the sight lines were built for football. It also had synthetic turf instead of natural grass. To say that watching a soccer match at Giants Stadium was no ideal would be an understatement.
Giants Stadium had previously been used by the New York Cosmos of the NASL. (In fact, Pele’s played the last match of his career at the stadium in 1977.) It also played host to matches during the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. It also hosted many international matches and friendlies.
Change would come, but it would take another 20 years.
The MetroStars became the New York Red Bulls in 2006 when they were purchased by the Austrian energy drink of the same name. The team continued to play at Giants Stadium, but Red Bull had plans to build a soccer specific stadium for the team.
The wait was worth it.
Red Bull Arena officially opened in 2010 with Red Bulls facing Santos of Brazil. The stadium is in Harrison, New Jersey, not far from Newark. It seats 25,000, has 30 luxury Skyboxes and 1,000 club seats.
During the Giants Stadium era, even when there was a good crowd on hand, it looked empty in the 77,000-seat arena. There were seas of empty seats and the atmosphere was terrible.
Now, a match at Red Bull Arena is an amazing experience. Because of the design, the stadium is always loud, regardless if there is a full house of 25,000 on hand or a modest gathering. The sight lines were built for soccer, so every seat has a great view of the pitch.
The signature feature of the stadium is the curved roof. It’s made of Teflon and it’s translucent, so it lets some light through. It also protects the fans from the elements. If there’s rain, the field and the players will be out in the rain, but all the seats are covered.
While the stadium features an incredible fan experience, perhaps the most important feature of Red Bull Arena is the pitch. The natural grass field is what soccer was meant to be played on and the Red Bulls have one of the best fields of play in MLS.
Compare Red Bull Arena to Yankee Stadium with New York City FC currently play. It’s a legendary stadium full of history. However, it is a baseball stadium and the home of the Yankees. It was never built for soccer and watching a match in the Bronx is not a great experience. NYCFC must look at Red Bull Arena with a pang of jealousy.
The only thing that needs to be worked on to truly make Red Bull Arena an amazing venue to visit is the Harrison train station. On match days it gets overly crowded and is incapable of handling a crowd. This creates a dangerous environment for fans trying to enter or exit the station. It’s especially dangerous for families with small children. The stadium has been open now for almost ten years so it’s a shame that this situation still hasn’t been addressed. Fix this and Red Bull Arena will be a great place for a soccer outing.