Soccer

New York's first soccer specific stadium is the home of the New York Red Bulls

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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.

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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.

Giants Stadium was a lousy place to see a soccer match

Giants Stadium was a lousy place to see a soccer match

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.

New York Red Bulls fans fill up Red Bull Arena

New York Red Bulls fans fill up Red Bull Arena

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 Red Bulls have had more success since moving to Red Bull Arena

The Red Bulls have had more success since moving to Red Bull Arena

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.

Sports tragedies teach us that there are things way more important than winning

The world of football (soccer) has experienced two high profile tragedies over the last few weeks that have put things in perspective. Yes, we want our teams to be the best, to win titles, trophies, etc…. but at the end of the day, life is way more important than all of that.

Emiliano Sala was a 28-year-old Argentinian forward for French club Nantes. On January 19th he signed a contract with Cardiff of the English Premier League. He flew back to France to say goodbye to his teammates and take care of some personal business.

He boarded a small plan on January 21st in order to get to Cardiff and his first day of training with his new team the next day. The plane disappeared from radar over the English Channel and both he and the pilot David Ibbotson were gone.

The plane was finally discovered about two weeks later following an underwater search. The body of Sala was inside and recovered. The search for Ibbotson continues.

The outpouring of sadness and grief came from everywhere throughout the soccer world. Here was a young guy on the way to a new challenge that was taken away from the world by fate. It truly proves that no one, not even a highly paid professional athlete, is immune from tragedy. It also teaches everyone that life should be treasured and not taken for granted.

Just last week another awful event rocked the soccer world. Ten youth players between the ages of 14-16 were killed in a dormitory fire at the Flamengo training ground in Rio de Janeiro. An investigation has been launched but that will do nothing to replace the lives lost.

Football is a way of life in Brazil and many youngsters dream of becoming the next Neymar or Pele. Most of these kids were from poor families and the sport was their opportunity to escape poverty and make their dreams come true. We’ll never know who if any would have become professional players, but this tragedy has taken away that possibility.

Both of these horrific events are reminders that we should all appreciate the moment that we are in and value life each and every day!

Americans playing soccer abroad

18-year-old American Josh Sargent scores for Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga

18-year-old American Josh Sargent scores for Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga

Major League Soccer just celebrated its 25th year of existence. The league has grown exponentially since 1993 and is now comprised of 24 clubs.

In addition, MLS has also attracted some big name players over the years. The list includes household names such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, just to name a few. While many fans of the international game often claim that these well-known players come to the states for “retirement”, these stars have helped raise the profile of the domestic league.

To be fair, it is true that if you are a top athlete, playing soccer abroad gives you the chance to play at a higher level along with a larger pay scale. It works the same in other sports as well. Take for example NBA basketball. There are leagues in other countries throughout the world, but when players such as Dirk Nowitzki of Germany or Tony Parker of France get the chance to play professionally in the states they take it. The reason, the basketball league in the states is better than those back in their home countries. Right now there are 108 international players in the NBA.

It’s the same thing with soccer. The top leagues in the world are currently in Europe, followed by Mexico and South America. Then there are leagues like MLS, the Chinese Super League, Australia’s A-League and Japan’s J-League. So if you’re a player of the caliber of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, you are going to want to play in one of the more popular, prestigious and lucrative leagues in the world.

Chrisitan Pulisic currently plays for Borussia Dortmund but will join England’s Chelsea next season

Chrisitan Pulisic currently plays for Borussia Dortmund but will join England’s Chelsea next season

So for this fact, it’s very encouraging to see that currently there are 145 Americans playing soccer abroad.

Some of the more high profile Americans playing internationally include:

  • Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic who will be joining Premier League side next season.

  • 18-year-old Josh Sargent who is beginning his career with Werder Bremen of Germany’s Bundesliga.

  • Defender DeAndre Yedlin is currently a starter for England’s Newcastle United.

  • Striker Timothy Weah plays for Paris St. Germain and just joined Scotland’s Celtic on loan for the remainder of this season.

  • Goalie Ethan Horvath is the starting keeper for Brugge in Belgium’s top league.

The continued growth of MLS as well as the number of American born professional players is a sign that the state of the game in the United States is very bright.

Leicester City prove that sport is more than just a game

One of the reasons that people love sports so much is for the camaraderie that builds between fans and the club that they support. Part of the reason that I became a fan of soccer is for just that reason.

Everyone has heard of Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Boca Juniors and other well known teams from around the world. They have legions of fans, supporters all over the world and lots of money. However, there are tons of smaller teams throughout the world that do not have a global following or rich club owners. What they do have in common with the big clubs, is a supportive fan base.

Take for example, Chapecoense who currently play in Brazil’s Serie A. The small club from the south of Brazil has only been around since 1973 and for the most part played in obscurity in Brazil’s lower divisions. That was until they won promotion to the top league in 2014. They then became a Cinderella story when they reached the finals of the Copa Sudamericana in 2016.

Unfortunately the world learned about Chapecoense when the team’s plane crashed on its way to the finals in Colombia. 71 people were killed including almost the entire team. The outpouring from the soccer world was heartfelt and showed that the results on the pitch are always secondary to the human side of the game.

Similar scenes played out over the past two weeks at Leicester City. The team’s owner and chairman was one of five who lost their lives following a tragic helicopter crash outside of Leicester’s stadium.

The Foxes have been around in one form or another since 1884, but it wasn’t until Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha that the club gained worldwide prominence and acclaim. Defying the odds, Leicester City pulled off one of the greatest sporting miracles by winning the Premier League trophy for the 2015-2016 season.

Srivaddhanaprabha and his family were loved by Leicester supporters. The chairman attended many matches and would often leave the stadium by helicopter at the conclusion of matches. That is what he was doing when tragedy struck.

The outpouring from the players, the fans and the community of Leicester are proof that the club is more than just a sports entity. They are a family.

Flowers, scarves, t-shirts and more were laid outside the stadium in the chairman’s memory. Leicester players and the manager made the 6000 mile trip to the funeral in Bangkok at the conclusion of a match and then yesterday the city came together in tribute.

50,000 fans walked from Leicester city centre to the King Power Stadium before the game yesterday as a mark of respect. There was two minutes of silence prior to kick-off and a video of the former owner was shown inside the stadium.

Afterwards the entire club and the owner’s son thanked all sections of the stadium as the fans wearing special shirts and holding up scarves clapped along. Only a Grinch wouldn’t have been moved by the events.

The match was a rather drab 0-0, but on this day the result was of no consequence. It was all about a community and a club that were united as one.

Exploring the growth of soccer in early New York

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As a licensed New York City tour guide, I regularly introduce visitors to the history of NYC. As most people already know, New York was the city where over 20 million people first stepped foot in to the United States between 1855-1954.

I am also a huge football/soccer fan. That’s what led me to explore the idea of combining a history tour of New York immigrants and the impact that these newcomers had on the growth of soccer in New York. I was surprised by the amount of history there is for the sport of soccer in New York.

Part of the reason that immigrants came to New York was for the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Manhattan’s Lower East Side was a major center of garment manufacturing. Even bigger was the Harrison/Kearny area of northern New Jersey. It was one of the earliest centers for the sport in 19th century America.

Immigrant communities were drawn to this rapidly growing industrial region for job opportunities. These workers brought with them their love for soccer as well. Teams were formed by the various textile and garment plants scattered throughout the area and across the river from New York.

Amateur teams were springing up in other industrial regions such as New England and Philadelphia. This led to the organization of the American Football Association in 1884.

In 1885 the American Football Challenge Cup was established with thirteen teams involved; including New York Thistles, New York FC, Paterson FC, O. N. T. of Kearny, and teams from Newark, Connecticut and Fall River, Massachusetts.

This was the first non-league organizing body for the sport in the United States. It lasted until 1925 as soccer continued to grow throughout the country and competing organizations sprang up.

O. N. T. (short for Our New Thread defeated New York FC to win the first title in April 1885.

Welcome to Soccer Walks NYC

I have been a huge football/soccer fan since being introduced to the English Premier League in the late 90’s. Believe it or not, back then it wasn’t so easy to keep up with the sport. The games weren’t on local television and there were just a handful of pubs that showed matches from Europe and other top world leagues. The place to go back then was hands down Nevada Smiths. The place’s slogan said it all, “where football is religion”.

A typical gathering for an English Premier League match at Nevada Smiths back in the day.

A typical gathering for an English Premier League match at Nevada Smiths back in the day.

I had some friends from Ireland living in New York at the time that were big Manchester United fans. They invited me to go watch a match between United and Arsenal. I’ll never forget showing up at Nevada Smith’s at 7AM for a 12PM UK time kick off. Not only was the place packed, it was jumping. Fans from both sides were there singing, chanting and ready for the match. Of course there were some beverages being served at this early hour and there was a communal feeling in the air. It was hard not to get hooked.

The popularity of the sport has grown significantly since then and the number of matches that fans can now watch from home is huge. Regardless, it’s still great to get together with fellow fans and watch the match together.

Nevada Smiths is long gone, but its founder Jack Keane now runs a midtown location called The Football Factory where the list of matches and leagues shown is impressive.

This 2014 article from the UK’s The Guardian explains how the sports popularity here in NYC has grown over the years. When your ready, join us for a tour and then it’s off to the pub!

Manchester United fans celebrating a goal from Ryan Giggs as the Red Devils went on to defeat Wigan and wrap up the 2008 Premier League title.