On Thursday night, the Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls by that most comforting and glorious of scorelines, 3-1. Eddie Gaven, Andy Iro, and Emilio Renteria scored for the Massive visitors. The win on national TV vaulted the Crew into first place in the Eastern Conference, snapped the Crew’s 11-game road winless streak against the Red Bulls, and made for an exciting first visit to Red Bulla Arena.
But what I will remember most is the noise.
Never mind its traditionalist charms and ample amenities. Let it be known that Red Bull’s new $200 million soccer palace roars like a lion. And that lion-sized roar came out of a kitten-sized crowd of 11,940. My eardrums winced when I imagined what a sellout must sound like. With a packed house, the team shop could make a killing by selling soundproof earmuffs like those worn on the tarmac by airport employees. (The Red Bull logo on each muff, of course.)
Accustomed to the breezy openness of Crew Stadium, I found Red Bull Arena to be claustrophobic, but in a good way. The field is surrounded by three walls of blue seats, and a fourth wall of press boxes, broadcast booths, club seats, and luxury suites. The seating is stacked up in close proximity to the playing field, and it is all covered by a translucent polycarbonate and aluminum roofing structure that plays audio pinball with every peep and murmur, every gasp and groan, every boo, every hiss, every ‘oh’ from each near miss, every chant, every song, every insult when the ref’s done wrong, and the cathartic rejoicing from each fan’s soul when the Red Bulls actually score a goal.
The area around the stadium leaves a lot to be desired. A choir of high-pitched opera singers in a wine glass warehouse could not replicate the amount of broken glass found on the sidewalks in the surrounding areas. But there is promise of future development to come. Although it looks like a UFO landed in an abandoned lot, Red Bull Arena has risen from the empty decay to serve as a landmark beacon of hope for what this downtrodden area of Harrison can be. And until then, be assured that the moment you walk through the stadium gates, the outside world will cease to exist. The fan-friendly, game-focused design of Red Bull Arena ensures that soccer will be your world for the next few hours.
While constantly gawking at the awesomeness of Red Bull Arena, I said a little thank you to Lamar Hunt. Crew Stadium opened 11 years ago, and it was the first (and therefore most important) domino that eventually led to the creation of this marvelous soccer palace. While the Home Depot Center and other “second generation” MLS stadiums were an improvement over the humble experiment that was Crew Stadium, they weren’t a quantum leap from a fan’s perspective, especially when considering Crew Stadium’s historical significance and the fact that, well, it’s still an excellent place to watch a soccer game. And it always will be. But Red Bull Arena makes that quantum leap. Not just over Crew Stadium, but also the Home Depot Center and its brethren. Red Bull Arena is in a class all its own.
At the turn of the last decade, Crew Stadium was a required soccer pilgrimage for American soccer fans. At the turn of this decade, Red Bull Arena holds the same distinction. It’s a must-see.
With my arena slobbering out of the way, here’s a hastily slapped together Notebook that will consist of separate quote dumps about Red Bull Arena and the Crew’s traveling fan support, plus a few goofy follow-up and side items. Also, I posted two separate photo collections on the Crew’s official blog, the Black & Gold Standard, and those posts can be found at the following links:
THE CREW ON RED BULL ARENA
Robert Warzycha: “It’s great. There was a great atmosphere. I wish there were more people, to be honest with you. We had 11,000 people, but I think you need to fill the stadium to feel the real atmosphere of the real stadium.”
Eddie Gaven: “The stadium is awesome. It’s a hundred times better than Giants Stadium. It looks like a stadium from over in Europe somewhere.”
Danny O’Rourke: “The stadium is beautiful. To be honest, the field wasn’t as nice as I thought it was going to be. It was big and it looked nice, but the field was kinda slick and kinda hard. But other than that, you can tell that they did everything right with this place. Red Bull did a very good job.”
Jason Garey: “It’s unbelievable, man. Crew Stadium has a special place in all of our hearts, and it should, but this is the newest and shiniest stadium, and it’s unbelievable.”
William Hesmer: “I think it’s awesome. It’s a great stadium and I think it’s something that MLS should be very proud of. It’s really cool because you really feel like the fans are on top of you. It’s so loud. I didn’t think there were very many people here tonight, but it was still really loud and you could feel that energy on the field. It was really cool.”
Andy Iro: “It’s unbelievable. The stadium itself is exactly where soccer in America needs to go. The stadium is not overbearing, it’s not too big, and the people are very close to the pitch. The structure of the stadium is great. The roof comes over and allows the echo to roar around the stadium. It’s a great place to play. When we got off the bus and saw the field, we were like, ‘OK, it’s time to play.’ I think there’s a lot of energy in this place. I think it’s brilliant. Hopefully they will sell it out soon enough.”
Frankie Hejduk: “What a great stadium. I hope more like this come because it is a world-class arena. It’s how a soccer stadium should look. It’s about 25,000 and the roof hangs over to keep the noise in so that it’s loud. Once we get it like this all over, the sky’s the limit.”
Steven Lenhart: “It’s right on. This place is loud. Dude, they gotta pack it out. What are they doing? I thought it was a sweet arena. It was a lot of fun.”
THE CREW ON THE TOURING NORDECKE
In what was dubbed “Nordecke on Tour”, approximately 100 Crew fans filled a section in the upper deck, converting a barren, blue-seated wasteland into a flag-waving, smoke-spewing, song-singing hotbed of kinetic Crew craziness. Their numbers and their noisiness did not go unnoticed down on the field. Here’s what the players had to say about their Massive road support…
Jason Garey: “Our fans were unbelievable. When we were warming up, we could hear them coming up the concourse. We were like, ‘Is that them? Yep, that’s them!’ That was awesome. They were really loud the whole game and it helped us to have their presence up there. It was very cool. I’m glad we made it worthwhile for them.”
Frankie Hejduk: “I’m really happy they came. It was awesome. They were twice as loud as the Red Bull fans. That pumped us before the game. We were looking up at them and thinking, ‘Wow!’ It got us going. It really did, knowing that we had that support. It meant a lot knowing that people took time out of their day. That’s not a small trip. Hopefully they had a good time. We tried to give them one, and I think we did. We’re really psyched that they came all this way.”
Danny O’Rourke: “It was great to come out of here with a victory and then to be able to applaud them. Hopefully, if we keep doing well, they will follow us around the country. And if they do, hopefully we’ll keep producing for them.”
William Hesmer: “I can’t put into words how much it means to us to have that kind of dedication from our fans. When we see that commitment, and how passionate they are, that’s inspiring. In a tough game like this, when we are clawing in the 80th and 90th minute, I think their energy gives us a lot of help. I honestly believe that.”
Steven Lenhart: “Dude, that was so cool. What is it, 8 or 9 hours? Just to watch a soccer game? I don’t know that I could do that. That’s big time. That’s solid. I’m really glad they came. We definitely heard them and felt them. I hope they have a fun party on the way back.”
DANNY REFLECTS ON HIS RED CARD RECORD
For the first time all year, Danny O’Rourke did not get ejected from a Crew road game.
I am happy I got through 90 minutes,” he said. “It was nice to walk off the field with the whole team and not by myself.”
In the Crew’s previous road game in Seattle on May 1, O’Rourke set the Crew’s all-time record with his 5th career red card. In the Crew-Revs Notebook a week later, I spoke to Duncan Oughton and previous record-holder Mike Clark about Danny’s achievement. In New York, I finally got a chance to catch up with O’Rourke, who was happy that Clark wasn’t upset about losing the record. After all, an angry Clarkie is a dangerous Clarkie. Mindful of how the record had been passed from one Indiana Hoosier to another, O’Rourke has plans for the future.
I think I am going to try to keep this new record as close to the old record as possible for our fellow Hoosiers of the future,” said O’Rourke. “When they come to Columbus, I will welcome them to break my record. I don’t want to make the record so huge that future Crew Hoosiers have no chance to break it.”
In his high school days, O’Rourke used to watch Clark thump helpless forwards, and he said it’s tough to compare red cards across different MLS eras. A few weeks ago, Oughton had suggested that Clark would have earned at least ten more red cards had he played today.
I remember watching Clark play,” O’Rourke said. “His thunder calves were a force to be reckoned with, so in this day and age, I mean, how would Kareem Abdul-Jabbar do in the NBA now?”
His rhetorical question hung in the air for a moment.
I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “I blanked out.”
As for Oughton’s suggestion that Danny will get a red card celebrating his first career goal, O’Rourke didn’t seem to think it was a legitimate concern.
That would be ironic, but let’s face it, we should all kiss our families goodbye if I ever score a goal,” he said. “The end would be near. That’s one of the stories in Revelation.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: O’ROURKE GOALLESSNESS EDITION
Former Crew and current RSL player Chris Wingert scored his first career goal on Saturday night versus Chivas USA. Wingert entered the game with 147 scoreless regular season appearances, but he has now knocked himself off the list of MLS players who have made the most appearances in a scoreless career. In doing so, Wingert has bumped Danny O up another notch. O’Rourke is now second among active players and fourth all-time when it comes to league appearances without ever scoring a single goal.
1. Brandon Prideaux (retired): 252
2. Chris Leitch (Earthquakes): 172
3. Rusty Pierce (retired): 155
4. Danny O’Rourke (Crew): 127
It’s funny to see two local boys— Leitch is from Pickerington— leading the way amongst active players. Pittsburgh is the Cradle of Quarterbacks; Miami of Ohio is the Cradle of Coaches; Columbus is the Cradle of Can’t Score a Goal.
LENHART’S ALMOST OOPSIE
In the second half, Crew forward Steven Lenhart snapped off a beautiful header that whizzed past the goal post and out of play. He just missed the side netting. These things happen…but they don’t typically happen at the defensive end of the field. Lenhart had narrowly missed a dreaded own-goal.
Our talk about the incident quickly turned into a conversation between Steve and a teammate…
ME: You almost scored one there at the wrong end.
LENHART: I just wanted to score. I always want to score. Dude, it’s a lot different going the other way. I had to remind myself that we weren’t doing crossing and finishing drills on Will.
O’ROURKE: If I would have known you were going back post, I would have made that run and tapped it in for you.
ME: Danny, we’ve already been over this. Those don’t count as scoring a goal. It has to be in the other team’s goal.
LENHART: Dude, have you ever scored an own goal?
LENHART: You’ve NEVER scored an own goal?
O’ROURKE: Never. I’ve never scored a goal in either goal.
LENHART: Dude, that’s amazing.
FUMBLAYA, FUMBLEROONI, FUMBLEROOSKI
As Craig Merz wrote about back on April Fool’s Day, Eddie Gaven is the Crew’s chief practitioner of the fumble game, which basically means he goes around knocking stuff out of people’s hands when they aren’t paying attention. His chief rival in the fumble game is Danny O’Rourke.
As Gaven spoke to the assembled media, O’Rourke came up from behind and smacked Gaven’s beverage from his hand. As the bottle thudded to the floor, O’Rourke happily said “fuuuummm-blllllle” in a sing-song voice as he walked back to his locker, then noted that it was the second time that he had caused Gaven to fumble since the game had ended.
I’m a little bit distracted right now, but yeah, he’s got me twice,” grumbled Gaven.
O’Rourke was in no mood to hear excuses.
He was the MVP of the game, and it was well deserved, but he is not the MVP of the fumble game,” O’Rourke said. “He’s a long way off. He’s got a lot to learn.”
O’Rourke didn’t seem too worried about retaliation later that night.
We’re roommates, so we have a ‘no fumble’ rule once you come through the door,” he explained. “You don’t want to be sleeping and have someone fumble the pillow right out from under your head, so it’s a solid rule.”
THE COOLEST PICTURE EVER
I cannot get enough of this photo of Emilio Renteria running to the corner flag after icing the game with an 83rd minute breakaway. New York had scored just two minutes earlier, trimming the Crew’s lead to 2-1. The Empire Supporters Club celebrated behind the south goal with an arsenal of smoke bombs. While the celebratory smoke still wafted through the Jersey air, Renteria scored a dagger right in front of the New York supporters. This photo makes it look like Emilio scored in a war zone, but the smoke was really just the smoldering remains of New York’s extinguished glimmer of hope. What an amazing image.
[Chris Trotman/Getty Images]
Questions? Comments? Care to share your own thoughts of Red Bull Arena from a traveling fans perspective if you can actually remember anything from the bus trip? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment via Twitter @stevesirk
Steve Sirk is a contributor to TheCrew.com. His first book, “A Massive Season”, which chronicles the Crew’s 2008 MLS Cup championship campaign, is currently available at the Crew Gear store and Amazon.com. This article was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.