The energy at Red Bull Arena Saturday night was fueled by old-fashioned passion and alcohol. The passion not to fight the foes on the field, but rather those across the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean.
What may not have been understood by some of those in attendance solely present to see Clint Dempsey or those watching on TV, was the sense of community and club commitment long absent from the team. Over the years, informed fans recognize the differences between the club’s employees and management based in New Jersey and the corporate management in Austria. The name, kits and arena are marketing tools, but fans “Love the Club, Hate the Brand.”
The NYisRed tifo and the MetroStar banner tapped into an energy and pride that fans and supporters feel that loyal customers cannot. And having a club legend as coach, for all of his growing pains, has created a symbolic figure if only for those fans. For all the blueberry Red Bull Mike Petke pounds on the bench, he won’t be in any multi-national ad campaign.
This is a not a rail against corporate ownership in US sports, but rather issue with unresponsive and stubborn management that continually failed to accept and adjust to common practices of successful Major League Soccer clubs.
For the last two seasons the community of fans and local club officials are slowly reclaiming the club back, however, it is not without a price. Most notably, New York have not acquired a third DP since Rafa Márquez left at the end of 2012. While under the radar, but perhaps more important to the club’s long-term growth, earlier this month Sporting Director Andy Roxbough announced the club will abandon plans for a USL-Pro team. A USL-Pro team, similar to Galaxy II, would have played in Hanover, NJ, making them the second professional soccer team in New Jersey. In an interview on the MLS website, Petke said “Red Bull Global felt that it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
It would have been the right thing to do for Red Bull New York, and in the long run probably all the Red Bull football clubs. The Red Bull’s academies both in the metro area and regionally are among the best in the country. The US academy could make up for the lack of South American scouting that every other MLS club does better than New York.
Rather the “Austrian Overlords,” the phrase coined by Seeing Red’s Mark Fishkin, have moved attention and resources to RasenBallsport Leipzig or Leipzig Lawn Ball Sports. German football fans, recognizing the financial might of Red Bull, must make a faustian bargain: fight Red Bull’s questionable means of obtaining ownership of the club or continue to have the Bundesliga dominated by Bayern Munich.
The corporate ownership is not going well with some clubs and fans in German. The German football club ownership model requires the club’s members own 50% + 1 share of the organization so no single entity can take controlling ownership. RB Leipzig has 7 owners, all who work for Red Bull.
RB Leipzig’s notoriety outside of Germany has been a mixed bag. The team rocketed from the 4th division to 2. Bundesliga in a few seasons by outspending league competitors. They signed US National Team German-American Terrence Boyd this season, but he suffered an unfortunate ACL tear in a preseason friendly. This past weekend, Leipzig was the object of the most artistic and eery fan protest of the season at Union Berlin’s Alte Försterei stadium. For the first fifteen minutes of the Union Berlin – RB Leipzig match 20,000 spectators wearing black ponchos remained silent in protest for the dying football culture in Leipzig.
Union Berlin and the other German clubs in defiance of Red Bull recognize what long-time supporters of New York’s franchise have experienced. The club’s local employees and fans are fighting to revive a soccer culture from it’s sugar comma. Saturday, though symbolic, felt like a giant step toward a larger cultural club autonomy.
It is far fetched that the club will embrace it’s local history as the Philadelphia Union with Bethlehem Steel. No Kearny Scots, Clark ONT, or even MetroStar kits for the New York charter franchise. But that small symbolic nod to the club’s origins gave the die-hard fan-base wings new life.
This Week’s Throw-In:
- I am not sure how noticeable it was on the broadcast, but the best battle of the Red Bulls – Seattle Sounders match was between Thierry Henry and Osvaldo Alonso. Henry was effectively marked out of the game when he moved toward the middle. Henry became a decoy and allowed the wide players from NY to attack the Sounders backline. If Seattle played a different back four or had Brad Evans in the midfield it might have been a close match.
- The quality in the Eastern Conference has improved as four teams in the middle of the pack have been in good run of form since mid-August. The Columbus Crew have only dropped 5 points out of 18 since defeating LA 4-1 on August 16th. Before losing this weekend, the New England Revolution won 5 straight. The Union only have 1 loss since August 1 Finally, the Red Bulls since August 2nd are 5-2-1.
- Robbie Keane will likely finish top 5 in goals and assists again and not win the MVP. The narrative is against him, as Landon Donovan, Lee Nguyen and Bradley Wright-Phillips are all getting more attention. In a just world the finalists thus far would be Keane, Obafemi Martins, and Wright-Phillips, but to quote Alexi Lalas “life isn’t fair and soccer isn’t fair.”