One Night in Harrison

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

With a purpose built facility and a legend on the pitch, Red Bull Arena is unquestionably the finest football stadium in the Northeast. But, does the experience match the environment? The fine chaps at New York Red Bulls invited us over to Harrison to find out.

Azteca. Craven Cottage. Emirates. White Hart Lane.

These are the arenas that have shaped my perception of football. The stages that not only introduced me to the game proper, but to expectations of football fandom. Each has unique sounds, a unique spirit, and further more a unique engagement with the local environment. In these places I’ve viewed Champions League matches (Arsenal and Standard Liege), internationals (a thrilling qualifier between Mexico and the USA), and a local derby (Fulham away at Tottenham). I’ve also seen the USA play friendlies everywhere from an almost make-shift stadium in New Britain, CT (where Claudio Reyna made a strong impact against Colin Hendry’s Scotland side) to the cavernous Foxboro Stadium (on a sad day in 1995 that saw England fall to the Stars and Stripes).

Glorious evenings all, the pitch and its inherent character lends much to my belief in football as the ultimate fan experience.

On June 6, 2011, I hopped the PATH from Christopher Street on route to Harrison, NJ. I’d been to one MLS game prior – actually a North American SuperLiga match pitting Chivas against DC United. The atmosphere, even in the appalling confines of RFK, was rather electric, a solid combination of Latin drums and psuedo-English song. That experience prompted positive reaction to professional American soccer and piqued interest (slowly quenched) for future sporting excursion.

With previous memory in hand, I boarded the PATH and made my way to Red Bull. A short journey, one which succeeded in building anticipation for the brief walk from station to field. My cousins hold seats at Fulham, the walk there – along the Thames – is glorious for setting the scene and camaraderie among the fans.

Unfortunately, the walk from Harrison Station to the Red Bull ground is rather barren. Our car included a few fellow fans, so not all was lost. For the lack of ambiance outside, however, inside is full of cheer… at times reaching fervor… and distinct to the team. Cheers grow from the core supporters section, where drums meet song to keep the energy high. The stadium, which seats over 25,000, has capacity to roar. Even at roughly half full, there is a heart beat and a stern interest in the squad.

With several players – include Juan Agudelo – out on international duty, both Red Bull and the opposing Columbus Crew played admirably. At times, they played fluidly, with shape close passing across the midfield for both sides.

These are the times the crowd perked. A solid sign, one that proved that interest in football was (at least as strong) as a solid night out and a savory brazilian sausage.

At nights end, the score stood 1 all. It was the correct tally.

Football draws, for commonality, are a great test of ground. On June 6, the Red Bull Arena proved a valuable showcase for the American game… and, with just a little further push, one that can match level of play with level of experience.

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