Time is Now for New York

By Jeff Kassouf

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If the New York Red Bulls cannot attract new fans after Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, then they might as well just hang up the cleats. 66,237 people turned out to see Beckham make his first MLS start, but they weren’t all star-gazers.

The boisterous crowd booed Beckham on every set piece, though he was initially able to quiet them with two assists in the first eight minutes. Taking this one in from the stands instead of the press box, I was able to get a genuine feel for the crowd.

Though there were certainly a good number there supporting Beckham and the Galaxy, Red Bulls fans did dominate the landscape. They erupted each of the five times that New York found the back of the net, and the regular fans of the Empire Supporters Club, among others, taunted anyone and everyone with a Beckham jersey.

Beckham may have been booed throughout the game, but the fact was that people were there to see him. The Red Bulls averaged a pathetic 11,573 fans per game entering the contest, and surely the extra 55,000 plus did not turn out to see Alan Gordon or Ty Harden.

Any idiot can tell you that Beckham produced the crowd, but it was the perfect night to fall in love with soccer. The new fans in attendance were either new to MLS and supporters of international soccer or just new to professional soccer in general. Either way, they were treated to the most entertaining game that I have ever seen MLS teams produce.

Yes, I remember other thrilling games like when the then Metrostars traveled to San Jose and the two walked away with five goals each, and obviously MLS Cup games are always dramatic with a championship on the line. But really, could this have been more of a perfect game?

Common misconceptions from the casual fan about soccer include the fact that it is boring, there is not enough scoring, or even just that Major League Soccer doesn’t have talent. With the world watching, this game put all of that to rest. An exciting 5-4 thriller kept eyes fixated on the field, and to use the cliché that if you blinked you missed something is not an overstatement.

It’s a given that Beckham can attract that crowd, but an amazing game such as that could convert soccer bashers into full-time supporters. The only hope is that it is what actually happens, at least in New York. If the Red Bulls can’t find a way to convert at least a few thousand of those 55,000 or so extra fans into regulars after that game, then it is just not meant to be.

These casual fans were treated to the game of their lives in what was possibly their first ever MLS game. Can they expect a game like that every time they come? No. But, they can expect a high level of soccer and great entertainment from the likes of Juan Pablo Angel, Jozy Altidore, Dane Richards, and visiting teams at every game.

Saturday’s game alone, in the world’s biggest market, warrants giving MLS at least a few more tries for those new to the game. Red Bull Park is behind schedule, but it’s time for New York’s front office to do some aftermarketing on these folks and get those fans to Giants’ Stadium until they can show them an even better time in Harrison. Saturday was not the norm for MLS, but everything from the crowd to the excitement on the pitch was a glimpse of what could be.

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