Come on over to Red Bull Arena! The train takes you right there, and it’s beautiful! Say, while you’re here, have you ever played goalkeeper? Tell you what — go stand over there and try to stop this …
Trophies: Shut up. Who asked you? 2004 La Manga Cup. So there.
Fan personality: You have to give all kinds of credit to supporters who have stuck with a team that never seems to get everything together. Empire Supporters Club has been loyal from the start, and the supporters groups are willing to hold their team accountable when the staff, say, puts forth a less-than-credible effort in the Open Cup.
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Stadium situation: After years in cavernous, inaccessible Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls got a massive boost with the construction of Red Bull Arena. Just off the PATH train from downtown Manhattan. Soccer-specific to the extreme. Red Bulls fans (and detractors) can complain about many things. Not this. And now it’s one of many things they can hold over longtime rival D.C. United.
The New York/New Jersey MLS team launched as the MetroStars and set an unfortunate tone at its first home game with a 90th-minute game-losing own goal from Italian defender Nicola Caricola. They also had the misfortune of being the home team of Soccer America‘s anagram-loving columnist, Paul Gardner, who coined the term “RotMasters.”
Still, the MetroStars were always up for a good fight. They won one of the most bizarre playoff games in MLS history in the 11th round of the since-discarded shootout against eventual champion D.C. United in 1996. Roberto Donadoni played his way back onto the Italian national team with great performances. And the team cycled through countless players and coaches.
In 2000, they got the biggest MLS signing of the pre-Beckham era, Lothar Matthäus. His commitment to the team seemed a little shaky, though veteran Mark Semioli strongly defended him in Long-Range Goals. And with Clint Mathis also in the mix, the MetroStars finished first in the East before faltering in the playoffs. In 2001, they beat Bayern Munich in Giants Stadium. In 2004, they won the preseason La Manga Cup and had an MVP in Amado Guevara.
Good young talent has flowed through New Jersey throughout team history. Tim Howard, now Everton’s rock-solid goalkeeper, got his pro start here before transferring to some club called Manchester United. Michael Bradley, son of then-coach Bob Bradley, debuted with the MetroStars as a teenager. Then Jozy Altidore broke through with some spectacular goals before moving overseas.
Enter Austrian energy-drink manufacturer Red Bull, which thrives on a diversified sports portfolio. Before the 2006 season, they bought the MetroStars, rebranded them immediately and began to shake up the team. Midway through the season, they hired Bruce Arena, who had just finished an eight-year run with the national team. Arena’s rebuilding seemed to be going well, but after a 2007 playoff loss undoubtedly affected by injuries to Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel, Arena and the Red Bulls parted ways.
The high point so far has been 2008. After several false starts, construction began in earnest on Red Bull Arena. The team that some thought cursed found some good luck — when goalkeeper Danny Cepero was pressed into service, he acquitted himself well and actually scored, the first goalkeeper’s goal in MLS history. Cepero was in goal when the Red Bulls won at Salt Lake behind a Dave van den Bergh goal to reach the MLS Cup final.
Then it fell apart quickly. The Red Bulls gave a good account of themselves in that final but had a dreadful 2009 season. Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, hailed as a genius in 2008, didn’t make it through the year.
The Red Bulls were back up quickly under Hans Backe in 2010, finishing atop the East and landing Thierry Henry. But after winning the away leg of the playoff quarterfinal at San Jose, the Red Bulls somehow lost at home. That paved the way for an infuriating 2011. After another wayward year, the Red Bulls turned over half the team, parted with Backe, and hired longtime defender Mike Petke as interim … oh, what the heck, let’s make him permanent coach.