Friday, April 16, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Week #4 vs. Steers

After two straight west coast road matches, the Red Bulls return to banks of the Passaic to face an FC Dallas squad that's posted impressive draws against 2009 playoff teams Houston and Columbus.  What Dallas is missing in home support it has in scoring threats Jeff Cunningham, Atiba Harris, and David Ferriera. FCD also has a lot of momentum, winning 5 of 6 to end last season, plus the two draws so far in 2010.  While two goals allowed (only one by the opposition) in three matches is a nice defensive streak, New York needs to find some offense, and soon..  Angel is still looking for his first tally, and the Red Bulls need to develop their attack up the center of the field, not just provide service the wings.  Will New York keep the home mojo going? Let's dig into the two sides and see how they match up:

Record, League Position, and Recent Form:
New York, 6 points from 3 matches, +0 GD, 4th, LWW
FC Dallas, 2 points from 2 matches, +0 GD, 14th, DD

Dallas' front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Jeff Cunningham and David Ferriera vs. Roy Miller, Mike Petke, Tim Ream and Jeremy Hall (and Bouna Coundoul). Cunningham scored on a pk last week v the Crew to open his 2010 account, and even at age 33, is always a scoring threat.  Colombian international Ferriera was a majority contributor last season (8g/7a).  Coundoul needs to move past his gaffe at Chivas last week and show the his club that he can be counted on.  Hall remains a liability against speedy attackers like Harris, but Ream and Petke in the middle are solid. Slight Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Hoops' defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and Salou Ibrahim vs. Health Pearce, Ugo Ihemelu, George John, and Jair Benitez (and Kevin Hartman). The JPA goal drought reached three matches last week, and without quality service, will extend into another week.  Angel has yet to get the ball at his feet or front of him to run on, which is what he needs to score. I have Ibrahim getting the nod up front.  The Belgian did well in a substitution role last week.  Hartman still has it, and FCD will pack the back on the road, hoping for a draw.  Advantage: Dallas

The Midfields:
Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Mac Kandji, and Seth Stammler vs. Dax McCarty, former Metro Daniel Hernandez, Atiba Harris, and Brek Shea. With new signing Brian Nielsen about to join the club, this may be the last week Richards gets the starting nod.  Lindpere needs to push the attack through the center of the field to be effective. Robinson may be ready to play in D-mid for New York. For Dallas, McCarty has a national-team career ahead of him, and Harris (at 6'3") will put pressure on the Red Bulls' centerbacks. Hernandez gets a warm welcome in his return to NY. Slight Advantage: Dallas

The Coaches:
Hans Backe was publicly critical of his team's effort against Chivas last week.  Until reinforcements come in, Backe has to press his team's need to take home points.  How New York rebounds from last week's loss will be telling.  Schellas Hyndman has "all the players on board" as Buzz Carrick said on this week's podcast. Despite not winning yet in 2010, he has his team playing with confidence Advantage: Dallas

While Red Bull Arena may be loud, it could be a lot more empty than the last home game as Dallas offers little in terms of drawing power.  The weather may play to the Estonian Express' advantage, with a forecast of drizzle and the mid-40s by game time.  Getting the first goal tomorrow night will be key.  If Coundoul allows a soft goal, it may get ugly  Advantage: Push

While NY's offense has been suspect, defending is the club's strength.  Dallas comes in aiming for a point, and with goals by Harris and Lindpere, that's just what they'll get.  A 1-1 draw.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Game #3 at Goats

Did you have the Red Bulls as undefeated after two matches?  Me neither.  After a fantastic defensive performance at Seattle, New York makes its second West Coast trip in as many weeks to take on a deflated Chivas team (4p ET, MSG) that's come out of the gate flat as a pancake.  The Goats followed up a 0-1 opening day home loss to Colorado with an 0-2 "road" loss at the HDC to the Galaxy.  While the Red Bulls haven't exactly burned the nets down up front, the team's confidence should be sky-high against a club that's yet to score.  Let's take a line-by-line look at tomorrow's match.

Record, League Position, and Recent Form:
Chivas USA, 0 points from 2 matches, -3 GD, t14th, LL
New York, 6 points from 2 matches, +2 GD, 2nd, WW

Chivas' front line vs. the Red Bull's defense:
Maykel Galindo and Justin Braun vs. Roy Miller, Mike Petke, Tim Ream and Jeremy Hall (and Bouna Coundoul). Galindo has seen better days, but Justin Braun has the potential to grow into a quality MLS finisher. Still, they and reserves Chukwudi Chijindu (best name in the league) and Maicon Santos have yet to find the net.  Yes, the Red Bulls will allow goals this season.  However, New York has effectively shut down two quality attacking sides in Chicago and Seattle.  The Chivas front line isn't as strong as those playoff contenders.  Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Goats' defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and Mac Kandji vs. Michael Umana, Michael Trujillo, Ante Jazic, and Jonathan Bornstein (and Dan Kennedy). After another week of healing for JPA, and another week of practice connecting with Joel Lindpere, this may be the week that Angel hits the net.  Kandji's confidence has to be huge after last week's game-winner.  Chivas' defense has allowed goals to Rapids' sniper Omar Cummings and two to a rejuvenated Edson Buddle of the Galaxy.  New York's attackers fit nicely in with this group  Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Seth Stammler vs. Sacha Kljestan, Osael Romero, Blair Gavin, and Marcelo Saragosa. Stammler was the man last week in d-mid, cutting out Sounders passes and snuffing scoring opportunities.  Look for Lindpere to generate more offense than last week's match.  Hope for Dane Richards to play like he did against Santos. For Chivas, Kljestan should make the US roster for South Africa as a backup, but there's not enough talent here to effectively control the center of the field.  Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
New York's Hans Backe returns to the sideline quickly after gallbladder surgery.  Backe has his team playing cohesively, and has won a match in league play. Chivas' Martin Vasquez hasn't.  Vasquez needs to get primal to motivate his side, because an 0-3 start (0-2 at home) will turn a long April into a long season. Advantage: New York

A loss, and Chivas will see any promise of a successful 2010 season ebb away.  However, a team disrespected and backed into a corner can be extremely dangerous.  New York, unexpectedly at the top of East after two weeks, may take the foot off the gas a bit knowing there'll be winnable home matches coming up vs. Dallas and Philadelphia. Advantage: Chivas

Prediction: On the week's Seeing Red, I called this match as a 1-1 draw, but breaking it down this way, I can't see Chivas getting a point here.  Angel opens his scoring account, and sub Salou Ibrahim adds another in a 2-nil New York win.

Finally, a thank you from the Red Bulls to the schedule maker.  After this week, NY will have played half of the club's four league matches in the Pacific Time Zone this season.  The third will come on May 8th (at San Jose), the 7th MLS match of the season.  Nice!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Game #2 at Green Ravers

While New York has to be satisfied with last week's 1-0 home win v Chicago, there's still lots of room for improvement, especially in the midfield. The Red Bulls get DM Robinson back, but on Seattle plastic pitch, will a still-rusty Angel get the start (10:30p Saturday on FSC)? Will he play?  Seattle started the 2010 season with a 2-0 home shutout last week v Philly, but as Steve Clare notes our Seeing Red podcast this week, the Sounders were playing an expansion team that was down a man for most of the match.  They also can do a lot better, but will play without injured underwear model Freddy Ljungberg.  Can New York come away with a point or, even better?  Let's dive in.

Position and Recent Form:
Seattle, 3 pts from 1 match, t4th, W
New York, 3 pts from 1 match, t7th, W

The Seattle forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Fredy Montero and Pat Noonan vs. Roy Miller, Mike Petke, Tim Ream and Jeremy Hall (and Bouna Coundoul). Fredy feasted on the Red Bulls' defense last year, scoring three times in Seattle's win and draw vs New York.  Montero had a goal and an assist last week in the season opener.  Recent signee Pat Noonan is a question mark filling in for Ljungberg, but the MLS veteran is a proven scorer (45 goals all-time) who loves to play the MetroBulls.  The Red Bulls' backline continues to play well, though keeper Coundoul had an adventure or two last week on the way to the shutout of Chicago.  Ream and Petke have been rock-solid in the middle.  Montero's game is on another level, though. Advantage: Seattle

New York's attackers vs. the Sounders' defense:
Juan Agudelo and Mac Kandji vs. Zach Scott, Tyrone Marshall, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Leo Gonzalez (and Kasey Keller). I'm going to out on a limb and say that Hans Backe will rest "big Juan A" Juan Pablo Angel given his lack of match-fitness and Qwest's artificial turf.  The untested 17-year old rookie "little Juan A" Agudelo will get the nod.  Mac Kandji showed little last week, but Backe needs his veteran presence on the field with the first-timer. Seattle allowed less than a goal per game last season, with the ageless wonder Keller in the net. If New York punches through, it'll be a surprise.  Advantage: Seattle

The Midfields:
Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Carl Robinson vs. Roger Levesque, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani . Evans scored the first goal of the MLS season last week, and is a budding star who has already logged time with the US National Team. Alonso is quality, and Zakuani is coming off a 4 goal/4 assist rookie season. For New York, the Estonian Express is the story of the season to date, with goals in his last two outings.  The midfield will be lifted and settled by the inclusion of Robinson, who's put his visa issues behind him.  Richards was off last week for sure, but hopefully his speed on the fake turf will allow him to rise above. Slight Advantage: Seattle

The Coaches:
Sigi Schmid is Sigi Schmid. Bigger than life. Just plain big. Wears scarves. MLS Cup champ with two different teams. Hans Backe has won championships, too, and is still learning MLS. Advantage: Push

Forecast is for a low of 38 degrees and, surprise, showers, just the type of weather that Lindpere likes. Still, Seattle is 8-2-6 all-time in MLS play at Qwest, and nearly 40,000 Sounders loonies and the Soundwave band will generate the best MLS home-field advantage West of Toronto.  If you haven't seen the MLS Gameday 360 video of SEA-PHIL from last week, do so.  The "Seattle!  Sounders!" chant gave me chills. Advantage: Seattle

Prediction: The New York Red Bulls haven't won a regular-season match away from home since a 2-1 win in LA on May 10, 2008.  They will on the road this season, but not tomorrow night.  It's just too tall an order.  I see Sounders goals from Montero and Zakuani in a 2-nil Seattle victory.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Listen Up!

Two audio appearances this week.  First is the ever-growing "Around The League," a weekly whip around MLS with correspondents for every club.  I serve as your humble voice of RBNY.  Next is this week's Seeing Red, where Nat, Dave and I breakdown the Red Bulls' 1-0 win v Chicago, chat up Steve Clare of Seattle's Prost Amerika, and answer listener email.

Give us a try, won't you?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Game #1 vs. Fi-yah

After last Saturday's sparkling Red Bull Arena opening match v Santos FC, New Yawk launches into the 2010 MLS season at home v. Chicago.  After a 7-0-3 preseason, can RBNY ride the wave of optimism into a tough opponent that narrowly missed last season's MLS Cup by a missed pk?  No doubt the new soccer management and additions to the Red Bulls' roster has rejuvenated once of the worst clubs in MLS history, but if the coach & GM are "terrified," what does that say for the boys wearing the bulls & sun on their shirts?  Read on as we break down tomorrow night's match (ESPN, 6:55p ET), line-by-line style:

The Chicago forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Collins John & Brian McBride vs. Roy Miller, Mike Petke, Tim Ream and Jeremy Hall (and Bouna Coundoul). Fulham's own Brian McBreak led the 2009 Fire with seven goals, but won't have the legendary Temoc Blanco providing excellent service.  Collins John may just be a breakout star in MLS but the Liberian, who had time in the English and Dutch leagues, may take a while to adjust to the domestic league.  Red Bulls fans have to be overjoyed with the way the back line performed in the preseason, allowing just four goals in ten preseason matches.  Tim Ream looked so composed v. Santos last week that many have named him a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. Coundoul had many strong saves against Santos. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Fire defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and Mac Kandji vs. Wilman Conde, Kristof Krol, Logan Pause, and Dasan Robinson (and and Andrew Dykstra). So you're a good team, and your keeper played every minute of every match in a very successful 2009.  So what do you do?  You cut him! Chicago will go with untested Andrew Dykstra in the net this season after cutting MLS vet Jon Busch.  No, I don't get it either.  Polish D Krol joins a very good defense that allowed only 1.13 goals per game in 2009. Angel, who is nearly recovered from a horrid tackle by TFC's de Guzman on February 27th, should be able to go at least 45 minutes tomorrow night.  Finally playing on a home grass surface, JPA will certainly be among the league scoring leaders by season's end.  Kandji drew a free kick that led to a goal v. Santos, and set up another with a perfect pass to Richards last week.  Will these two finally mesh? Advantage (if Busch was with Fire): Push.  Advantage (with Dykstra in net): New York

The Midfields:
Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Carl Robinson (or Seth Stammler) vs. Justin Mapp, Julio Martinez, Marco Pappa, and John Thorrington. Veterans Mapp, Pappa, and Thorrington know how to maintain possession.  With Blanco (5g, 8a) gone, Guatemalan Pappa (5g, 4a in 2009) will serve as the new midfield engine for the Fire. Winger Martinez joins the club on loan from Mexican 2nd division club Leon.  For New York, Lindpere has already been a massive upgrade over Jorge Rojas.  Richards scored a world-class goal v Santos last week, and if he's fully recovered from the knock he received in the 2nd half, he'll be flying down the right flank once again.  Robinson is currently in Toronto, trying to get his work visa. Viva government bureaucracy! Slight Advantage: Chicago

The Coaches:
Both clubs bring veteran coaches into their first MLS matches.  Swede Hans Backe has certainly won over the NY soccer media with his straight-up style, and the players say they all know their roles on the field with him at the helm.  The Fire's Carlos de los Cobos has coached the Salvadoran National Team as well as Tigres and Club America in Mexico. Advantage: Push

Unlike last week, the temperature should only be in the upper 30's around kickoff.  The match will be a sellout, and the Fire will be bringing over 200 fans to the match.  New York will try to ride the wave of support from last week's fantastic friendly win. The Red Bulls supporters clubs will need to unify their voices across the South Ward to be heard loudly and proudly.  If Chicago scores early, the crowd may be taken out of the match.  Still, hard to imagine NY not getting the advantage at home in front of a national TV audience. Advantage: New York

Prediction: Chicago has been picked by many as an MLS Cup Finalist, though the Fire's key player tomorrow will be the untested Fire G Dykstra.  A shaky start or a soft goal allowed, and the youngster will want to dig a hole & climb on in. The Red Bulls get goals from Angel and late sub Conor Chinn and earn a hard-fought 2-nil victory.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thoughts and Pics from Opening Night at Red Bull Arena

There have been very few "perfect soccer days" in my life.  Gio's bike for Metro v Tampa in '96.  Watching the US beat Mexico in the 2002 WC from Nathan Hale's in lower Manhattan.  The US win over Honduras in Chicago last summer was pretty great.  My first EPL match at Stamford Bridge in November was super.

This past Saturday at Red Bull Arena was perfect.  Perfect weather.  Perfect vibe.  Perfect crowd. Fantastic performance by the Red Bulls, and truly the start of a new era in soccer not just for the NY area but for MLS as well.  The 3-1 pasting of Santos by RBNY won a few converts, sold some season tickets, and announced loudly and proudly that this club and venue are forces to be reckoned with.  The Seeing Red crew talks about opening night here.

Here's are my photos from my "perfect day."

Although this Saturday's Chicago match is nearing a sellout, one small experience stands out about the continuing fan conversion process.  On the walk to RBA, my pal, son and I, in full RB regalia, passed a small girl standing in a Harrison storefront.  She couldn't have been older than nine or ten.  As we passed her, she taunted, "Red Bulls are going to lose."  Over this season, and those to come, RB will hopefully win over the residents of West Hudson. After all, RBNY is their home team now.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Being Ugly

Yet another super-fun appearance on your favorite soccer comedy game show, Winning Ugly, with fellow panelists Brian Zygo and Michael Johnson.  Wonder who wins?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Butts in Seats

The bottom line for any sports franchise, the true determining factor of success is the simple old metric: Butts in Seats.  In the hotel business, this is known as "heads in beds."  Without an historically-strong squad to promote, the club is banking on the allure of Red Bull Arena to drive season ticket sales. For the New York Red Bulls, as they prepare to launch their $200 million temple of wonderment, advance-butt-in-seat reservations have been a little slow at the higher price points. 

We're still clearly in an economic downturn.  Some of the people applying for work at the RBA Job Fair clearly illustrate the point. Last night came the word that the remaining available $3,000 club seats at midfield in the RBA West building would be on sale for 2010 at the cut-rate price of $695, sans access to the fancy-exclusive Club Seats lounge and other full-price benefits.  For the club, it's a chance to make for a more attractive environment.  Remember the empty seats at New Yankee Stadium this year? For fans, the rate cut means an easier opportunity to get the best seats in the house. A fantastic move, frankly that hopefully will get some well-heeled butts in those nice pleather seats.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Own Shingle

So I've been doing the podcast thing for a year or two now, showing up on shows like MatchFit USA (My first podcast foray) Winning Ugly, SoccerLens, Inside the Six, and Around the League (formerly The MLS Show).  It finally dawned on me that there's a need out there for more and more Red Bulls content.  So.  I reached out to some of the best Red Bulls bloggers on the web, Dave Martinez from The Offiside, and Nat Baker at American Soccer News.

I'm pleased as punch to announce Seeing Red!  The New York Soccer Roundup.  Each week during the upcoming MLS season, we'll bring Red Bulls fan an independent view of what's happening on and off the Red Bull Arena pitch.

Give us a listen, won't you?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Just What Will the New "New York Cosmos" Be?

The New York Cosmos' impact on soccer in the New York metropolitan arena can't be debated, even 26 years after the five-time NASL champions ceased operations.  For fans of a certain age in the area, the Cosmos were soccer in New York in the late 70s and early 80s, as so poignantly captured in the 2006 documentary "Once in a Lifetime, the Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos."  The Cosmos were the first truly global all-star team, and a harbinger of what the top clubs of England, Spain, and Italy are today in terms of stockpiling top soccer talent from from the four corners of the globe.

For 20+ years since the team closed shop, the Cosmos' name, trademark, and trophy case were owned by Peppe Pinton, the "caretaker" of the Cosmos legacy.

However, late last summer, former Tottenham Hotspur director Paul Kelmsley purchased the rights to the Cosmos name from Pinton, with plans to "rechristen the team as a traveling array of all-stars, playing matches around the world."

With another MLS season almost upon us, a small NYC-based supporters club hoping for the "return" of the team, and nothing but radio silence from Kelmsley, here our my thoughts for what the "New" Cosmos might be.

Will the Cosmos be the Harlem Globetrotters?
The idea of the Cosmos as the greatest barnstorming football club on the planet is intriguing.  As proven by last year's "Summer of Soccer," there is a precedent for filling stadiums from coast to coast to watch high-quality sides play each other as well as MLS clubs.  However, would fans turn out to see a New York-based team of sometime players take on Man U., Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and the like when some of the Cosmos would inevitably come from those same European giants?  Because if these new Cosmos aren't a global all-star team (a la 1978), then why would folks come to see them?  And just how would the Cosmos stock its roster?  After all, the top clubs won't release their players.  Even if they did, given the unreasonable schedules that top players must endure now, just how many matches for club and country can these highly-paid footballers play and remain effective?

Will the Cosmos be MLS NYC 2?
MLS has long made known its desire to have another club in the NYC area.  It's fair to say that the legacy of the NASL Cosmos has negatively impacted the ability MetroStars/Red Bulls grab hold of the soccer consciousness of the metro area (along with miserable on-field performance & management).  A New York Cosmos in MLS would raise lots of questions, though.  Once again, for former fans, the Cosmos were success defined on the pitch.  As all MLS fans know, the global all-stars concept can't happen in the financially prudent league.  Also, where would they play?  For all the griping about Red Bull New York's base in New Jersey, there isn't currently a suitable soccer-specific venue on the East side of the Hudson.  Even the delayed USL-1 club "FC New York" had planned to play it's games at Long Island's Hofstra University (where the NASL Cosmos first called home).  The Wilpon family, before the Madoff scandal, had considered building a soccer-specific stadium adjacent to Citi Field, but that project remains at the concept stage.  A return to the Meadowlands would undoubtedly please the NJSEA, but the Red Bulls just emancipated themselves from the artificial turf and third-tenant status at the stadium there.  Why would MLS return?  Why would Red Bull allow it territorially?  It's doubtful that RB would consider a groundshare.  If the Cosmos enter MLS, fans of the club will only be cheering a retro logo, because on the field, the product would not be the same.

Will the Cosmos join a lower-level league?
One way that a reborn Cosmos could dominate an American soccer league is to join whatever 2nd division soccer will look like in 2011.  With the recent rift between the USL and the "reborn" NASL, a mildly-stocked Cosmos could runaway with whatever paltry league exists next season.  With successful 2nd-level clubs Portland, Vancover, and some say Montreal soon moving up to MLS, a club with a decent-sized budget should be able to run roughshod over the Austins, St. Louises, Rochesters, and Miami FCs of the world.  The same questions remain, however: Why would folks pay to see an inferior version of the Cosmos play? Against inferior competition?  Where would they play? How can this work?

Whichever way the Cosmos return, however, they'll be no shortage of intrigue around the club.  Rumors persist than former Cosmos Giorgio Chinaglia and Shep Messing will have roles with this new team.  With the Red Bulls about to christen their jewel box of a stadium with Pele's former club Santos FC, the time seems ripe for the New New York Cosmos to share their vision for the future of America's greatest soccer club.  We're watching with bated breath.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Feeling Patriotic


US Men's National Team unofficial graphic designer extraordinaire PRC has just the thing for you to get ready for the 2010 World Cup.  These campaign buttons are her creations and offer support for Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore, Kenny Cooper, Sascha Kljestan, Rico Clark, and a mystery Yank!  They can be had for all of seven bucks & will help her get to S.A. to cheer on our boys.  Do yourself a favor & pick them up today!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Football Follies

This week I had the pleasure to join Scott Bornstein, Sandra Franz, and Joe Covino on Winning Ugly Radio's Episode 60: "Don't Sweat It, Bornstein is Gonna Get It."  If you've never tuned in, it's a comedy game show about the beautiful game.  Trust me, it works.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stars of Tomorrow: The NPSL

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Ryan Knapp, the Co-owner of FC Buffalo in the National Premier Soccer League as well as the current PR Director for the six-year old, national amateur soccer league.  My interest in the NPSL stemmed from the recent announcement that the New York Red Bulls would field an Under-23 team in the league's Atlantic Conference for the upcoming season.  The Chicago Fire will also field an NPSL squad in 2010 as they did in 2009.

The NPSL was created by a few former west coast PDL team owners in the mid 00's, who wanted to operate in a league run with the clubs' input, rather than by a central league office. (sounds a lot like the new NASL offshoot from USL-1).  Over the NPSL's first five seasons, the league expanded regionally to minimize team travel expenses; first to the midwest, then the southeast, and finally, the northeast. For 2010, the NPSL will boast 22 clubs, each playing 12 matches from May to July, with a "Final Four" championship in Huntsville, Alabama on July 30 and August 1st.

There are two main differences between the NPSL and PDL: First, the $5,000 team entry fee is a fraction of the USL-run PDL, where team owners must pony up $75k to enter the league.  Second, there are no age limitations in the NPSL.  Some clubs run their team as an extension of their youth development programs.  Others' rosters are filled with players in their mid-20's.  Some teams run out college players exclusively (College-age NPSL players, like the PDL, keep their college eligibility).  The freedom to make the clubs fit the owners' wants (along with those low operating fees) is a big part of what makes the NPSL attractive, as well as the "one team, one vote" NPSL system, which determines league strategy & direction.

The NPSL's goal, according to Knapp, is to become the premier national amateur soccer league in the US.  "We strive for longevity," says Knapp, who notes that the league lost only a single team from the northeastern region this off-season.  The NPSL is affiliated with the womens' 65-team WPSL, which is nearly three times larger than the USL's W-League.

NPSL match attendances range from a few hundred per game to the low thousands.  Chattanooga FC drew a league-high 4,300 fans on last July 4th, and all of the Tennessee club's matches drew at least 2,600 in 2009, a number that would rank well with many USL-1 clubs. However, in Chattanooga's stadium, fans can buy beer. Many of the league's teams play in high school and college stadiums.

While the NPSL has yet to produce an MLS-quality star, Bob Shuttleworth, former keeper for Knapp's own FC Buffalo  is currently with the New England in an backup role.

So why should fans care about the NPSL?  Says Knapp, "These are the kids that will be playing in the USL and MLS in the coming years.  In many NPSL markets, the teams are the best level of soccer that fans can see live."  Indeed, operating in markets like Huntsville, AL, Madison, WI, Sonoma County, CA, and Reading, PA, allows for cheaper operating costs, and a down home feel.  With MLS continuing to expand by at least three teams in the next two years, odds are you'll see NPSL alums dotting MLS rosters in the years to come.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Photo Tour of Red Bull Arena & Team/Stadium News

On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of attending an event for "ticket evangelists" at Red Bull Arena.  I brought along two soccer-crazed pals who were on the fence about buying Red Bulls season tickets, and they weren't disappointed.  Neither was I.  I hadn't been inside RBA since September's ticket relocation event, and the place looked absolutely fantastic.  Nearly all the seats were in, and with the lights on, one could feel the energy in the place. 

Click here for a photo tour of my visit.

Before the tour began in earnest, though, was a short presentation from Marketing VP Andrew LaFiosca, Head Coach Hans Backe, Sporting Director Erik Soler, and Managing Director Erik Stover.  Among the things I learned...

-Red Bull will invest nearly 20 times the 2009 marketing budget to promote the 2010 season and Red Bull Arena. The campaign will begin in early February.

-The team hopes to fill its second designated player slot for this season, has set aside one million dollars to invest in star attacking player to complement Juan Pablo Angel (Raul?  Henry? stay tuned)

-Red Bull should receive its Certificate of Occupancy for Red Bull Arena today, meaning folks won't have to wear hard hats in the arena anymore.

-The stadium will open before the MLS season opener v. Chicago on March 27th.  On March 20th RBNY will host Brazil's Santos FC.

-There's great news for fans driving to the arena.  RBNY will provide three free trolleys to get fans from the Newark Ironbound district (and restaurants therein), from Kearny, & one other route TBD.  Fans will be given schedules to plan their trip using the trolleys.

-RBNY is smartly educating the Portuguese population in the Ironbound about the team.  Apparently, some soccer-mad fans there had no idea RBA was a soccer stadium.  Some mistakenly believed RBA was built for baseball.

-The international club tournament that will be held at RBA this Summer could have some big names, reflecting the fanbase surrounding the stadium.  While no one has signed on, Celtic and Sporting Lisbon were mentioned as possibles.

-Full season ticket holders will have their RB tickets delivered via a smart card.  STHs will tap the card at the turnstile to gain entrance to RBA. The cards will be used at concession stands and the team store, and reward points will be awarded for purchases.  Eventually, sponsors may take part in the RB smart-card program as well.

-The RBA concourses will include panels that will block the view of the seating bowl.  Why?  Red Bull wants folks IN THEIR SEATS during play, watching the match.  This is a very smart move that will surely look great on TV.

-Why hold Big East Soccer semis & final at RBA in late 2010 and beyond? Red Bull wants to prevent local talent from slipping away to ACC schools.  If the chance of playing at RBA drives local HS stars to the Big East, fantastic. While the Big East tourney may not be a moneymaker for RBA, the relationship with local players & fans is important for the team.

All in all, it was a fantastic night, and frankly, made this Red Bulls fan incredibly excited for Red Bull Arena, 2010, and the franchise direction as a whole!

Friday, January 15, 2010

More Blither, More Blather

I had the honor of speaking with Richard Farley at World Soccer Reader's "Inside The Six" podcast this week about the Red Bulls and marketing in MLS in general.  Check it out!