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A reference guide for new fans and visitors to Red Bull Arena

Posted on 28 May 2010 by ASN Staff

First off, welcome! We’re glad you’ve decided to follow this team, even if it is just on a cursory and/or exploratory basis. Before you ask, has no affiliation, official or otherwise, with Major League Soccer. We are not paid by MLS or by the New York Red Bulls and have no commercial stake in the team, its stadium or its primary benefactor, Red Bull AG. Our only interest is to grow the sport of soccer in this country and of course cultivate readership.

The following items will be addressed. You may skip to the respective section directly:

MLS vs European leagues

There are several fundamental differences.

In virtually all European leagues teams play each other twice in a round-robin format. Results are compiled in a single table and the team with the most points when it’s all said and done wins the championship. Simple!

MLS is not so simple. The 16 teams are split into two “conferences,” Eastern and Western. Starting this year MLS has a balanced schedule where each of the 16 teams play each other twice. But tables are kept for both conferences and the “regular season” schedule of round robin play is followed by playoffs (which are so complex we saw the need to address them in their own section).

Even more fundamentally, there is no such thing as individual control of teams in MLS. All clubs are owned by the league itself. Individual teams can and do have outside investors but these are views as “partners” of the league. So all player signings are controlled by the league, which then allocates the players to individual clubs. This may sound vaguely socialist but it was created to establish strict cost control. MLS was rightfully spooked by the free-spending ways of the old NASL, which bankrupted itself after a brief heyday in the late 1970s. MLS’ structure was challenged (and upheld) in court and the league went to great lengths to defend it during the recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations with players.

MLS also has a strict salary cap, though it allows up to three exemptions (so called “designated players,” or DPs, whose salaries do not count against the cap).

As a result there is far more parity in MLS than there is any European league. On any given matchday any team can win any game (this is a truism elsewhere in the world; in MLS it’s a fact. A coin flip is likely to give as good a prediction as anything else. No wonder MLS has not caught on in Vegas!). A few teams have natural home field advantages, due to strong fan support for example, but because of the strict cost controls there is generally little to separate the quality and talent of individual teams. Proponents say this makes every matchday exciting and the league unpredictable and fun. Critics say it doesn’t allow a dominant club or two to develop that would create a balance of power in the league, which in turn would make MLS more enjoyable.

The style of play can best be described as a hybrid of an ultra physical, raw version of the British game and the more defensive, ball-control Latin American leagues. This is largely due to the proliferation of British and Latin American coaches in MLS. A few coaches (usually U.S. coaches, ironically) try to play a more refined continental style but they are in the minority. Newcomers to MLS are sometimes shocked by its physicality. Games can get very rough and referees let a lot go. Technically, most MLS players are not as gifted as their continental or South American counterparts but they make up for it with their athletic ability and physical prowess.

MLS playoffs

Eight of the 16 teams make the playoffs. That’s the simple part. Where it gets complex is deciding which eight teams qualify. From the league’s Web site (better to take this verbatim. Too difficult to paraphrase):

  • The top two teams in each conference qualify and are seeded 1 & 2 in their respective four-team playoff conference brackets.
  • The four MLS teams with the next most points, regardless of conference, receive “wildcard” berths.
  • The four wildcard teams will be seeded according to conference first.
  • If more than four teams qualify from one conference, the team finishing lower than fourth in its conference will shift over to the other conference bracket.
  • A team switching conference brackets will be seeded below all other teams in its new conference playoff bracket.

You might think that with all of this it would be a lot easier to just have a single table and then have playoffs? But MLS is married to the conferences, for whatever reason.

The first round of playoffs are home-and-away (no away goal rule though!) followed by a single game conference championship and MLS Cup for all the marbles. MLS Cup is played at a venue determined earlier. This year it’s in Toronto.

Introducing the Supporters’ Shield

So the best teams in the league during the regular don’t win anything unless they succeed in the playoffs?


There is something called the “Supporters Shield” which is awarded each year to the MLS team with the best regular season record. The Supporters Shield table has a pretty neat history you can and should read about on its official Web site. Besides the trophy (and of course bragging rights) the competition’s winner qualifies automatically for the CONCACAF Champions League.

The U.S. Open Cup

Does the U.S. have an FA Cup? Yes it does. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (links to official Web site) is in fact the oldest national soccer competition in the U.S. It began in 1914 and despite two world wars, a depression, countless recessions, stagflation, Cold War, culture wars and a whole bunch of other stuff has been held every year since. NASL clubs shunned the cup but MLS clubs have been active (if not always enthusiastic) participants since the league was founded in 1996. Unlike the FA Cup where teams enter different stages of competition based on their league level, the US Open Cup takes just eight teams from each division and enters them at the same time. MLS throws another wrinkle into this by allowing just the first six teams from the previous year’s Supporters’ Shield table automatic entry. The other 10 have to compete in a play-in tournament. This year, the New York Red Bulls host Philadelphia Union in the first play-in game April 27. If they win, the New England Revolution loom next. Don’t expect teams to field their best players, however, but with a healthy rivalry brewing between the Union and Red Bulls expect both fans and the players who do play to take it very seriously.

Since 2008 the US Open Cup champion also gains an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. What’s that, you ask? Read on and you’ll find out.

Continental competitions

Much like Europe has the UEFA Champions League and Europa League and South America has the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, so CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) holds the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL for short). The premise is identical to continental competitions elsewhere, which is to crown a continental club champion (duh). Just like elsewhere, the winner gets to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup. MLS clubs have not done very well historically (last year the Red Bulls lost to a semipro team from Trinidad).

As many as five MLS clubs qualify for the tournament: The MLS Cup champion and runner-up (that’s how Red Bulls got in last year), the Supporters’ Shield winner, the US Open Cup champion and the Canadian champion. The latter two are not automatically (or even regularly) won by MLS clubs.

Meet the New York Red Bulls star player

The team’s undisputed biggest name is Juan Pablo Angel, a former Colombian international who also played for River Plate in Argentina and Aston Villa in the English Premier League. Angel is also the team’s lone “designated player”. The striker scored an absurd amount of goals after joining the team early in the 2007 season but has more recently been slowed by injuries. This year he has yet to score in three games. It is a testament to Angel’s scoring prowess that anybody would take note of a three game goalless streak.

Other than Angel, it’s pretty slim pickings as far as “recognizable names” are concerned. Centerback Mike Petke, a local boy (he hails from Bohemia, N.Y.), is a crowd favorite and has two caps with the U.S. national team. Joel Lindpere, a newcomer to the team this year, is fast becoming a fan favorite as well, after scoring in the team’s first and second games at Red Bull Arena. Lindpere is an Estonian international (in fact the first Estonian to play in MLS). Midfielder Carl Robinson had a long career in England and for the Wales national team before joining Red Bull this year (via Toronto FC where he spent three seasons). Left back Roy Miller, another newcomer, has 14 caps for Costa Rica. Chris Albright is yet another newcomer but has yet to suit up for the team in an official game due to injuries. Albright received a share of caps last decade. Midfielder Dane Richards has been capped by the Jamaican national team. No member of the Red Bulls has been on a World Cup squad.

The team does have some exciting young players who could make the leap to national team at some point in the future. The most buzz right now is about Tim Ream, a rookie who is starting at centerback and doing very well. Seventeen-year old striker Juan Agudelo is highly-touted and has been capped by U.S. U-20 and U-17 sides, though he has not seen any first-team action yet.

Who is the New York Red Bulls’ primary rival?

At the time of this writing, the Red Bulls’ primary rival is DC United. This dates back to the league’s first season, when the two clubs faced each other in the playoffs. However, the arrival of an expansion team in Philadelphia could change this dynamic, given the long history of animosity between New York and Philadelphia teams in other sports. It just so happens that the Red Bulls face Philadelphia twice in three days’ time later this month, both times at Red Bull Arena: on April 24 in an MLS game and April 27 for the aforementioned US Open cup encounter.

A brief history of the New York/New Jersey Metrostars/Red Bulls

The only thing you really need to know about the history of the team is that it was not very successful. That and it changed identities. Okay, so that’s two things.

For the first 14 years of its existence the New York/New Jersey MLS franchise (for lack of a better identifier) played its home games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It was certainly not the first soccer team to do so–older fans in the area can surely remember Pele’s New York Cosmos packing this very arena in the 1970s and there have also been a plethora of international games on the site since. But the Cosmos moved out when they could no longer draw the huge crowds. The MLS franchise was placed in Giants Stadium with the understanding it would move to a soccer-specific site within a few years. Those “few years” turned out to be 14 and the team had nowhere to go in the interim. An entire volume could be written about the trials and tribulations that finally led to the stadium’s construction but in the interest of brevity we won’t go there.

The main point is that for 14 years the team struggled on the field and at the gate. It averaged little more than 10,000 spectators per game (which at Giants Stadium seemed like 10). The plastic field with its football yardlines was not conducive to soccer, least of all the type of soccer that should attract and convert fans. The team’s successes were very few and very, very far between: Basically a bunch of preseason trophies and one unlikely appearance in the 2008 MLS Cup.

The Red Bull sell-out takeover

In 2006, Austrian energy drink company Red Bull AG took over the team and changed its entire identity to be one giant billboard for its product. More than a few fans walked away in disgust. Most of the rest stuck around because there were no other options for topflight professional soccer in the area. Just about everybody felt weird about the metamorphosis. A lot of that has dissipated in the last four years, but some fans can still be heard substituting the word “Metro” or “Metros” for Red Bulls when chanting their support for the team.

Whatever its flaws, there is no debating that Red Bull came through huge in one area: the stadium (named Red Bull Arena, natch). The company built the entire $200 million structure with its own money after seven years of legal and bureaucratic wrangling. The results are as impressive as they are long-awaited. You’ll see so for yourself, if you haven’t already.

Supporters Groups

There have always been a few hundred diehards who model themselves after European supporters groups at Metros/Red Bulls games. In the beginning, MLS didn’t really know what to do with them but by now clubs just about everywhere have come to embrace the “supporter group culture” (not least of all because they are the primary customers).

The Empire Supporters Club is the oldest and largest.

Garden State Supporters are relatively new and as the name suggests dedicated to fans from New Jersey.

Raging Bull Nation is dedicated to the younger set.

There may be a few others on the fringes. We will update the page when and if we learn more about them.

News sources, blogs, podcast

Other than this one, which we are biased toward for obvious reasons, be sure to check out The site, which kept its pre-takeover name and still refers to the team by such, is a treasure trove of information, most of it exclusive. From statistics, player ratings (which readers vote for themselves), historical features and a lot more, MetroFanatic really has it all–including a message board that will be discussed later.

MetroFanatic is the deepest resource for information on the team and does a fine job with its own reporting, but there are other sources of original content that deserve your attention:

There’s, run by New York Daily News soccer writer Michael Lewis. The site is not exclusively Red Bulls but covers virtually all levels of local soccer, though the MLS team is its primary focus.

SoccerByIves started as a Metro/Red Bulls site but has since morphed into a broader U.S. and international soccer page. It still has plenty of Red Bulls scoops however.

New York Post soccer writer Brian Lewis has a blog, Soccer: Extra Time that also has excellent exclusive stories.

So does Stefan Bondy of

The New York Times’ Goal blog has regular coverage of the team as well, interspersed with items from Europe and elsewhere.

You can always head over to for the Red Bulls official page. The team also has an official blog, Red Bulls Reader. Just don’t expect to read anything controversial.

Plenty of team-specific blogs are out there, including The Offside’s, MLS Talk’s, The Kin of Fish, The Viper’s Nest and Once a Metro.

Also this year there is a new podcast dedicated to the team. Seeing Red! The New York Soccer Round-Up is co-moderated by Nathaniel Baker, this site’s primary content producer.

Also MLS Talk’s Daniel Feuerstein has a podcast whose main focus is the New York Red Bulls.

Message boards and Twitter

There are just two that are open to the public (ESC members have their own) but they’re likely all you’ll need for now. For newcomers, we recommend heading over to BigSoccer’s Red Bulls forum. MetroFanatic’s board is better-trafficked these days but also involves a higher level of discourse (for lack of a better term). Unless you’re willing and able to debate the merits of, say, putting Jeremy Hall at right midfield versus left midfield from his current position of right back, we recommend that you do some extensive lurking before you post.

Most beat reporters and bloggers have their own Twitter accounts (so does this page of course): @BigAppleSoccer, @SoccerByIves, @NYPost_Lewis, @JackBell (NY Times), @daveredbulls (The Offside), @markfishkin (KinOfFish), @DFeuerstein (Daniel Feuerstein), @EmpireSC and of course @NewYorkRedBulls.


You can get them online at the team’s official page or through any of the myriad ticket brokers out there or by calling up 1-877-RB-SOCCER. You can probably get them at the stadium box office most games. Tickets are cheap–dirt cheap when compared to other New York-area sports teams. In fact, you can get a season ticket to Red Bull Arena for less of the price of any single game New York Yankees tickets!


Unless you have specific reason for doing so (you or your party include young children, handicapped persons or the elderly, for example) you really should not drive to games. Traffic is a nightmare in Harrison and parking even more so. You’ve likely heard the horror stories at this point. The good news is Red Bull Arena is directly on the PATH line. From New York, get on at World Trade Center to go direct, without transfers, in about 20 minutes (add about five to 10 to get from the station to the stadium). You can also take the PATH at 33rd and transfer. From points west, New Jersey transit will connect you through Newark Penn Station. There is also a trolley from Newark.

Some basic soccer (or futbol/football) terminology.

For whatever reason, sport terminology developed differently in Britain than it did in the U.S. (first example: we call it sports terminology, the sports section of the newspaper, etc. They use the singular). Even more mysteriously, U.S. soccer fans see the need to adopt the English terms, even though we (for the most part) continue to call the sport soccer. If you don’t know any of them, fear not. Simply refer to this handy guide to impress your friends.

In no particular order:
U.S. term → U.K./soccer language term
game → match
field → pitch
stadium → ground
cleats → boots
uniform → kit
fans → supporters
locker room → dressing room
coach → manager
offense → attack
speed → pace
out of bounds → into touch
sideline → touchline
endline → byline
fast break → break
one-on-one → breakaway
national team appearance → cap
center → cross
team → club or side
tie → draw
halftime → intermission
periods → halves
overtime → extra time
cover → mark
shutout → clean sheet
road team → away team or visitors
games played → appearances
healthy → fit or match-fit
final score → result
standings → table
practice → training

Other terms that might stymie you:
cup tie → a game, er, match that is part of a cup competition versus league play
back (including fullback, centerback, etc.) → defender
halfback → midfielder
sitter → an opportunity for scoring that absolutely needs to result in a goal
brace → two goals scored

4 Comments For This Post

  1. T. Faust Says:

    Due to the Red Bull “sell out” controversy, it may be worthwhile to note that the original name derived from the club owner's other company, Metromedia.

  2. Bob the MetroStars12thman Says:

    Designated Player (DP) – MLS now allows up to 3 DPs per team. These are players who can be acquired for any amount of money but have a specific limit against the team's total salary cap regardless of any transfer fee or actual salary paid to the player(s). As an example, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel are DP players. As further example, rumor has it that Thierry Henry will join the NY Red Bulls as a second designated player and the NY Red will also add a third designated player. Both will likely be acquired after the World Cup.

  3. Bob the MetroStars12thman Says:

    Designated Player (DP) – MLS now allows up to 3 DPs per team. These are players who can be acquired for any amount of money but have a specific limit against the team's total salary cap regardless of any transfer fee or actual salary paid to the player(s). As an example, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel are DP players. As further example, rumor has it that Thierry Henry will join the NY Red Bulls as a second designated player and the NY Red will also add a third designated player. Both will likely be acquired after the World Cup.

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    Eurozone management about Thursday consented to any mopping package that may offer Portugal a huge brand new bailout : however probable make it the very first euro land to fall behind : and substantially improve the particular foreign currency union’s relief account, letting it work pre-emptively when crises increase.

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