With the players’ strike averted a couple of days ago, as it never fully evolved into a crisis, the 2010 MLS season kicked off last night in Seattle. The opening match between the newest member of the MLS, Philadelphia Union, and the still relative newcomer Seattle Sounders was played in a jubilant atmosphere despite the less than optimal weather conditions. MLS’ upcoming season promises to be a competitive one marked by the debut of the Philadelphia club, the month-long interruption for the World Cup, an in-form Landon Donovan playing for a LA Galaxy without Beckham and the possibility of a real renaissance in the tormented relationship between the New York Red Bulls and its supporters.
The Red Bulls are fielding a team little changed from last year, but under the command of a new coach and a new general manager. Both are European and experienced, though unfamiliar with the MLS. Last Saturday, on a glorious, sunny, warm spring day, the New York Red Bulls inaugurated the newly built, soccer customized, 25,000 capacity, modern stadium against the reserve team of Brazilian super club, Santos. Logistically, this is an enormously positive step for the club. The stadium is easily reachable by train from lower Manhattan now. Traveling to and from the game is fun, simple and inexpensive, rather than having to endure endless traffic jams. The area around the stadium is not developed yet, but will be. For now, the closest neighborhood is the Little Portugal side of Newark, a great place to hang before the match. The area is home to Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish cafes and restaurants. From there, a short walk over the bridge to the stadium sets off the experience.
The Red Bulls shocked Santos just before the end of the first half with two quick goals that embarrassed the Brazilians, who went into halftime 0-3 with their super-phenom Neymar on the field. New York played a tight possession game in the first half and capitalized on its chances, silencing the yellow half of the stadium for the most part. In the second half both teams made changes and the match lost its luster, but all in all the Red Bulls gave their fans a lot to hope for in the upcoming season. Santos did get a consolation goal at the end, but it was not a happy trip back south. Half of the Santos players seemed barely of high school age, while a couple seemed past their prime.
However, Neymar is truly exceptional. Not much went right for him on this day, but he showed his brilliance – instinct, incredible quickness, stunning moves – that almost assures he will be playing for one of the European heavies before too soon. He stands out almost immediately. A roar went up every time he touched the ball and in turn he tried to do something spectacular for the public each time.
Tomorrow the New York Red Bulls open their season officially against the Chicago Fire in their new home. All of the elements are in place, it remains to be seen whether this will finally be season New York fans come back to the stadium in numbers to support the local club, as the Seattle fans do so impressively.