Wednesday afternoon's New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire Major League Soccer match wasn't the disaster I envisioned when I first learned about the idea this past winter. The game even provided a moment that you can be sure will make end of the season highlight reels, the Thierry Henry strike that could, when all is said and done, earn the New York captain Goal of the Week honors. With that said, I think fans who attended the contest and those who watched it while in an air conditioned room would all agree on one thing:
We probably shouldn't have one of these games again anytime soon.
The NY Red Bulls midweek afternoon experiment: Weather
There is, of course, no way that anybody could have known with 100 percent certainty back in February when the 2012 MLS fixtures were released that July 18, 2012 would be one of the hottest days of the summer. It probably should have always been assumed, however, that the first kick temperature for a 1:00 pm match taking place on a mid-July afternoon would be dangerously high. According to reports, the on-the-pitch kickoff temperature was hovering around 120 degrees. Playing a game from the hours of 4-6 pm or even 2:30-4:30 pm is not the same as playing during what is routinely the hottest part of a summer day, and we were reminded of that thanks to both the quality of play and the empty seats that were very visible on TV throughout both halves (more on both later).
The NY Red Bulls midweek afternoon experiment: Did anybody go?
The reported attendance of 15,814 has been, to put it nicely, questioned by many who watched the game either at the arena or via MSG Plus. Every person I spoke with during and after the game told me that my over/under of 5,000 was exceeded, and that the "Camp Day" idea was seemingly a success. It also should again be noted that the Red Bulls were a bit unlucky that such an extreme heatwave hit the NYC/NJ area at the beginning of the week, and that the storm that rocked much of both New Jersey and New York an hour after the match finished didn't come on Tuesday evening and thus break the heat a day before the game. Maybe I'm too optimistic when it comes to this subject, but I feel that the attendance goal for every RBNY home league contest played during the summer should be between 17,000 and 22,000(depending on opponent, when the game is played, etc.). The 13,000 in-house figure thrown out there by the Red Bulls President of Business Operations Chris Heck in the weeks and days leading up to this match was, according to all reports, not reached. For a home MLS match featuring two top-five Eastern Conference sides, not to mention an international star like Thierry Henry, such a low attendance number is, simply stated, not good.
The NY Red Bulls midweek afternoon experiment: Match quality
Wednesday's game was far from the worst MLS match I've watched this season. I'm absolutely certain, however, that we would have seen a much more open, entertaining and a higher-scoring affair from these two lineups had the match kicked off at 7:00 pm or even 8:00 pm local time, as is usually the case for midweek game. The biggest examples of the hot conditions (possibly) affecting the quality of play came in both attacking thirds. Both teams provided multiple examples of guys failing to run down balls while approaching the penalty area, and Chicago's midfield play was largely non-existent during the middle hour of the match. Not every game can be a 5-4 thriller. I get that. These two squads are very capable of producing more than a match that had just two noteworthy moments; the Henry goal and the goalline clearance from Brandon Barklage. Fans who paid to enter Red Bull Arena on Wednesday didn't get to watch such an exciting game, however, thanks in part to the early afternoon start time.
The NY Red Bulls midweek afternoon experiment: Overall
I am not a member of the Red Bulls front office, and thus I cannot tell you how much of a "financial success" this match was for the club. Hours after the conclusion of Wednesday's game, I have no more confidence in the idea that a substantial amount of potential customers located in the NYC/NJ area will take a full or half-day off of work in order to trek out to Red Bull Arena for a midweek contest than I did back in February when I first learned about this game. Even the South Ward, the RBNY supporters section and home of some of the club's most diehard fans, was far more empty on Wednesday afternoon than what you'll see during evening matches that take place in the summer. I'm all for the Red Bulls experimenting with different ideas in order to potentially create new traditions and even new fans. Perhaps I'm again being a pessimistic Red Bulls supporter, but the idea of early afternoon midweek RBNY games, contests that would occur during the hottest time of the year (it would, of course, be very foolish to schedule such a game while school is in session), is one that I'd put back on the shelf for at least the next few years;
or until Red Bull Arena gets a roof and air conditioning.