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What Does the New York Red Bulls Accomplishment Mean for American Soccer?

The New York Red Bulls beat Chicago 5-2 on Sunday to win the MLS’ Supporters Shield, the first major trophy in the history of the club.

At MLS HQ the relief must have been immeasurable. For much of MLS’ existence ensuring a presence in North America’s largest media market has been a priority. Despite the ability since 1996 to sign high-profile foreign players, the New Jersey based club has never won a trophy and had become the laughing stock of the league.  So desperate has MLS been to penetrate the New York City media market that a second entry, the Manchester City and New York Yankees backed NYCFC, was launched in May. At that point the fear among many Red Bulls supporters and neutrals was having failed repeatedly, the New Jersey based club would become somewhat of a bastard stepchild for both the league and the local market.

That’s why Sunday afternoon’s events felt so special. A title being won by long suffering fans, in an American cathedral of the sport (albeit a very new cathedral) with top shelf international stars showing their emotions was as good it gets in the domestic game on this side of the pond.  A club that’s been cursed, lifting that very curse in the grandest fashion of all in front of a national television audience (editor’s note: albeit Spanish-language only) and a sold out crowd.

Longtime playing cult-hero Mike Petke managed the team that won their first ever trophy in his first season as a manager at any professional level. He’s built a belief in the players and also stood up to the great stars of the club, enforcing he is the boss while keeping everyone relatively happy.

Petke understands the psyche of the American player unlike so many previous foreign coaches the organization has hired before him, and knows the league well enough to master the rules. Petke’s hiring is the single biggest reason the Red Bulls have gone from classic underachievers to top of the regular-season champions of Major League Soccer.

Longtime superstar Tim Cahill won his first major trophy at the club level thanks to the Red Bulls victory. Cahill has played in two FA Cup Finals and of course was for a long time one of the biggest impact midfielders in English football. Yet it took moving to America to win a trophy and you could tell in the dying moments of the match nobody in the stadium was happier than he was.

The resounding 5-2 victory over Chicago was the shot in the arm the local sport needed in the world’s largest media market. The international game is remarkably popular in the New York media market, but the local/domestic game has been struggling since the early 1980s. The Red Bulls success means so much to developing the market not just locally but nationally.  It also gives Red Bull the boost it needs in a fight for relevance and significance locally against the new upstart NYCFC.

The timing was also perfect considering the Long Island based New York Cosmos clinched the NASL (US second division) fall title this weekend as well. Part of the NASL’s calculation in entering the New York market was that the Red Bulls were a perennially underachieving first division club. The Cosmos have won silverware on their first try, but being in a second division and being on Long Island ultimately undermines the relevance of any achievements they garner while Red Bull is winning.

Many Red Bulls fans felt Don Garber and NASL had it in for their club by pursuing a second New York area club. I would also hear complaints from some of these same fans about the NASL exploiting the New York market by bringing back the Cosmos. But ultimately today that no longer matters. The Red Bulls are the best team in Major League Soccer and now they fight the battle against other New York area teams in both top divisions of North American soccer from a position of strength. Ultimately a strong and healthy Red Bull is a big boost to American soccer, taking the local game to a new level in the most important media market on the planet.

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  1. Marc L

    October 29, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    So if a team wins a “major trophy” it has to then enter a playoff structure where like 40% of the league competes for the actual league title?

    I phrase this as a question but in fact it would appear not to be one.

    Sorry MLS, (more or less) the entire rest of the world does it better.

    • goisles01

      October 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Think of the pro sports in America as a 2 tiered season.

      Whether its the NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL or MLS, the regular season is just a tournament to see which select clubs are invited to the respective post season tournaments. These post season tournaments are held in more regard but it does not diminsh the accomplishment of the regular season champion. Playoffs are to insure the club that has no chance of winning a regular season title are still hunting for something, generating more fan interest, ensuring people will still go to games with the end result being clubs making more money.

      • PhillySpur

        October 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

        It does diminish the accomplishment. No one cares who wins the regular season. It is all about the playoffs. Congratulations on winning a meaningless trophy.

  2. Tony

    October 29, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Cahill has never previously won a trophy at international level either. So this would be his first for club or country. Was in an Asian Cup Final but didn’t win it.

  3. Clampdown

    October 29, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I really had my doubts about Petke when he was named manager, but what a fantastic job he did with the club. Congratulations to all of the long-time Metros/RBNY supporters.

  4. goisles01

    October 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I had a lot of fun watching Red Bull this year. Henry and Cahill have both had brilliant seasons. I personally think Cahill should be considered for league MVP, hes been THAT clutch. Red Bull has had a lot of memorable moments this year. The emergence of Luis Robles in goal, the play of Jamison Olave, the spat between Henry and Petke which I believe bonded the club, but the moment I remember the most is the match against DC United when Tim Cahills son sang the national anthem. It was a big match and there were tears of pride in the fathers eyes. Cahill then went on to score the winner in a 2-1 Red Bull win. priceless.

  5. Smokey Bacon

    October 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Not a lot. The Earthquakes did it last year and where are they this year. Nobody cares. If a tree falls in the forest etc.

    Truth is, other than the nice stadium, the Red Bulls have been a bit of a disappointment. NY City is MLS’s attempt to right a wrong in a key marketplace.

  6. Mark Fishkin

    October 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I watched the Cosmos as a kid. I followed the MetroStars and now the Red Bulls as an adult.

    I’m overjoyed at the club’s Shield win. For this season ticket-holder since ’96, it was a long time coming.

    The tired old tripe that the Red Bulls don’t represent New York has run its course. The Giants and Jets represent the entire New York area, as do the Red Bulls.

    I grew up in Westchester. I live in New Jersey. I work in Manhattan. It’s all good.

    There are more than enough soccer fans in this media market for everyone to get support. More teams = more rivalries = more coverage and more coverage will lift all boats.

    The great soccer cities around the globe all host more than one team. Why not New York?

    • christian

      October 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      You’re right. New York City will be represented by it’s own club. Harrisson and Long Island will be represented as well.

  7. Daniel Feuerstein

    October 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    This Supporters Shield is considered a major trophy because it gives you home field advantage throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs. You host the MLS Cup Final now & a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League for the 2014-15 edition.

    This has been a magical ride for this club that started in 1996 as the MetroStars and playing in cavernous Giants Stadium till the 2009 season.

    I can only speak for those who have been loyal supporters since the league got started and stayed with this club when the changes happened.

    Personally for me, it was a fantastic night to see the shield get lifted by Mike Petke, and members of the training staff as well as the equipment manager and his son showed their delight. Also the players who wanted to pose for a group photo with it along the South Ward.

    Finally a championship to claim the best regular season record and the added incentives that comes along with it. But the job is not done yet and I hope they continue this fantastic run to the first Saturday of December.

    • Emmett

      October 29, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Claiming the best regular season record is not a championship. It just gives you the highest seed and home-field advantage. Therefore, it is not a major trophy. MLS Cup or Champions League is a major trophy.

  8. CTBlues

    October 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    The MLS Cup should be played during the season like the Champions league, but have it start in the latter half of the season so the final takes place like a week after the last regular season match. Have all the MLS Cup matches nationaly televised at designated days and times and all the games are home and away fixtures. It would be like starting the Champions League in Janurary with the knockout rounds.

  9. Cosmos Fan

    October 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    The anti Cosmos bent Krishnaiyer and his band of bitter Florida based fans have cultivated is on display here.

    The Red Bulls are a NEW JERSEY team. They do NOT reporesent New York. Besides the suckers who sell out to the corprate masters in Austria in that stadium did anyone else notice this game? Did anyone care?

    Trust me the Cosmos buzz is MUCH bigger on the NYC side of the Hudson than anything the “Red Bulls” do.

    The sooner you realize that the better. Then you won’t look like such a fool everytime you broach the subject of the Cosmos.

    Oh and last night on that Miami show you said the Galaxy is a much bigger brand than the Cosmos. Really? Did Pele or the Kaiser play for the Galaxy?

    Stop drinking the MLS kool-aid and stop accusing people of drinking Cosmos kool-aid as you did on that show.

    • BD

      October 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Way to be objective, COSMOS FAN. (the sound of one hand clapping)

    • Luther Blissett

      October 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      “The Red Bulls are a NEW JERSEY team. They do NOT reporesent New York.”

      Kind of like the Cosmos when they played out of Giants Stadium (East Rutherford, NEW JERSEY)when Pele and “The Kaiser” played for them?

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      October 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      What you are not reporting is that I even said the Cosmos accomplishment was remarkable considering they played only half a season and needed to gel the team quicker than other sides in NASL … but that was shot down by those pointing out by only playing half the season they could pay players much more for a shorter period of time.

      Why the Cosmos fan delusional hate of Red Bull. Both being champions means a potential NY derby in the Open Cup will be a BIG EVENT. That’s what we need. Some real rivalries, not manufactured ones.

      • John O'Donnell

        October 29, 2013 at 2:16 pm

        I believe hate is one of the foundations of a REAL rivalry. Carry on.

    • Anthony

      October 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      The New York Jets and Giants are both new Jersey based and represent New York. Chelsea’s stadium is in Fulham but represent Chelsea. New York and New Jersey share a media market. That point is neither here nor there.

    • Tim

      October 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Again I will say this…..The Cosmos are no where near the same playing field of the Red Bulls. It seems as though Cosmos fans seem to live in the past a lot. The team plays in a stadium with less than 15k and does not draw!

  10. Emmett

    October 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I don’t think most Americans will see this as a “major trophy.” Teams in other sports are often ridiculed for being in first place after the regular season and doing nothing in the playoffs. I think more people will remember who wins the MLS Cup rather than having the most points in the regular season. See: Canucks and Capitals in the NHL, Colts in NFL before they finally won the Super Bowl, My Eagles losing all of those NFC championship games after winning the division multiple times. While it is a great accomplishment, I think the Red Bulls can be praised if they win the MLS Cup. Though I agree, a great MLS team in the US’s biggest city can only be good for soccer here.

    • AtlantaPompey

      October 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Americans, like myself, view the best regular season record as merely a stepping stone to an actual trophy, which is always won in the postseason. Even college football is getting on board with that now. Soccer fans view having the most points at the end of a regular season as winning a championship. America has yet to really embrace that idea, and won’t really embrace it until a postseason doesn’t exist. I would love to see MLS Cup be more like a league cup format rather than a postseason tournament.

  11. Wigglesworth81

    October 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Kartik, how many years away is Milwaukee from getting an MLS franchise? I know that they are working on an USL PRO team, but haven’t been able to find much info about it lately.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      October 29, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      That USL PRO talk died down earlier this year. I am not sure where it is now but I will try and find out!

  12. AtlantaPompey

    October 29, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I agree that MLS needs a successful club in the New York area and that this is important to the league.

    I disagree that the Cosmos are less relevant because they play in Long Island. They play in New York. The Red Bulls don’t. I know that is a nit picking detail, but I feel it is important. Yes, the Cosmos are less relevant because they are a second division team, but that league has dreams of being a first division league and establishing a strong presence in New York is an important step. They should win Soccer Bowl easily considering how poorly my Silverbacks are playing at the moment. Consecutive losses by 4 goal margins doesn’t inspire confidence going into the two remaining games against the Cosmos.

    • Peter Quinn

      October 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      I grew up on Long Island and still have friends there even though I am near DC.

      The Cosmos are getting big. They have a strong local presence and have really marketed themselves well to families on Long Island. They will only get bigger.

    • christian

      October 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      The Cosmos have as much impact around here as Red Bull which is, yeah we know there’s a club out there but it’s not within the five boroughs. Sure you’ll find a smattering of supporters but they don’t have the NYC needed to truly represent the city. NYCFC will be truly for the city. Jersey and Long Island can enjoy their clubs for what they’re worth.

    • Tim

      October 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      I have seen four cosmos games on tv and there was no one at the games in a tiny stadium…I would say thet are less relevant than you think.

      • Peter Quinn

        October 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm

        Fair enough.

        • Peter Quinn

          October 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm

          For the record…NASL average attendance:

          New York Cosmos (7 homes games): 6859

          *Cosmos last match vs Fort Lauderdale was a sellout…11,000+

          San Antonio Scorpions (7 home games): 6763

          Carolina Railhawks (6 home games): 4490

          Atlanta Silverbacks (6 home games): 4258

          Tampa Bay Rowdies (6 home games): 4245

          Fort Lauderdale Strikers (6 home games): 4226

          Minnesota United FC (7 home games): 3679

          FC Edmonton (7): 2760

          • Peter Quinn

            October 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm

            Correction: last Cosmos match was 7,700

          • Kartik Krishnaiyer

            October 29, 2013 at 5:31 pm

            The thing about these numbers is that San Antonio’s capacity is capped at 7k and they charge MUCH more for tickets than any other NASL team. In fact they charge MLS like prices. They’ve created a ticket demand by doing so and not giving away tickets like so many other NASL teams so I can venture to say SA’s ticket revenue is much higher than any other NASL club.

    • EPLNFL

      October 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      Well do forget all of this was done at expense of my Chicago Fire. While MLS may have finally made its mark in the NY the Fire are a team with a great base in need of direction and help from MLS by adding a new Midwest team to great a rival.

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