by Andrew Garda
The Red Bulls II christened their new home at Montclair State on Saturday, April 1, with a 1-0 won over the Richmond Kickers. In front of a crowd of 806 people, including The Rampage — the first official support group created for the reserve team of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls — the team fought hard against a determined Richmond team and came out on top.
While the new location isn’t Red Bull Arena, with its larger capacity and greater amenities, the Montclair State stadium works much better for what the Red Bulls need. Fans are much closer at MSU, just a yard or so from the field.
So while 806 people might not seem like much, they can make their presence known far more effectively than they can in the bigger arena.
The Rampage in particular made sure the Red Bulls — and their opponents — knew they were there, keeping up a constant stream of songs and noise in support of their club.
Kevin Stoke, one of the founders of the support group, was happy with the location even if it’s not quite as grand as the arena is. Being so close to the action is one of the reasons.
“It’s definitely closer [than Red Bull Arena],” Stoke said before the match. There is a large net behind the goal which he didn’t like but understood that’s needed when fans are so near the field and the goal.
“This is our home now,” he continued. “This is where we’re going to do our business. … Hopefully we can bring the noise and we can win out here again.”
Along with a space which works to the team’s — and its supporters’ — advantage, the organization worked hard to make it a welcoming and fun space for families.
The ball-boys were pulled from youth soccer organizations like Montclair United, and there was a small mini-goal set up where kids could play against official “street team” members before the game. The closeness of the stands also allowed the Red Bulls to meet and greet many fans after the match as well, much to the delight of both children and their parents.
Being in Montclair itself is also an attraction for families like Dean Chapman’s.
Chapman and his 8-year-old son live right around the corner and he said that was a big reason why they decided to stop by, though they are already avid soccer fans. They also came in part because of their attachment to Montclair United, but being able to walk to the stadium is attractive.
“We’ll get season tickets,” Chapman said after the game. “I’m actually a little worried everyone will show up once they find out about it,” he said, laughing. He believes as the weather improves and gets less chilly, plus word spreads, more people will come out to the games and the atmosphere will be even better.
The close-up support was a hit with the team as well.
“One of the emphases coming into this game was to defend our home,” said Head Coach John Wolyniec. “This is a new home for us and we wanted to put a stamp on that and make the other team feel it. Credit to our players, credit to our fans, I think both accomplished that.”
“It was like college, I really enjoyed it,” said first-round draft choice Zeiko Lewis, who scored the winning goal in the 69th minute of play. “It’s a nice place to play.”
Midfielder Florian Valot agreed.
“It’s way different than the arena, but the crowd is closer to the field and they came out for the first game,” he said post-game. “Hopefully it continues like this for this season.”
Looking to build off the first game, the organization will continue to reach out to the surrounding populace. Between that and groups like The Rampage — which has over 160 people already on its Facebook page — the new stadium is likely to see more and more fans as the season progresses.
It certainly got off on a good note on Saturday.