June 26, 2008
by Charles Cuttone
Call it the great experiment in the desert
Having watched international matches played in the United States for more than 30 years, I know that it’s not unusual for the home team to feel like the visitors.
Chivas fans turned out for Wednesday's match against the Red Bulls at University of Phoenix Stadium.
© Global Spectrum, Gene Lower/Slingshot
That certainly has been the case for many United States National Team games played across the country.
Audiences for World Cup qualifiers, especially, have always shown a particular exuberance for the opposing teams. Even the recent U.S. game at Giants Stadium was a mixed bag, with easily as many cheering for Argentina as the Americans.
So, it’s particularly interesting to see a club game played in a neutral site, between Chivas de Guadalajara of Mexico (visitors) and MLS’s New York Red Bulls (hosts). Call it the great experiment in the desert. The promoter of this match had only three weeks to put it together.
For Chivas de Guadalajara, the game is part of their preparation for the Apertura Mexican season, and one of six games in a package put together by Soccer United Marketing. (The next one is in Dallas on June 29 at Pizza Hut Park)
For the Red Bulls, the game is more of an intrusion into an already grueling and injury filled season…. Uh, guys, while you are on the way to the west coast, can you make a quick stop in Phoenix?
The crowd at the University of Phoenix Stadium, where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play, looked like a typical Red Bulls home game. Only 10,154 of the stadium’s 64,000 seats were occupied.
And clearly, the Red Bulls were not the home team Wednesday night. It was Chivas. There was a smattering of polite applause when Oscar Echeverry scored in the 23rd minute, but there were wild cheers following a Chivas miss, and loud chants that reverberated under the closed roof of the stadium.
The promoter of the game was hoping to attract 30,000 fans for the game, and maybe with more lead time, they might have been able to do that.
Even so, the passion of the fans, who were decked out in Chivas jerseys and making lots of noise with their air horns, proved there is a following for the game, even in outposts like Phoenix, which has barely registered on the radar for MLS expansion.
Converting that passion to a following for the league is what needs to happen for MLS to be a truly national “major” league. Maybe the Red Bulls or the Galaxy would be someone’s second team after their “home” team, but it is what MLS needs to grow TV ratings and interest in the league. In this city, which has teams in baseball, football, hockey and basketball, it seems like the Chicago Cubs, who hold their spring training in nearby Mesa, are as or more popular Arizona Diamondbacks.
So while adding a game into an already grueling schedule might not seem like the best idea for a hurting team, it’s not a bad one for a growing league. Might not be a bad scenario for MLS to promote the league here in Philly this year and next.