It wasn’t your typical Montclair State University soccer atmosphere on Saturday.
Vibrant New York Red Bulls (NYRB) II-themed banners and actual concession and beer stands – yes, they sell beer at NYRB II games – transformed the pale look of MSU Soccer Park. The Rampage, NYRB II’s first supporters’ group, fed into the professional soccer environment with unending chants. Fans, young and old, consumed churros by the bunch. NYRB II put its final stamp on the day with a 1-0 victory in their first ever game at MSU Soccer Park.
“Just seems right to come to a new home and come away with three points,” NYRB II Head Coach John Wolyniec told reporters after the game. Wolyniec added, “One of the emphasis for the game was defend our home, and this is a new home for us so we wanted to put a stamp on that and make the other team feel it.”
Listen to the full post-game comments from NYRB II’s game against the Richmond Kickers on April 1
NYRB II’s victory in their first home game at Montclair State wasn’t easy. The Richmond Kickers dropped back and compressed the field, and NYRB II struggled to manufacture quality offense in the first half. NYRB II forward Junior Flemmings headed a ball just wide of the net in the game’s 10th minute – but that near-miss proved to be the team’s best opportunity of the half.
Despite holding possession for 63.1 percent of the first half, NYRB II went into halftime tied 0-0 with the Richmond Kickers.
The Richmond Kickers held NYRB II scoreless for over an hour of in-game time, but NYRB II finally broke through in the 69th minute. NYRB II defender Hassan Ndam sent a bicycle kick on net, the ball bounced around in the box and Zeiko Lewis was there to send the ball into the back of the net.
— NYRB II (@NYRBII) April 1, 2017
“[The ball] slipped through the defenders’ legs, I couldn’t believe it dropped to me,” Lewis told reporters after the game. “As soon as it got to me, I was just like ‘don’t miss, just don’t miss.’ I’m just happy the team got the result today.”
The goal was good enough to give NYRB II their first three points of the 2017 season. NYRB II drew 806 people – a number which is 36 percent better than the team’s average attendance in 2016 – and the victory is the first on-the-field step to becoming a staple with the Montclair community.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” NYRB II Director of Business Operations Jamie Ponce said during an on-campus meet-and-greet with players and the USL Cup on March 29. ” It’s going to take some time to grow to that sold-out situation, but maybe two, three years time we can see this place really rocking.”
NYRB II’s new home isn’t anything like Red Bull Arena. They traded concourses and stadium seats for bleachers but, in return, NYRB II received a location which better suits its needs. The fans are just a few feet from the field and NYRB II won’t have to play their home games in an arena that’s at least 90 percent empty. It’s a move away from Harrison and a chance to draw new fans as they embed themselves in Montclair.
The transition from Red Bull Arena to a college campus is a return to familiar territory. NYRB II players Stefano Bonomo and Tim Schmoll, who came to Montclair State along with the USL Cup for a meet-and-greet on March 29, played Division I college soccer. While the two stood out from the campus population on Wednesday (both are at least six-feet-two-inches), they blended in as they chatted with students.
(picture two of soccer players + students in student center, caption:
Bonomo and Schmoll talk with students as a part of a meet-and-greet on Wednesday, March 29. Photo by Dan Falkenheim)
Listen to NYRB II defender Tim Schmoll talk about the team’s transition from Red Bull Arena to MSU Soccer Park
“It actually brings back really good memories from college,” Schmoll said.
Schmoll added, “It’s exciting. One of the coolest things about being in college was being able to play against a very vibrant, young crowd. I think we’re really excited to touch base with that again. That’s a great opportunity for us. Walking around here today just kind of showed that it’s a really cool community.”
The excitement was there on Saturday, and that’s something that should grow during NYRB II’s few weekday games when they have the opportunity to draw more of Montclair State’s commuter-heavy student population. The campus community, which usually doesn’t turn out in droves for college sporting events, will need a little motivation to come to the games – but continued success and $1 hot dog nights will go a long way.
It’s a fresh start. NYRB II will be back in action at MSU Soccer Park on Friday, April 14.
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