By Kristian Dyer
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There are no excuses, not this time, for New York sports fans and -- in particular -- soccer fans in the Tri-State Area.
Following an unlikely comeback on Thursday night that resulted in a 2-1 win over the defending MLS Cup-champion Sporting Kansas City, it is the New York Red Bulls who are in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This Sunday sees their first match of the two-leg playoff series against D.C. United, a rivalry that dates back to 1996 and the inception of the league. With the opening match at Red Bull Arena -- the crown jewel of soccer-specific stadiums -- there are no more excuses for anyone reading this.
Show up. Be loud. Will this team to victory.
This is the fifth straight postseason for the Red Bulls, a successful track record continued on by head coach Mike Petke over the last two seasons. Find another team in a 50-mile radius of Manhattan with a similar track record over that span. The saying goes that "New York loves a winner." Well, New York, you have a shot on Sunday to be there and see the winningest team in the city since 2010.
No excuses anymore. The Red Bulls have given you another winner to back in a beautiful stadium just yards away from a PATH station. You need to be there, and I'm talking to the guy who painted his face red, white and blue this summer to watch the World Cup in a sports bar.
All those soccer fans who attended watch parties this summer during the World Cup, all those fans who cheered for the United States and saw them advance out of the group stage, all those fans who never gave MLS a chance.
Well they have every reason to cheer on Sunday afternoon. All those fans, the hundreds of thousands of them in the New York area, should be clamoring for tickets to this one.
The reason starts with No. 14.
It might well be the final home game of Thierry Henry's Red Bulls career, the former Arsenal and Barcelona striker who had a storied career with the French national team. Arguably the best player to ever come to the league, Henry chose MLS in 2010 over a number of high-profile European clubs. He's made New York his home, grabbing courtside seats at Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks and walking anonymously through Brooklyn. He even took the PATH train to games at Red Bull Arena. He's a New Yorker, he's one of us. Now let's support him like one.
The magic that Henry has brought to the league has dazzled, and it has made fans of this franchise the world over. Now it is time for those fans to turn out -- not just for Henry, but for this team.
The reason to come out on Sunday starts with No. 14, but it ends with this team and this game.
This rivalry with D.C. United is the deepest rivalry in MLS, one that points back to the 1996 playoffs when the franchise was known as the NY/NJ MetroStars. The MetroStars lost a three-game playoff series against United that year, but a rivalry was born -- the first in MLS and perhaps the most bitter of them all.
This game means something special in the regular season, but it means even more come playoff time.
Sunday figures to be a special moment for sports fans in the area. Dollar for dollar, there isn't a better sports venue in the area than Red Bull Arena. It's a truly beautiful structure that, when packed, is among the loudest in MLS. This is a call to arms to not only soccer fans in the Tri-State Area, but to all sports fans in the region.
The Red Bulls are a team with international stars such as Henry and Tim Cahill, who was the Australia's star in the World Cup this past summer. And it's s squad with local flavor, from Petke -- who hails from Long Island -- to young products Connor Lade, Ryan Meara and Matt Miazga. This past summer, the Red Bulls beat an English Premier League powerhouse 1-0 in an exhibition. It may have been just a friendly, but the quality on the field is vastly underrated. Fans can't discredit the league as second-rate anymore. It just isn't plausible.
There are no more excuses, no more reasons not to support this team. It is playoff time, New York, and you love that winner. Love this Red Bulls team in person on Sunday and let's turn Red Bull Arena into a sold-out frenzy.
The time is now.
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