Thursday, June 23, 2011

FC New York – Rochester Rhinos (30-05-2011)

Spending a couple of days in Queens, I had to see a game of the newly founded FC New York, which in its inaugural season plays its home games at St. John’s University. After stocking up some amazing bagels and water I park in the parking lot under Belson Stadium, the soccer stadium of The Red Storm (St. John’s men and women soccer teams).

The ticket prices were quite steep: $12 for behind the goals, $17 for the ends of the long side, and $24 for a center spot. I settled for the $17 and then moved close to the center on the empty stand (which would fill up around kick-off).

On this very hot Memorial Day (90F/32C), approximately 350 people filled the 2.600 capacity stadium; at least 50 had made the 350 miles (650 km) trip from Rochester in upstate New York.

The audience was quite diverse, though there were a lot of college kids and almost no kids. Also, despite this was a game in the USL Pro League (Second Division), neither team had a special group of fans with drums and songs (i.e. ultras). Overall, very few people were wearing FCNY gear (they also only sold a couple of t-shirts). Fortunately there was a small group of Mexicans who created some atmosphere at times.

We started the game without the national anthem, a one-off in US professional sports, as far as my experience goes. The first fifteen minutes were dominated by the Rhinos, who nevertheless failed to provide the final pass in. The somewhat erratic referee let three handballs go unpunished, while FCNY excelled in choosing the difficult option, which led to a lot of unnecessary loss of possession. Overall the pace was high though, and the technique and control were good. Although no really clear chances were created, the game moved from box to box. In the 19th minute the hosts finished a good attack with a shot at the goalie and the ensuing counter-attack of the guests led to a shot just wide. Finally, in the 27th minute, the first goal was scored, out of a corner kick, a strong header made it 1-0.

After the goal both teams created some small chances and had some shots at each other’s goals. In general, neither goalkeeper was particularly tested. In the only minute of extra time, a ball was shot against a defender’s hand and the referee could do nothing else than give a penalty: 2-0, half time.

The second half started very unorganized. As the supporters were asked to observe a minute of silence for Memorial Day, the players were shouting at each other to gear the team up for the second half. And when the singer started to sing “God Bless America”, the game had already started. The first fifteen minutes were again for the guests, but this time they made better use of it. In the 56th minute a rebound was hit hard and low: 2-1.

After that, the game got harder and nastier, though definitely not better. Undoubtedly in part because of the scorching heat, the pace dropped significantly. The passing also got much worse, as did the control. Overall, the quality of play deteriorated, even if there were still quite some half chances. All in all, neither team had the energy or quality to score another goal, and so FC New York got a narrow first home victory: 2-1.

FC New York is between PDL and USL Pro in terms of organization and experience. Granted, it is only their inaugural season, but when I visited AC St. Louis for the opening game of its first season, there was much more atmosphere and many more people. Then again, AC St. Louis folded after one season… FCNY has the same ambition as AC St. Louis had; let’s hope it has a better future.

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