The devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy has ravaged the New York and New Jersey area, and as a result, Major League Soccer has been forced to move Saturday’s first leg of the New York Red Bulls-D.C. United series from Red Bull Arena to RFK Stadium.
Though Red Bull Arena didn’t sustain any major damage during the storm, the area near the stadium, and the surrounding area, has sustained considerable damage, which left MLS no choice but to switch matches in the home-and-home series.
“This was a tough decision, but one we think was much bigger than the sport of soccer,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Now, the Red Bulls will travel to RFK Stadium on Saturday for the first leg, then host the second leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. The decision effectively hands home-field advantage in the series to the Red Bulls, who will have the edge of hosting a potential overtime and penalty kicks if the series is tied after two matches.
“These are extraordinary circumstances that we all face,” said D.C. United president Kevin Payne. “Our club worked hard ot get home field advantage but there are times when circumstances supercede that, and this is one of those times.”
MLS was left with little choice after surveying the damage done both in the area near Red Bull Arena, but also the shocking damage done to New York and the transportation system that would normally be used by fans commuting to Red Bulls games.
The tight MLS playoff schedule made pushing back the series impossible, thus leaving the league with the difficult choice of switching the home venues around.
“This is a decision that will affect everyone,” Garber said. “This will have a compettive impact on DC. We understand that.
“Our folks have reached out to ESPN. We’re going to try to utilize mass media as much as we can to get the word out as quickly as we can.”
D.C. United will have to mobilize quickly to inform fans of the change, and sell the Saturday night match to soccer fans in the D.C. area.
“We’ve begun, through a variety of digital mechanisms, we’ve begun alerting them to the change,” Payne said. “We had about 10,000 tickets to the match sold. Our hope that because its switching to a Saturday night, it won’t be too inconvenient for people.
We are launching a major public relations and advertising campaign overnight tonight,” said Payne. “We are entirely confident we will enjoy the home field advantage Saturday that we would have had on Wednesday night.”
As for the Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena avoided being damaged during Hurricane Sandy, though nearby neighborhoods were flooded.
“The water never made it to the field,” Red Bulls general manager Jerome deBontin said. “We covered the field on time and we uncovered the field yesterday. We lost power around 7 p.m. Monday. We were first told it would take 5 to 7 days to get power at the stadium. In fact we did get some power back for a few hours today.
“The stadium is in perfect shape, the roof was not affected.”