The New York Red Bulls have a history problem. The team that helped charter Major League Soccer’s first season as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars has tried its best to move past that old name.
If they could, RBNY may as well try to say the team was called the Red Bulls even before 2006.
This isn’t really a new development. While the team will always celebrate team legends from those early years like Tab Ramos, Clint Mathis, or Giovanni Saverese, it stops there.
If you want to get a jersey with those player’s names and numbers, it’s going to have to be on one with a bull on the front unless you don’t mind the second-hand market. The reason we should talk about it now, though, comes down to timing.
When Major League Soccer originally announced the “Since ’96” throwback collection back in 2020 for the then-25th league season, eleven teams were slated to take part.
— Pablo Iglesias Maurer (@MLSist) January 8, 2020
This included teams whose history dated back to the 90s, some of which weren’t even in MLS at the time, and was seen as a fun way to celebrate long-standing clubs. However, one team was noticeably absent; The New York Red Bulls. They stood as the only still-active founding league members to not take part in the series.
One year after COVID hampered the celebrations and the collection is back, now more advertised as the 25th anniversary of MLS’s founding, but still New York did not take part.
The levels of disappointment are only matched by how unsurprising this decision is. When the announcement was re-made earlier this month, RBNY didn’t acknowledge it on social media. Not even in support for the rest of the teams in the league. However, fans were quick to point out the absence of the post made by MLS. The responses range from mockery to annoyance at how much money the team could be leaving on the table.
This isn’t just speculation. When Red Bulls II of the USL Championship announced a new jersey back in 2019, one that sported the same black bars as the classic MetroStars kits, they sold out Day 1. I should know since I was one of the people who had to wait for the second wave. The reserve team averages one of the lowest attendances in the USLC, and they had merch that was higher in demand than whatever “Glitch” kit the first team was selling.
Thinking past the evidence of wasted opportunity from a money point of view, there’s also the fact that the 25th anniversary of the league couldn’t come at a better time.
Think about the past year, especially those first few months of the pandemic. How did leagues and teams cope with the absence of games, the absence of new content to distribute? For many, the solution for a time was to rebroadcast classic events. And for MLS, it almost worked out too well. What’s a better way to celebrate the 25th season than by showing fans classic, historical moments?
The MetroStars memories were a big part of this period. The first-ever meeting between New York/New Jersey and the LA Galaxy was rebroadcast and put online, complete with commentary from former players Peter Vermes and Savarese. That was the first game in the history of this franchise, and the Red Bulls were sure to hype up the broadcast on social media. The same could be said for the MLS Classics rebroadcast of the April 4, 1996 match between the team and the Tampa Bay Mutiny, the first to ever have an “old school” shootout. In that, the entire group of past players were former MetroStars.
The team and MLS even ran a feature story on Brian Donaghy, whose jersey collection has become the stuff of legend. His collection of MetroStars and Red Bulls kits, including rare variants like a 2001 NASL Throwback jersey, is exactly the kind of thing that would get others excited for a retro release.
So a full year later, when this team leaned on the MetroStars history for content and retrospectives, they still can’t do something with the name or design for fans? Not even a throwback kit with the Red Bull name still on it? It’s dumbfounding and a waste.
There’s no way to know what the Red Bulls’ main reason is behind this move. There’s speculation that the organization doesn’t want to devalue its own brand. But in the end, fans will almost certainly never know the actual reason.
The Red Bulls open their season this weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City, a team that will celebrate the fact that at one point, they were called “The Wiz.”
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