Last Sunday, the New York Red Bulls honored long time goalkeeper Luis Robles. The ceremony saw the former RBNY team captain become the inaugural member of the team’s Ring of Honor. All of this was done in a short ceremony following the 1-0 loss to New York City FC.
Overall the sentiment of the event was evident. Despite leaving the team in 2020 for Inter Miami CF, Robles is still loved by members of the RBNY fanbase. Following his retirement at the conclusion of the pandemic riddled 2020 season many hoped he would return to the organization in some form. This has been the case with Bradley Wright-Phillips leaving the team for other MLS squads before returning post retirement to take on more roles.
However, it still remains that Robles’ big moment felt last minute and underwhelming. The fact the ceremony took place after a match instead of before it and the actual presentation itself felt small in scale.
That’s probably the best place to start with this whole event; when it took place. Having Robles’ number retired on the same day as the Hudson River Derby makes a lot of sense. It’s the team’s biggest game against their biggest rival. However, having it take place after the final whistle meant the arena was nearly cleared out. About half of the reported 25,000 fans didn’t stick around after NYCFC’s win to see the ceremony despite it being advertised.
The ceremony should have taken place at halftime and, in fact, during the lead up to the game it sounded like that was the plan. Something similar to how the Supporter Shield icons have been unveiled. Instead, the halftime went by normally with mentions that fans needed to stay until after the match coming on screen.
The gates opened for this game 90 minutes before kickoff, a full 30 minutes earlier than usual. Why couldn’t the ceremony take place during pregame? Possibly opening the games two hours before kickoff would allow fans to come in and leave time for the ceremony to go ahead before pregame warmups.
My theory is that because this game was nationally broadcast on ESPN, that limited the amount of wiggle room the team had for any delays in kickoff. If this is the case, why did the Red Bulls have the ceremony scheduled for this game? It was generally known this match would be on national TV since it’s a major tenet of Rivalry Week. If tighter constrictions come with that the ceremony could have been on another night. It’s not as though this event was going to bring more people to the arena considering these two teams bring out the highest attendances for one another.
Moving forward, the ceremony itself felt small scale. A quick medal stage was rolled onto the field between the two team benches. Fans from across the arena poured into the VIP Club seats, sometimes against security’s wishes, to get a better view. Following an introduction by broadcaster Steve Cangialosi, Robles’ spoke to the crowd in what really was a heartfelt speech. Flanked by his family, Connor Lade, and others from the front office all standing on the stage. The presentation of two framed jerseys, one of Robles’ number and one showing 183 for his iron man streak, were nice touches. The creation of the Luis Robles Grant, which will be given annually to Hackensack Meridian Health’s Child Life Program was also a very nice gesture. But the fact the ceremony was about 15 minutes, most of which was Robles’ speech, made it feel very miserable.
When the event closed with the unveiling of Robles’ name and number up in the Ring of Honor it also created one final question. What is the Ring of Honor exactly? Officially the team’s description states that:
“Players inducted into Legends Row possess the rare combination of top end talent on the field and the ability to live the values of the club within the community. For their dedication to our club, their names will forever be enshrined within Red Bull Arena.”
The team already has the names of players from its first 20 years displayed above the front of the arena. Plus, BWP’s 99 has already been retired and has an emblem on the left side of the main building. This Ring of Honor seems to be on the right side of the main building. However it’s unclear if his Number 31 is also retired like BWP’s 99.
Compare this to another NYC team that recently retired a former team captain’s number. The New York Mets held a ceremony on Saturday, July 9th to honor former player and current broadcaster Keith Hernandez. The man who became the first team captain in Mets’ history saw his number retired in a pregame ceremony prior to the game against the Miami Marlins that afternoon.
As someone who attended both events in person there were similarities and major differences. Both felt small to some degree. The ceremony itself felt a little rushed at Citi Field as the start time was pushed back and first pitch neared closer. But they still have time for multiple speakers to come up to the podium that was set up in the infield.
But then there are the major differences. The Mets’ ceremony felt like it was a major part of the game that day. Special merchandise was made and a promotional bobblehead was given to fans. Hernadez’s number 17 was worn on patches and embroidered in centerfield for the game. For Robles’ a collector’s pin was given out but only to fans exiting the arena after his ceremony. If fans left early they were unable to get it. Besides that, nothing physical was inside Red Bull Arena. No merchandise for the day was sold and only a few video packages were shown reminding fans to stick around.
It’s not as though both players are that different. Hernandez is widely considered the best defensive first baseman of all time in Major League Baseball. Robles holds the MLS record for most consecutive regular-season starts with 183. Hence how he earned his “Ironman” moniker.
Above all I’m sure Robles is honored just to be part of something like this with the New York Red Bulls. Perhaps had he retired in 2020 instead of leaving for Inter Miami things would have been different. Maybe that’s just conspiracy. But the whole thing does feel like missed opportunity to do something greater. It follows a similar trend to other events at the arena this season. But this one stands out more considering how much Robles meant to the fans and this franchise.