Vanzeir fans
Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

The New York Red Bulls’ fan base is at the lowest point I’ve ever seen. The team’s form seven games in, having won only one game, isn’t even the leading cause. Instead, Dante Vanzeir and head coach Gerhard Struber are the main culprits. The player’s now-admitted racial outburst against the San Jose Earthquakes is a black mark in the team’s history. As of yesterday (Thursday), Vanzeir has been suspended six games by Major League Soccer. That also includes mandatory behavioral training and an undisclosed fine.

The reactions around the league, especially within the RBNY fanbase, have been critical. Empire Supporter’s Club, one of New York’s main fan groups, posted on Twitter that the ruling was a miscarriage of justice.

 

Plenty of fans, including ESC above, have also taken the time to point out MLS’s own “zero tolerance” policy towards racism. This ruling, in their eyes, demonstrates that it’s less zero tolerance and more like “some tolerance.”

On Thursday afternoon, before the announcement, Struber spoke to the media following the team’s open training session. By this time, Vanzeir had already stepped away from the team voluntarily. The coach acknowledged his actions on Saturday night could have been better.

“We have some tough days behind us, everyone knows,” Struber said. “Saturday night, and first of all, I will say sorry for a night like that. I think everyone knows right now what happened, but I will say a little bit more about especially the 20-25 minute break. Yeah, I think it was a chaotic situation; in my direction, I got so much different information, and, in the end, it takes time to find the solution, to find the decision, and what is the right one.

‘The situation hurts for everyone. I feel very, very sorry for our supporters. I feel very, very sorry for my group of players (&) I feel sorry for my coaching team, but I have, in the end, the responsibility to bring all together again.”

Nearly a week after the incident, this is the first time Struber has directly apologized for his part in the whole ordeal. In his previous statement, released by the team, the coach acknowledged he should have taken Vanzier out of the game. However, it came off more as “I did the right thing given the information I had at the time.”

But that leaves us here, a day ahead of the Red Bulls’ next home match against Houston Dynamo FC. And honestly… I don’t expect much to be different. This isn’t a call out of the fans so much as an apathetic view of the team and the front office as a whole.

Currently, the team has two recognized supporter’s groups and one informal. Viking Army SC and Empire SC have both been officially “sanctioned” by the team, while the third, Torcida 96, is still growing but sizable enough to garner respect. So far, none of the teams have publicly talked about actions at the game to demonstrate anger or dissatisfaction. Viking Army has said on Twitter they will not discuss their plans publicly at this time.

However, multiple members of various groups have said things are being discussed. It should be noted that some of these comments came before Struber spoke to the supporter group leadership on Wednesday, which has been confirmed by both the team and fans.

But let’s say the groups decide to protest. A walkout, boycott, or something to empty the South Ward to show a message to the team. What would that really demonstrate in an already empty arena?

So far in 2023, New York ranks fifth from last in terms of average attendance. That puts the team at 16,608 fans per game after three games. Will the absence of the South Ward make the arena that much more empty, or will it be just another acceptable loss? We shall see as Viking Army announced on Friday that they will be walking out following the national anthem on Saturday. It is unclear if the other two groups will join them.

This isn’t like the situation currently facing the LA Galaxy. Fans have protested, including boycotts, to have team president Chris Klein resign from his position or be fired outright. That has actually produced results with Klein emailing season ticket holders this week. The president has actually committed to leaving the team if the Galaxy do not “advance in the playoffs” this season.

For reference, LA is ninth in attendance so far this year. While MLS attendance might include distributed tickets and not turnstile (aka at the game), that total is still in the midst of a boycott. Those losses will be felt and seen far more.

I understand how pessimistic this article is. And it should not take away from the fact that what happened last Saturday was wrong. But if anything happens going forward, I’m not sure how much of it can be traced back to this moment.

If Struber is out as manager, that already felt like it was in the cards. The Austrian has allegedly had his family move back to Europe, and he’s always rumored to have an interest in the offseason. He already has a foot out the door – what would angry supporters do to push him out further?

Fans should yell and voice their dissatisfaction with the club. Because as the New York Red Bulls continue to ignore them, hopefully, that demonstrates the type of relationship we all have with the team.

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