If you were looking forward to watching the New York Red Bulls play the Chicago Fire tonight, you’re too late. In a rare midday, midweek match, Thierry Henry scored a sensational goal in the 71st minute to pace the Red Bulls to a 1-0 home victory.
The result propelled them past D.C. United for second place in the MLS Eastern Conference and within a point of front-running Sporting Kansas City.
Watch the goal here and then continue reading about the circumstances around this match:
Who in their right minds would schedule a soccer game at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday in the dead of summer? It’s okay in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. Even Southern California is acceptable — Chivas USA hosted the Timbers at 1 p.m. Pacific time today (the game-time temperature was in the low 70s).
But in the stuffy Northeast, no one wants to walk their dog, not to mention play 90 minutes of soccer, in the middle of the day. Harrison, N.J., home to Red Bull Arena, recorded a temperature of 103 degrees at 1 o’clock.
(Next thing you know, FIFA will award a World Cup to a desert nation. Oh.....)
Plagiarizing myself here, the air this time of year is as thick as Greek yogurt. Major League Baseball schedules midday summer games all the time, but the physical exertion doesn’t compare.
Last month, concerns about the effects of heat on the audience prompted the Houston Dynamo to move a 4 p.m. kickoff to 6:30 p.m.
So why did the Red Bulls schedule a 1 p.m. kickoff? To reach a different audience, specifically kids at camp. This is a trick the WNBA employs every summer — except those games are played in air-conditioned arenas. (And frankly, the WNBA is not a league MLS should lump itself with, in almost any manner.)
Announced attendance at Red Bull Arena was 15,814. Would a weeknight game have drawn more? Doubtful. But large numbers of kids on hand usually indicates group sales at reduced prices (i.e. lower ticket revenue).
Here was General Manager Erik Soler’s explanation on the league Web site Tuesday:
“It’s more [of] a business decision than a sporting one . We had a very difficult time of finding different times to play on, and of course from a sporting viewpoint, it’s not ideal to play early in 95 to 100 degrees.
“But we have to take different considerations into the mathematics and it worked out this way ... so we just do our job and try to get the points.”
When national TV timeslots aren’t a factor, MLS generally allows individual clubs to work with their local broadcast partners to set the starting times.
The MLS players’ union didn’t discuss the start of this specific match with the league or the Red Bulls, executive director Bob Foose said. However, “we have had conversations with the league about mid-day summer games.”
Foose said he appreciates the difficulty of scheduling games throughout the season.
But “it’s pretty obvious it’s not ideal to play in this weather,” he said.
Asked if any Chicago or New York players had shared concerns ahead of this particular match, Foose said he doesn’t discuss internal conversations on such subjects.
The Red Bulls will play another afternoon game this weekend against the Philadelphia Union, but the starting time (2:30) was dictated by an ESPN timeslot.
No other early-afternoon league kickoffs are scheduled in July or August.