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End of an era as Red Bulls leave Giants Stadium

It was the best-worst soccer facility in the nation. Those who have gone to a MLS soccer game at Giants Stadium know exactly what this means. When the Cosmos moved to Giants Stadium in 1977, they brought big-time professional soccer to the Meadowlands. Record crowds for the NASL filled the New Jersey stadium and Giants Stadium, built for American football, became a destination location for the world's sport. There wasn't and there still isn't a bad seat in Giants Stadium. And when Giants Stadium was filled, especially for international games, the place was usually rocking. The problem with Giants Stadium is that, but for a handful of games, the stadium was one-fifth filled for most league games. Giants Stadium was a morgue at best, even when the home team was playing winning soccer. It is impossible to build an atmosphere with 60,000 empty seats staring down at you, reminding all in attendance that they are third-rate tenants in a building designed for football. And we haven't even touched the horrendous plastic field yet. Despite the fact that Giants Stadium had it faults and was a cold and sterile venue for MLS, it was still home for fans of this franchise since 1996. You see, many fans like me watched our first MLS game at the venue; mine was April of 1997, a game pitting Kansas City and the MetroStars. It was goose-bump stuff for me, a high school soccer player who was taken to the game by my father. We spent much of the game seated in a nearly empty section, talking about the game, a game he had played in high school before this country even knew the sport. But for me, Giants Stadium was never about an empty stadium or even a MLS team, it was about people. It was sharing a Sunday afternoon in 1997, watching Roberto Donadoni spearhead a MetroStars 1-0 victory in my first MLS game. It was wearing a grocery bag over my head in 1999, when the team went 7-25, and having Mike Petke yell at us from the field to not give up on the team.

MLS Cup playoffs
Thursday
Houston vs. Seattle
10 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Sunday
L.A. vs. Chivas USA
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Nov. 5
RSL vs. Columbus
8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Nov. 8
Chivas vs. L.A.
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

It was bringing buddies from college to games during the magical 2000 season and celebrating a team that went from worst to first in one season. It was watching fans leaning over the railing and falling onto the field, just to touch Clint Mathis after he scored a wonder goal against Dallas in 2001. It was 2006, when Red Bull came in and re-branded the team, bringing in Shakira and Wyclef for a halftime show as exciting as the scoreless tie between New England and New York. Now, Giants Stadium has played out its last MLS match before a couple thousand fans as a torrential downpour swept across the field. Somehow, it is fitting, and perhaps the rain will wash away the misery of playing in a place that never really was home for this franchise. The worst team in MLS this season, the Red Bulls must clean themselves up for a truly world-class home in Harrison, N.J., next spring. Perhaps with Saturday night's 5-0 win over Toronto, this franchise has buried the curse of Nicola Caricola (Caricola is best remembered for the own goal he scored in the dying seconds of the club's first home loss, a 1-0 loss to the Revolution in 1996) and is ready for a fresh start. The future of professional soccer in New York depends on it. But, as the rain washes away the bad taste of another disappointing Red Bulls season, it can never wash away the memories that all began with a trip to see the MetroStars with my dad in 1997. Quote of the week "You can't make it every year, but two in a row is alarming." -- D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen on the club missing the playoffs for consecutive years. Stat of the week Last year, not one goalkeeper in the league had a goals-against average less than a goal a game. This year, five keepers were under the once-a-game goal average. Zach Thornton, the front-runner for MLS Comeback Player of the Year, led all keepers with just .87 goals per game. Quick kicks • Los Angeles completed its bottom-to-top finish, capturing its first Western Conference crown since 2002. • New York's 5-0 win over Toronto was just its second shutout win of the season and third clean sheet overall this year. • Seattle's final attendance average of 30,897 per game was double (and sometimes nearly triple) the average gate of nine other MLS clubs. The league-wide average was 16,037 fans per game. Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the associate editor of Blitz magazine and writes for the New York daily paper Metro. He can be reached at KDyer@RutgersInsider.com.

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