The New York Red Bulls have already sold out Red Bull Arena for the Nov. 29 second leg of their Eastern Conference Championship series against Columbus Crew SC, and they'll have a measure of support on hand for Sunday's first leg at Columbus, too.
New York and Columbus will open their series on Sunday evening at MAPFRE Stadium (5 pm ET; ESPN and ESPN Deportes in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada). And while the vast majority of Red Bull fans will be cheering on the squad from the greater Metro area, New York will still have plenty of support in central Ohio.
Members of the South Ward -- a section comprised of the Viking Army, Empire Supporters Club, and Garden State Ultras supporters groups -- will embark on the 550-mile journey to cheer on the Supporters’ Shield-winners in the hopes of spurning them to a crucial road result. But unlike their heroes, a flight from Newark is not on their itinerary.
Instead, five buses carrying more than 400 supporters will depart from Red Bull Arena just before midnight on Saturday, riding through the night, all for the love of their team. And perhaps no one embodies that passion quite like Viking Army Board Member Ralph “Chupi” Garcia.
“Supporting the team on the road is excellent,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “The three supporter groups have a tighter bond to each other and mixed in with the regular Red Bulls fans, it makes for a special experience for all involved, including the players when they hear our songs and chants.”
Garcia has made nine road trips in 2015 alone, while the South Ward's most memorable away date came when they showed up in droves to RFK Stadium to witness the Red Bulls down longtime rivals D.C. United in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The supporters' group even sent a large contingent to Chicago on Decision Day to see New York lift the Shield for the second time in three years.
“The feeling of being in Chicago for the Supporter's Shield-winning match can be described with the words like – overjoyed, elated,” Garcia said. “There we were in Chicago with over 200 travelling supporters celebrating all the hard work that the boys in white have done on the field and all the work, we the supporters have done in the stands at home or away supporting our team.”
A trip to Columbus, however, presents a much different challenge for the South Ward on several fronts. The long trip will be far greater than their usual road trips to D.C., New England, or Philadelphia, and the weather may stymie the exuberance so often displayed by the South Ward's loudest.
Just don’t tell that to Chupi, or his 400 closest friends.
“Keeping up the intensity after the long trip to Columbus wont be an issue at all ,” he said. “Everyone has been waiting for this game for close to two weeks and each day that passes, their passion only intensifies to being louder and prouder when being in the stands, making sure their voices will be heard by not only the boys in white, but everyone in Columbus, Ohio.”