Monday, March 25, 2019

Glendale Raptors 19 at Rugby United New York 31 (Major League Rugby) - March 24, 2019

Major League Rugby (MLR) is the newest addition to the sports scene in New York City, with expansion team Rugby United New York (RUNY) taking the field for the 2019 season. The league began play in 2018 with seven teams, and the Toronto Arrows joined RUNY as expansion clubs this year. Even though it is called Major League Rugby, they play rugby union, a different sport than rugby league. It is also not quite major league yet, but that is what they are working toward. Teams play 16 games in a home-and-away round robin over 19 weeks, with the top 4 making the playoffs.

RUNY (pronounced Rooney, as in soccer star Wayne) plays out of MCU Park in Brooklyn, summer home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. After a five-game road trip to start the season (the first week of play was in late January), the team played Toronto to open their home slate on March 15. I was in Winnipeg that day so missed the match that saw RUNY score a last second try to win. Their second tilt was on Sunday against last season's runners-up, the Glendale (Colorado) Raptors. With fine weather and nothing else to do, I headed over to Coney Island to see my first MLR match.

I arrived about 10 minutes before the scheduled start time of 2 p.m. and picked up a ticket for $20 from the box office. No need to pay more here as you can sit where you want. When I walked in, I saw that they had just painted some lines on the field and added the goalposts, without even covering the diamond. As the playing field is artificial turf, it will likely remain that way. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but once the action starts, you don't really notice it.

Most fans sat along first base, or midfield in this case. The view from the concourse is above and below. There were a couple of concession stands open and doing brisk business. Alcohol sales cease at the 65th minute, the least-liked minute in sports according to the P.A. guy.

There was little lead-up to the players emerging from the dressing rooms. The teams were announced, walked out to midfield, faced the crowd, and then turned to face the flag for the national anthem. With the formalities over, the match kicked off at 2:07.

I preferred to sit behind one goal line, which led to great views when the action was in that end. As the field is quite far from the sideline seats, this is a better area to sit if you want to get close.

The players are mostly Americans with several of them members of the national team. A few lower-tier players from overseas complete the squad; the only name that might be recognized for RUNY is Ben Foden, who played for England a while back, and is now in the news after separating from his apparently famous wife.

The match saw RUNY score four tries in the first half to Glendale's one as they went to the break up 24-7, having missed two conversions. The tries were actually quite exciting, with some long runs and good passing leading to the scores. In particular, New York's third try saw them go the length of the field after a Glendale drop near the try line.  However, the rest of the play saw a lot of penalties and unforced errors, particularly from the visitors. Near the end of the first half, RUNY's James Denise was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes, and the Raptors capitalized early in the second half to get within 24-12. But the RUNY defense held for the rest of the time, and when they scored a fifth try, that pretty much sealed the deal. A late try for Glendale made the final 31-19 as RUNY moved to second place in the table with a 6-1 record. If I find highlights, I'll post them here.

Overall, the match was mostly entertaining, but there were several times where action was halted. There are hydration breaks midway through each half, and the usual breaks to set up scrums and for the occasional injury. The game still moves quickly, taking less than two hours and I did enjoy the experience. Attendance was announced at 2,703 but I think there were perhaps half that number at the venue. Rugby does have a small but passionate fan base here, and it will take time to see if they can make new fans. The team is doing well, and as weather improves, they should see an uptick in attendance. A bit of advertising would help, so I'll do my part here. If you live in NYC, go check out a RUNY match!




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