Think unhappy — for everyone involved.
This was the bizarre backdrop to Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League match between New York City FC and AD San Carlos of Costa Rica. NYCFC won 1-0 on a first-half goal by Alexander Callens to advance to the tournament’s quarterfinal round by virtue of a 6-3 aggregate.
Oh, and the game was at Red Bull Arena.
Yes, Red Bull Arena — enemy territory, the den of NYCFC’s fiercest rival, the Red Bulls, the Harrison, N.J., arena in which NYCFC had been 1-7-1 all time and had been outscored 20-6.
In other words: NYCFC, competing in this prestigious tournament for the first time in club history by virtue of its first-place finish in the MLS Eastern Conference last season, was forced to play its “home’’ match in this series in what had been a House of Horrors for the club since it entered MLS in 2015.
Yankee Stadium, which has served as NYCFC’s home for the past five seasons as the club has searched unsuccessfully for its own soccer-specific stadium, was unavailable Wednesday night because its field is still in the process of being “winterized.’’
Same for Citi Field.
NYCFC had sought all options other than Red Bull Arena, including playing at St. John’s, which was rejected by CONCACAF officials.
“We want to really play at home,’’ NYCFC coach Ronny Deila, who’s in his first season with the club, said before the match. “Everybody agrees that it’s not what we want.’’
It wasn’t what anyone wanted.
Not the NYCFC players, and not their fans, a number of whom boycotted Wednesday’s match. They watched the game at a sports bar across the street from Yankee Stadium rather than take advantage of free tickets NYCFC offered to come to Red Bull Arena, where fewer than 1,000 fans watched.
Not the Red Bulls, who made it to the semifinals of this tournament the past two seasons without breaking through to the final, and surely would have liked to have been the team playing San Carlos on Wednesday night.
And definitely not Red Bulls fans, who’ve turned tweaking NYCFC and their nomadic existence into sport. Red Bulls Twitter was in overdrive in recent weeks over NYCFC having to play this match in their home.
“I dislike the idea of the club that supposedly represents New York City playing a home game in Harrison (the third state they’ve called home) but this is far more embarrassing to NYCFC than #RBNY’’ tweeted @Metros96.
“NYCFC don’t have a good record playing there, so … have fun!’’ tweeted @DammnnitDan.
To NYCFC’s credit, they weren’t spooked by the fact that San Carlos was clad in Red Bulls red and even had a striker wearing No. 99 (Omar Browne), the same number as perennial NYCFC killer Bradley Wright-Phillips, wore in his days as the Red Bulls’ sniper.
“I’ve only been losing here, so I don’t have any good memories here, so it’s good to get a first win here,’’ NYCFC defender Anton Tinnerholm said with a smile after the match.
“It’s not an easy situation to play at your rival’s place,’’ NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “But for us, our focus was solely on coming here and executing what we needed to do to get to the next round with the hope that the [‘home’] venue will be different next time.’’
The win moved NYCFC into the quarterfinal round against the winner of Wednesday’s late match between Tigres UANL of Mexico and Alianza FC of El Salvador. Though no schedule had been announced as of Wednesday night, it’s believed NYCFC will host the first leg, likely March 10, 11 or 12, and the “home’’ venue is still to be determined.
“Of course, we want to play at home, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Deila said.
A recent report in the New York Times said the club’s seven-year search for a permanent home may be coming to an end with the possibility of a privately financed, 25,000-seat stadium in the South Bronx as part of a pending development project. Even if that plan makes it through all approval stages, however, construction wouldn’t begin until at least 2022 and could take several years to complete.
So NYCFC’s existence as second-class citizens in their own “home’’ stadium will continue.
Think about the Yankees having to play a big home game at Citi Field or the Rangers having to play a big game at Nassau Coliseum or the Knicks having to play a big game at Barclays Center. Well, actually, never mind that last one. But you get the point.
This is NYCFC’s existence, their normal.
To borrow what has become an oft-used phrase from Jets coach Adam Gase: “It’s not ideal.’’