BY MARK FISHKIN
When MLS started, I was 27 years old. I had seen Cosmos and some MISL games as a kid, and got bit hard by the soccer bug.
MLS launched just at the start of the internet age. At that time, American Soccer fans had to scurry around in the dark, buying copies of “Soccer Digest” with 3 month-old European tables and game stories of the US National team playing in front of 4,000 people in Torrance, CA.
With MLS though, I’d be able to see top-flight soccer LIVE, in my city, for an affordable price.
My roommate and I went in for MetroStars season tickets and braved the Port Authority bus system 10+ times a year to see them play. I was, of course, in the house for the infamous Caricola match. At the time, no one knew that the own-goal would start an 18-year curse. We were just bummed that we wouldn’t see the shootout, a horrible “Americanization” of the league that thankfully only persisted a few seasons.
I was in attendance at Columbia University in ’97 when the Metros fell to FC Dallas in the US Open Cup semis after Branco picked up a late red card. I got to see Earnie Stewart, four miles offside for DCU, beat the Metros in the playoffs.
I joined the ESC, met some superlative guys I’d spend a lot of the next decade traveling with to see Metro as well as USMNT matches; profane and brilliant guys who became part of my weekends. Friendly faces united in the common cause.
I met my wife. Got married. Moved to the Burbs. Started a family. Metro continued to fail in the most painful ways possible. Were they cursed? Maybe. But too many coaches and too many players in and out of the door was the real reason why the team failed over and over and over again.
In the blink of an eye, the curse was 10 years old. Rivals won MLS Cups, Shields, and Open Cups. New York fans were the subject of torture from other teams’ fans. There was little to do but grin & bear it.
2006 was a challenging year for sure. My team was now something called the “Red Bulls.” My team became the only professional sports franchise in North American named for a consumer product; a product that frankly I had never used, and probably never would (a product I wouldn’t want my kids to ever drink, frankly).
However, they were still my team. Still my weekend escape. And while some left, never to return, I stayed.
I’m a fan. Life is short. I’d rather be happy than “right.”
A surprise run to MLS Cup in 2008 was a joy. Nevada Smith’s the night of the win at RSL was a magical memory. New York was surely the underdog in LA against Columbus, but I was at the Home Depot Center for a loss which many had predicted. The Red Bulls gave the Crew a game, but on that day, the opponent was just better.
New York had its day in the sun, but the curse endured.
Red Bull was different, sure, but they had money to spend, and spend they did. They invested $200 million on an incredible palace for soccer, located less than 15 minutes from my suburban home. I found seats directly above the ESC so my kids could not only see and hear the ruckus, but also see and hear the game.
For the most part, the media remained unimpressed. While there were certainly many quality journalists that have covered this team for many years, Red Bulls fans deserved more. They deserved a regular outlet for club news, opinion, and feedback that they weren’t getting anywhere else. So I reached out to some voices in the Red Bull blogger community, including my brother-in-podcast Dave Martinez, and Seeing Red was born.
At the club, the players still came and went, and the team still failed. Painful home playoff losses to San Jose and Los Angeles and DC were suffered. Three more seasons ended like every other. While the teams in the Hans Backe-era were talented, they lacked heart, pride, belief in themselves and belief in each other.
And then, 2013.
It’s plain that the two keys that unlocked this successful season where named Michael Petke and Tim Cahill. These two wonderful professionals are all heart. All pride. These two, one on the sideline and one on the field, pulled this team together into something magical. Red Bulls became a team that never gave up, a team that added desire to their skill and fought for each other every single team on the field.
Down the stretch, as the out-of-town results all seemed to go New York’s way, it become apparent that we’d have a shot at the Shield, and fittingly, we’d have to win our last match to claim it. Like many Red Bulls fans, I spent most of Sunday unable to calm down, unable to focus, and was generally miserable to be around.
It’s always great to meet Seeing Red listeners at Red Bull Arena, and yesterday was no different. Except everything was different. Nervous handshakes and hugs were given. Smoke bombs lit, streamers thrown.
And then, kick off.
I won’t lie. Magee’s tap-in had me thinking it wasn’t going to be our night.
Then Thierry Henry’s world-class equalizer allowed me to believe. Just a little bit. Then Sekagya, Sam, and Alexander, and Steele delivered. The last 20 minutes seems to take at least two hours to pass by.
And then, the whistle. Primal screams. Tears and tears and tears. The Shield appearing out of nowhere.
I held my son, now almost ten, close and whispered in his ear: “Enjoy this moment. You may never see this again.” In a flash of memory, we were back in Giants Stadium, and I was watching him as a three year-old run up and down the ramps at Halftime.
I was 27 and single. I’m now a 44 year-old married father of two.
A long time has gone by. And yet, no time at all.
I don’t know what will happen in the MLS Playoffs, and to be honest, an MLS Cup would be icing on the most delicious cake I’ve ever had. Favorites tend not to do well in the current MLS’ playoff system. All I know is that for one night, one glorious, amazing night, a team and it’s supporters came together as one.
My team. My friends. My family.