YOUR TEAM YOUR VOICE is a series dedicated to the fans of the New York Red Bulls. You have a soccer story, let us help you tell it.
By Nick Lagemann
Throughout my life, I never really watched or played soccer. Sure, I’d watch the world cup when it was broadcast, but soccer just didn’t register. When MLS came around, suffice it to say, I was a skeptic. Soccer, seemed relegated to bizarre games played on hockey ring “fields” that would randomly appear at odd hours on various ESPN or other sports networks.
My 20 something year old self was firmly convinced that the league would never work and that Americans would never embrace a league that didn’t have every one of the best players in the world. Thankfully, my 20 something year old self was wrong.
My thoughts about soccer really started to change around 2010-11. All of a sudden, the Premier League was on the TV on the morning on weekends. The Red Bulls didn’t really come into my life until Christmas 2013. One of my kids announced that he wanted to go see Thierry Henry play before he retired. After a fair bit of reminding me throughout the season, I took him to a game against the Crew in October. The Red Bulls lost that game 3-1, but I was hooked.
Being close to the pitch, hearing the chants from the South Ward, and the arena itself all grabbed me within minutes of finding our seats. That year, we ended up going to a couple of more games, including the playoff matches. Finally, in fall of 2015, we jumped in for good, buying season tickets.
We’ve been there ever since. Admittedly, I had some worries that we were a jinx after the start of the season in 2016, but Felipe’s efforts in the 4-3 win against Houston put those concerns to rest.
So that’s the history, but the question still stands, what turned a long-time soccer skeptic like me into a hard-core Red Bulls fan?
First, as a parent, I don’t think there is a better value for exposing your kids to sports. There are no TV timeouts, no pitching changes, no face offs, no kickoffs, no warm ups, nothing but the game itself and an ever-running clock. From the first kick, I know that I’m going to be out of there in less than two hours. For those of you who aren’t parents, let me assure you, that’s really valuable.
Second, the diversity in all aspects of the sport. This is not to say that other sports or other sport fan bases are not diverse, but there’s something different about soccer. Over the limited time we’ve been fans, we’ve rooted for players from as close as Paterson, New Jersey, to as far off as Ghana. Moreover, in my experience, in each section I’ve sat in at RBA you see and get to cheer with different people, with different backgrounds, from different places, and often, even speaking different languages.
That’s important to me and I just don’t think it necessarily comes in other sports. Moreover, through the Concacaf Champions League matches, we’ve be able to attend games with fans of other teams in different countries. While that may or may not have resulted in my kids learning some words they probably shouldn’t know (or at least not yell after a goal kick), it is still a learning experience that just isn’t there at an MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL game.
Third, the exposure.
Does anyone know of another sport where you and your family could have met virtually every player on a team during the time you had season tickets? I don’t. And, sure, some of these events are standing in front of players at a table while your kids jam things to sign in their faces, but it is still a chance to meet them up close.
Other events, at least for us, have included hanging out with various players at small events, from hitting golf balls at a driving range, playing the somewhat bizarre sport of soccer golf, and playing FIFA against Tyler Adams and Ryan Meara. I’ve seen other events ranging from pizza making to axe throwing (still not sure about that one) to escape rooms and other small group events.
Is there any other team in the New York area, or the country at large, where you can do that with the players you watch at each game? Go ahead, I’m waiting.
Fourth, the players really and truly seem like approachable, good guys.
When one of my sons wrote Luis Robles a letter and sent it to Red Bull Arena, I figured it didn’t really have a chance of making its way to him. Wrong. Right before the start of this season, my wife called me at work, asking why my son had gotten a priority mail delivery from an “L. Robles” at Red Bull Arena. The autographed picture with a very nice handwritten message has been up on my son’s wall ever since.
I’ve also seen numerous players take the time to sign virtually anything given to them. They take selfies, and even to just say hello or wave as they’re walking off the pitch after a game. The players actually seem to enjoy these interactions with fans and aren’t just doing so out of obligation. Players respecting and interacting with the fans should mean something. For this sport and this team, it really seems to.
Finally, I just love the game, the team and the experience, full stop.
I’m not really trying to use team tag lines, but I’m all in. We cheer when they win, we’re grumpy when they don’t. We seem to rise or fall with each match. I seem to type “#RBNY” into twitter multiple times a day. For days leading up to each home match, my family discusses strategy, and what to expect from the opponent.
We anxiously await the release of Seeing Red each week. We listen to many of the other RB related podcasts that have come out this year. Before each home match, we leave hours early to make sure we can hit one of our acceptable pre-game restaurants. We skip the places whose sandwiches preceded losses. We wait to make our pre-game predictions until we’re across the light on Frank Rodgers Boulevard.
So, that’s a brief synopsis of how I beacme so devoted. I’m taking time off now from my actual job to try to write a column like this. I’m not someone who has been there from the beginning, but my family and I are devoted fans. We’re not going anywhere.