Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Red Bull New York 3 - 1 Columbus Crew

by DM

Saturday night was the final home match of the season for my Red Bulls. My daughter, Charlotte, and I have season tickets and we do our best to never miss a match.

For the final match of the season, there was a special event for select members of the youth fan club, the Fanatics. Every Fanatics Fan Club member who had attended at lease ten matches during the season was invited onto the field to watch the Red Bulls players during their pre-game warm-up.

Arriving at Gate C by 6:15 P.M. was not a problem for us, and we arrived fifteen mintuies early. It was a chilly Autumn evening and we had wisely dressed in layers, with hoods and gloves.

The "High 5" club was also waiting in line at Gate C for a 6:00 P.M. entry to the match. The High 5 club is comprised of youth soccer teams from around the metropolitan New York area. The youth teams line-up along the far sideline before warm-ups start, to greet the players as they enter the field.

The Fanatics group was escorted to the field, and lined-up behind the goal where Caleb Patterson, Terry Boss, and Danny Cepero were warming-up with goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan.

Danny Cepero is one of Charlotte's favorite Red Bulls players, and because he spent most of the 2008 season on-loan to Harrisburg, she had never had a chance to meet him. She was very excited to see him up close, along with her buddy Mr. Patterson.

Because our starting keeper, Jon Conway has been suspended along with Defender Jeff Parke, we knew that one of these two guys would be the starting goalie, and we were excited about it.

Cepero looked very strong in goal and got the nod to start against the league-leading Columbus Crew. This would be Cepero's first MLS appearance, and I was surprised that Petterson, who played the second-half against FC Barcelona earlier in the season, was passed over.

The High 5 club formed a sort of gauntlet on the far sideline and as the Red Bulls players entered the field for warm-ups, they ran the gauntlet, slapping the hands of as many of the kids they passed. Midfielders Seth Stammler and Luke Sassano (another of Charlotte's faves) continued their run by making their way behind the goal to slap the hands of all the Fanatics kids. There was much joy!

As the players took their warm-ups, most of them made sure to move close to the end line wherre the Fanatics where cheering. Juan Pablo Angel, the Colombian star of the team, spent a good deal of time stretching and warming-up only five yards from the kids and there was much happiness.

With forty-five seconds left for warm-ups, Charlotte announced that she wanted to go to our seats, and she was happy that Mr. Patterson made one last pass along the endline to shake hands before we were escorted off the field and allowed to take our seats.

The match was an important one, the Red Bulls had just fallen out of the last playoff slot and had to win this match, and next week's season finale at Chicago, in order to qualify for the post-season.

The first half was scoreless, but the Red Bulls dominated play, and Cepero made a spectacular save getting the tips of his fingers on a sure goal by Columbus and sending the ball over then net.

The second half was much wilder, with Angel scoring in the 48th minute off a pass from newcomer and Senegalese internations, Macoumba Kandji.

Columbus turned-up the heat, and fourteen minutes later, Steven Lenhart, scored an equalizer off a pass from Argentinian, Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

This half was littered with rough play and four yellow cards, the last of which to Andrew Boyens late in the match brought Charlotte to tears. Most soccer fans don't realize that MLS is a strong, physical league. Fans of the European leagues took notice last year when Juan Pablo Angel, who has played for River Plate in Argentinia and Aston Villa in England, discussed in an English newspaper his surprise at the level of play and the toughness in Major League Soccer. MLS is a stronger league, with a higher level of play than Eurosnobs want to admit.

In the seventy-sixth minute, Juan Pablo Angel delivered his 13th goal of the season (with assists from Stammler and Dutchman Dave van den Bergh) to put the Red Bulls ahead 2-1.

In the 82nd minute, van den Bergh and Columbus star, Pat Noonan, got into an argument, at the Red Bulls end of the field, that turned slightly physical but amounted to nothing more than the swingnig of handbags. Each, however, erceived a yellow card for Unsporting Behavior. When the dust and mascara settled, Danny Cepero sent the rest of the team forward and prepared to deliver a long pass to Angel or Kandji who were setting-up towards the Columbus goal. Cepero delivered a beautiful seventy-yard kick that landed in the penalty area, ten yeards in front of the goal, and bounced high over the Columbus keeper's head and into the goal! 3-1 New York!

The crowd and the team were ecstatic. Defender Andrew Boyens bolted towards Cepero and lifted him in the air as the crowd cheered and the rest of the team made their way to offer congratulations.

Cepero's goal is the first by a goalkeeper in MLS history, and is believed (as of this writing) to be the first time ever in the history of the game, that a goalkeeper scored a goal in his debut appearance.

The remaining seven minutes and added time were perfunctory, notable only for the yellow card to Boyens for Dissent, and the final playoff berth is well within reach.

Red Bull New York season ticket holders (known as Red Bull Members) are invited into the stadium pub before and after every match. After each match, players dress in blue blazers, white shirts and red ties, and make their way from the locker room into the pub to meet the fans, sign autographs and take pictures. Juan Pablo Angel and other international stars rarely, if ever, make an appearance, but the developmental players and many of the teams starting corps freely give their time to shake hands, take congratulations and give kids lifetime memories. It's a fantastic perk for season ticket holders, and MLS should be proud of the Red Bulls players who serve as such effective ambassadors of the game and the league.

Throughout the season, I managed to get pictures of Charlotte with each of the players who visited the pub regularly, and we printed two copies of each photo. She autographed one for them and asked them to autograph one for her. Many of the players appreciated the gift and she is well-known among the players and front office staff because of it. She is on a first-name basis with many of the players and their wives/girlfriends, and she loves going to the pub after the match.

Last night was no different.

Because this was the last home match of the regular season, all players were required to make an appearance in the pub. There are two entrances at either end of the long room, and it was impossible to know which entrance a particular player would use. We chose the back, and I settled into a seat at a table and Charlotte made her way around the room before the players arrived, seeking-out friends, acquaintances, and players' wives or girlfriends. She managed to find two of Mr. Patterson's friends and they adopted her for the evening. The pub was much, much more crowded than usual, and the women made sure Charlotte found Mr. Patterson, her friends Johnny Gilkerson, Michael Palacio, and Danleigh Borman, and other players she sees on a regular basis.

There are a few signatures missing from her Red Bulls jersey, but the noticeable absences for her were Cepero and Angel. We were promised that both would be in the club, but it would be our job to get the signatures. I managed to secure a couple of other players who joined the club late in the season, but it took the assitance of the front office staff to get Cepero's autograph. Angel remains elusive to this day.

Charlotte has met everyone but Angel, Pietravello, Kandji, Macumba, Boss, and Jimenez. If the Red Bulls make it into the playoffs she might meet some of them at those matches. Otherwise, it's "wait til next year."

Major League Soccer is one of the best deals in the world. Season tickets are reasonably priced, and special youth rates are available for children 14 or younger. Click here to see the subsctipion information for Red Bull New York.

If you haven't been to a professional soccer match, I recommend it.

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