MLS Road Trip Flashback: Part 5 -- The Burnout in New York, New York
It was just under one month after our trip began when we headed east for the final time. On the docket: two games in two days near New York followed by a week of R & R in our friend's upper west Manhattan apartment.
In New York, we'd hit up a rooftop party in Brooklyn, visit the future home of New York City Football Club, take a stroll in Central Park, try the famous sandwiches at Carnegie Deli, meet an actor from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, speak with Sunil Gulati, and watch soccer at Football Factory. However, we wrote about none of these things, as the young versions of Jake Coburn and myself just wanted to be at home.
Welcome to part 5 of my MLS Road Trip Flashback series, where I recap the road trip that my friends and I made four years ago to cover 14 MLS games in 12 different cities over a 53-day period.
If you missed the introduction to the series, and an explanation of why we embarked on this endeavor, you can read that here. And here are the previous four parts of the series:
As always, unless otherwise noted, the photos in these posts come from the excellent Dan Perlea, who was the only one actually not tired of travelling at this point.
For each post, I highlight 1-3 of the games we attended on the trip. Please note that some of the quotes may not be 100 percent accurate as I'm working off of four-year-old notes and memory at some points.
This part of our journey looked like this:
July 13: Drive from Toronto to New York, 471 miles
July 14: Drive from New York to Chester, PA and back, 222 miles, Philadelphia Union 2 - Montreal Impact 1
July 15: New York Red Bulls 2 - Seattle Sounders 2
July 16-20: Stay in New York because it's awesome and our friend had an awesome apartment.
Total: 8 days, 2 games, 7 goals, 693 miles
It's 7:00 p.m., you've just driven 471 miles, and you have a roughly four-hour round-trip drive the following day to cover a soccer game in a different state. What should you do?
Well, in New York, you go to a rooftop party in Brooklyn and stay out way too late, nearly missing kickoff for the following day's game. You're not going to believe this, but I don't remember much of said rooftop party, and I woke up at noon the following day with a splitting headache.
I need to give a quick shout out here to Kenny Durell. This will mean nothing to 90 percent of you who read this (again, thanks Mom!), but Durell is the best host I've ever had. He was watching his grandparent's apartment on 109th and Broadway, just kitty-corner to the Seinfeld restaurant, which is apparently terrible and over-priced. The apartment itself was luxurious -- it was so large that it shared its floor with just one other apartment. Each of us got our own rooms in the roughly 6-bedroom, 3-bathroom spot.
Durell told us that his grandparents had purchased the place in the 1970s, when Manhattan was rife with crime and drugs. According to Durell, his grandparents used to find used syringes in the elevator when returning home from a night on the town. With the huge reduction in crime since, the place had obviously skyrocketed in value. It was large and featured views of both Columbia University and the Hudson River.
Durell was my friend from junior high and high school, and he proved the best tour guide possible. He had lived in the city for just over four years when we arrived, and he knew every corner of the city. While leading us through the subway, he would nod off, immediately wake up when the train came, fall back asleep, and then somehow wake up right when it was our stop.
Tonight, he led us to Brooklyn after we made the mistake of raiding his grandparent's scotch cabinet to bring to the party. We arrived at a random apartment building just as Durell's phone ran out of batteries -- there would be no one to buzz us in. But that was no problem for Durell, who pressed every button on the door in attempts to get someone to let us in.
Apparently we were in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, as most of the responses came in a tongue foreign to my own. Having spent a semester abroad in Mendoza though, Durell negotiated with someone to let us in, where we took the stairs to the top and enjoyed a late night view of the Manhattan skyline.
While it was a great night to stay out and paint the town red, our late rise the following morning ensured that we would miss speaking to any Philadelphia Union fans at the Union - Impact match the following day. Realizing our mistake, Perlea put pedal to the metal, only to be disappointed by the constant tolls of the New Jersey Turnpike. Other than for bridges, tolls don't really exist on the West Coast, so we were lucky that someone had the required amount of cash to get us through the Garden State. Round trip, I think it cost us roughly $30 just to get through New Jersey, not to mention the $12 bridge toll into Manhattan. I'm told that these prices have all risen since. Ridiculous.
We arrived in Chester a few minutes late. On TV, Talen Energy Stadium is breathtaking sight to see. The facility lies just on the Pennsylvania state line, with a waterfront view of the monstrous Commodore Barry Bridge. The arena is great in person, too, but the surrounding areas make Bridgeview, Ill. look like the Hamptons. Condemned buildings go on for blocks and blocks, graffitied heaps of rust strain the eye as there's nowhere to look but down. The area may have improved since, but this is a perfect example of the bullshit politicians spew about public stadium money contributing to the revitalization of neighborhoods. (Watch John Oliver's excellent piece on this issue for a better understanding.)
Of the later supporters groups that we failed to really cover, the Sons of Ben are one that I still don't know a whole lot about. We all know that those SOBs helped found the Union, but we didn't utilize our chance to speak to anyone about the effort. For as bad of a rap as Philadelphia sports fans get, I found the Union fans quite pleasant, though definitely as self-loathing as you'd think. When Keon Daniel scored an atrocious own goal to give up the lead in the 89th minute, the fan next to me who I'd been chatting with laughed and said, "Welcome to Philly!"
The year before, the Union had their most successful year until perhaps this year, going 11-8-15 en route to the club's only playoff appearance. But then goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón left the club, and head coach Piotr Nowak began a team fire-sale while, according to court documents, denying his players water in training, spanking said players, and calling them "pussies" for sitting out with concussions. In short, the team was a mess that entered the match with a 5-9-2 record.
However, that particular night had a happy ending in stoppage time. A trademark long throw from outside back Sheanon Williams somehow found its way to center back captain Carlos Valdés, who got enough on the ball for a winning goal. When we got to the supporters section a few minutes into the match, a massive security guard blocked our way. No press, he told us. I don't remember what I said to him, but he eventually relented and let us in. As the game came to a close, Coburn and I had made our way toward the front of the section, standing near that same guard in stoppage time. When Valdés scored that goal, the whole section erupted, but the most surprising response came from the guard. He suffocated me with a hug, then looked me in the eye and told me that he was sorry and that he loved me. Quite a gesture of brotherly love, no?
We got out of the city and after a stop for gas in Jersey (full serve, just like Oregon!) we made our way back to the Big Apple. Somehow, when we first arrived, we had found a parking spot right outside of Durell's apartment. I knew driving and parking in Manhattan was bad, but was relieved at that spot. Of course, it took us half an hour to find a spot coming back from the Union game. Such is life.
Want to know how out of it I was at this point? When Sebastian Le Toux scored 24 minutes into the New York Red Bulls game the following day, I was confused for two reasons:
1. Four days ago, Le Toux played for Vancouver against Toronto in a game that I was at.
2. I thought it was Kenny Cooper who scored, because they look somewhat similar.
Speaking of Kenny Cooper, two fans standing behind me in the Empire Supporters Club, kept loudly referring to Cooper as "that cocksucker number thirty-three." At the time, Cooper was the second-leading goal-scorer in MLS. This was all part of the philosophy of the ESC: that there was no line that could possibly be crossed in their insults.
They told me this at El Pastor, an expansive Mexican bar that like Red Bull Arena, was in the middle of nowhere. We traveled to that game via public transportation, which took maybe 45 minutes from Durell's apartment. With us was, oddly, the actor who played "Seth" in this scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I don't recall his name, but he was super kind.
Over pitchers of sangria, I interviewed a few members of the ESC, but did such a bad job that I didn't even take a single quote from a single member. The story -- the last that I would actually file during the trip -- exists here, and is terrible. Don't read it.
What sticks with me from that game was how good the support for the Red Bulls actually was. For much of their early history, the Red Bulls had always been compared to D.C. United, which had some of the premier teams in the league playing in front of some of the best support in the league. Ever since Red Bull Arena opened, much has been made of the fact that the club rarely sells it out, and on TV the middle sections are nearly always empty. Is New York too saturated of a sports market to support a soccer team?
No, they support two now (sorry, Cosmos fans), and the support is excellent. For 90 minutes, the various fan groups didn't stop singing in one of the louder in-game atmospheres I've ever witnessed despite the match coming on a sweltering, humid, summer afternoon.
The soccer that night was fine. World Cup winner Theirry Henry was playing in the center of the midfield for some reason, and had dropped back to the back line on multiple occasions to start the attack. Afterward, we headed back to Durell's apartment and maybe went out on the town. We stayed for five more days. Because that week is jumbled in my mind, here are some highlights in no particular order in three-dot journalism form...
We attended a Yankees game at New Yankee Stadium, the rumored future temporary home for the MLS's much-wanted second New York franchise. We pre-gamed with brown bagged Japanese beers (brown bagged Arizona Ice Tea for Coburn) in Central Park before making our way to a bar in the Bronx. At that bar, we met two well-coiffed yuppies who claimed to play soccer for Brown, but for some reason had never heard of Jeff Larentowicz. They talked about themselves a lot.
I found the game boring, coming to the realization that if I couldn't enjoy a Yankees home game, I'd never be able to enjoy baseball anywhere. We witnessed the Bleacher Creatures shout out their famous roll call in what might be the most similar show of support to that of soccer fans from baseball fans. "Say what you want about Yankees fans -- and I have -- but they're in the game from beginning to end, even chanting the starter's name in the first inning until the player acknowledges them with a token wave (the fan who came up with that idea should win some sort of award)," Bill Simmons wrote in the excellent Now I can Die In Peace: How The Sports Guy Found Salvation Thanks to the World Champion (Twice!) Red Sox.
I know this is snobby of me to say, but if that show of support qualifies as creative, then I probably won't enjoy your sport. Nothing against people who like baseball -- there are clearly a ton in this country -- but I can find boring soccer games interesting because of the crowds. A boring baseball game is just a boring baseball game. "Rarely does a fan say, 'My club plays today.' He says, 'We play today,'" writes Eduardo Galeano in Soccer in Sun and Shadow. "He knows it is 'player number twelve' who stirs up the winds of fervor that propel the ball when she falls asleep, just as the other eleven players know that playing without their fans is like dancing without music." Now that's support. For me, baseball is like staring at paint dry without music...
Another example of how burnt out we were: the Red Bulls played a home game that Wednesday that we didn't even know took place. I'm sure we would have attended the match had we (okay, it was mostly me) been more on top of our shit...
But that same night, we went to Football Factory, the soccer-specific basement in the bar Legends, to watch some MLS. Actually, it was there that we learned of the Red Bulls game, which had for some reason taken place during the day. The barkeep bragged that he attended the match, in which Henry had scored a golazo. Our consolation prize: watching multiple games at the same time over drinks...
They say that in Texas everything is bigger, but I found this to be true of New York as well. The above is the BLT that I barely finished at Carnegie Deli. If I recall correctly, Coburn had the pastrami sandwich, which didn't differ too much in appearance. Perlea didn't have anything because he went to a taping of either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. I don't remember which...
Durell set us up with a meeting with his former economics professor at Columbia, Sunil Gulati. Gulati met us in his office, where we talked all things soccer. He indulged me while not trying to hide his obvious boredom with the conversation. A few months later, I called him an "asshole" on Twitter, which I shouldn't have done as there was no reason to say it. Gulati somehow saw the tweet and emailed me personally. I apologized after talking it over with friends. Still, weird that the head of an FA had the time to meet with a no-name journalist and then emailed me later. I will never understand Sunil Gulati, but I will say that I think he's a good person and means well...
After nearly a week in New York, we thanked Durell and said our goodbyes. It was finally time to head closer home for the first time in weeks.
I don't know how we made it.