Beautiful Losers

By: Juan Mesa

Right now, I should be really excited about the New York City FC, the new MLS team set to debut in 2015. I love soccer and New York City, and I could literally walk from my apartment to Yankee Stadium, where the new team will be playing their first two seasons, in 15 minutes.

But I don’t give a damn about the new team.

Why? Because I’m already a fan of the New York Red Bulls—a fact that confirms my tendency toward avoiding easy paths.

Switching teams because there is going to be a team that actually plays in the city is a silly idea. I don’t mind if the Red Bulls is a New York team that plays in Jersey and is named after the energy drink company that owns it. It is more complex than that. I believe in history and emotional ties.

I started following the Red Bulls when I moved to New York in 2002. Their name was MetroStars and they played in Giants Stadium. (We, the old fans, still call them “Metro,” a name that works like one of those silly secret nicknames a husband may have for his wife or vice versa.) But it wasn’t love at first sight. It was grotesque to see less than 8,000 people in an 80,000 stadium with artificial turf. The product on the field was bad, and the club administrators were the joke of the MLS. Still, I needed that sense of allegiance the Beautiful Game provides, and supporting the local soccer team of my new town was the way to have it.

Things got nicer with the Red Bull takeover in 2006, which came with the beginning of the construction of Red Bull Arena. I remember that day in March, 2010, when I first took the PATH train from World Trade Center to Harrison. After the 20-minute commute, I couldn’t believe my eyes: I thought I was in Europe or South America. There were bars packed with fans, and people walking the streets with their jerseys on. It got even better after I entered the stadium and saw the beautiful green field and the stands. I felt pride. They had erected a soccer temple. Three months later, Thierry Henry was playing there, and I wanted to believe the temple had been built for the champion. I still think that way. Honestly, I’m waiting to see a statue of Henry around the stadium any day.

But one thing the corporate money of the energy drink corporation that bought the team couldn’t change was its curse: the “Curse of Caricola,” named after the player who scored an own goal during the team’s first home game in 1996. Still, after many failures, during the last two seasons the club began to achieve some success. It won the Supporters’ Shield in 2013—our first major trophy—and this year it was able to eliminate DC United in the playoffs for the first time. Pure glory. DC United is our biggest rival and that is something the brand-new New York City FC enthusiasts should acknowledge, because rivalries are built over time, not made up overnight. Which is another way of saying that both NYC teams won’t be “rivals” instantly; the only thing that makes New York City FC and DC similar is the fact that they both play in a monster stadium that wasn’t built for soccer.

Our coach, Mike Petke, who played for Metro and knows all its troubles, thinks there is no curse. Me? I just don’t care about it, really. Back in Colombia, I was a fan of América de Cali, a team that had amassed its own set of infamous records: 31 years to win its first title, four loses in the Copa Libertadores finals and currently on its third season in the second division with few chances of getting promoted.

But make no mistake: at some point, the Red Bulls will win the MLS Cup (they’re still the only original MLS team without a title). Petke is going to find that voodoo doll and we will all laugh and drink beer. It will be the cusp of a journey made out of frustration and hope. Right before the playoffs started, on this very site, I totally dismissed the chances of the Red Bulls winning anything this year, and now they’re about to play the Eastern Conference final. But that’s the beauty of soccer: even after you’ve stopped believing in your team, your heroes rise from the ashes to give you the illusion back.

LOGISTICS: New York Red Bulls, official website

Juan Mesa is a freelance writer based in New York City. He covers soccer and Latin music. When he's not writing, you can find him watching soccer games, talking about soccer or collecting soccer memorabilia. To relax, he plays house music vinyls.