Feel It Still: NYCFC Home Opener 2018

NYCFC Home Opener

This is my fourth NYCFC Home Opener. For two of them I’ve been with the press, and for two I’ve been with the fans. Some of them have been cold. Some of them have been arctic. Some of them have been wins, some have been ties. All of them have involved some element of trepidation. The anxiety of a new season? The alienation of a changing world? Even now I have trouble putting my finger on it.

And I know, four home openers is nothing. I know there are little old ladies whom local radio will fete in April for the centuries they have spent huddled in the stands witnessing the launching of epic New York Yankees campaigns. And I know our Mancunian overlords will chuckle at this NYCFC home opener and remind me that their fourth home opener occurred when a president most Americans couldn’t pick out of a hipster haircut lineup resided in the White House and when William Ewart Gladstone was prime minister. So be it.

But writers can only write what they know, just as Larry Holmes could only fight the fighters he could fight and just as four is all the home openers we have for NYCFC. So there I am, standing in line at the press gate for my credentials, trying desperately to think about this NYCFC home opener. Against the Los Angeles Galaxy that is, if I am being kind, in a state of flux. A Galaxy which Sigi Schmid is trying to right that is Keane-less, Donovan-less, and today even Alessandrini-less. A Galaxy that NYCFC have not lost to since 2015. A Galaxy that is being outshone this season by its stepbrothers as it were because time waits for no one, not even a five-time MLS Cup champion. These are the things I am thinking about. Or maybe I’m thinking about something else.

Feel It Still: Reliving the 2018 NYCFC Home Opener

Am I Coming out of Left Field?

In the press box, it’s cold but not as cold as it was in Philadelphia last week. I run into Miguel Cruz from Latino Post and Trey Fillmore from the Blue Balls podcast. I think I last saw Miguel at the Gold Cup match at Red Bull Arena. Trey I saw at the Blue City Radio live podcast at Ryan’s Daughter in December when we shared a mic and argued about the relative merits of Jesus Medina. Or maybe I was arguing with his co-host Jake. Or maybe I was just arguing with myself. I do that a lot.

The game begins and I try to identify the players I haven’t seen live before. Because that’s the thing about watching so many of these matches. Even at the great distance from the press box (and to be clear, the Yankee Stadium press box, while giving you a terrific overview of the entire field, is almost quite literally miles away from the action), you begin to intuit the players by their movements and habits and, as Roberto Abramowitz will point out later, by their shoes. So I am trying to pick up on the nuances and habits and stylistic traits of Jesus Medina and Anton Timmerholm and Sebastien Ibeagha, because heaven knows I can’t read their names and numbers from my perch, 40,000 feet above NYCFC’s Home Opener.

And here’s what I notice. They are good. I mean, they are really good.

Not just Medina and Timmerholm and Ibeagha (though, yeah, they’re all having really quality games). But the whole squad. The passes are not only sharp and crisp but they’re also intuitive on a level that they shouldn’t be for players who haven’t played more than a handful of matches together. And then Tinnerholm scores. And not just scores, but rockets a laser into the net that 12 Dave Binghams couldn’t have stopped. And it’s not just a rocket, but it’s a shot off of a rebound, which means the team is playing hungry, chasing down the ball, not waiting for an opportunity to knock, but going out and dragging it through the door by the scruff of the neck.

Just as David Villa does in the 33rd minute with a goal that wasn’t some classic, perfect, mindbending strike. But was a rebound. A rebound he was in position for because he was the trailer on that attack. A rebound off of Bingham’s save of Ben Sweat’s shot. A great way to celebrate his 100th game certainly. But a goal more characteristic of, say, Frank Lampard, than of El Guaje.

And suddenly it’s halftime at the NYCFC Home Opener, so I run down to the section I used to watch the matches from. The section where my brother and I became friends with bar owners and chefs and students and coders and FinTech entrepreneurs. Some have come down from the woods of Connecticut for this match, and some up from the wilds of Arkansas. My friend Amar is beaming because his kid will meet the team after the match. My friend Molly is beaming because her Bhoys beat Rangers today at Ibrox. My friend Tim is beaming because of the way NYCFC are playing. “They look like they’re having fun,” he tells me. And he’s right. They do.

And even though the second half is a little less fun – especially when Jonathan Dos Santos scores in the 60th minute and with the Galaxy controlling much of the final 20 minutes of the match –  they hang on and preserve those three points. Giving them six points in their first two matches for the first time in their history. A good way to start the season. A good omen at NYCFC’s Home Opener.

I pack up my laptop and make my way down to the locker room to find out what the players think.

It Might Be Over Now, But I Feel it Still

In the tunnel under the stadium, I run into Jonathan Lewis. He gives me that big warm smile that’s as much his signature as his blinding speed and fearless attack on the pitch. “When are you gonna get in the starting XI?” I ask him. “I’m trying, man!”

I head into the locker room with Dudes in Blue’s Joe Amato and Blue City Radio’s Mike Anderer, and find the press is waiting for Alex Ring. His daughter waits patiently behind him to finish talking to men she doesn’t care about. “This will have to be quick” he smiles, “I have a date night with my wife for the first time in like three years…” so we make it quick.

Before I know it, they’ve moved on to Sean Johnson. He patiently answers the questions of real reporters like Glenn Crooks and Michael Lewis, and then as they move on and the microphones disappear, I lean in and ask him “Did you really make a save with your face tonight?” he laughs. “Well, I think it was more my chest, but…”

And then I talk to Tommy McNamara. Tommy and I have been talking for a long time. I look around the locker room and say to him “Brother, the only guys still here from four years ago are you, me and Villa.” And he laughs.

And that, that right there, that that’s the core of the contradiction I am wrestling with. For amidst the change, there is camaraderie, connection, and community. Somehow there are connections between fans who otherwise would never know each other. Between players who would otherwise never share a pitch. Between journalists and bloggers and podcasters and even idiosyncratic and wildly irrelevant writers like me, who would otherwise have no reason to talk to each other.

This team, this home opener, gives us a reason to connect. “Only connect,” Forster said, and he was on to something. “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted… Live in fragments no longer.”

I shake hands with Tommy and exit into the cold Bronx night.

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