A couple of weeks ago, while I was riding an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C. to New York, I got a phone call from my 13-year-old brother.
“I’m on my way to an NYCFC game,” he said.
Being a Red Bulls fan, I replied with a tone nothing short of utter anger and confusion. I prodded him with questions: “What the hell? Why? How?”
It turns out a friend of his had two extra tickets and invited him and my father out to Yankee Stadium for the night. I was, of course, against the idea, as I had always hoped my brother would choose to root for the New York Red Bulls and not NYCFC.
Since he had just gotten into soccer during the MLS offseason, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to take him to Red Bull Arena. His first MLS game was going to be at a baseball stadium, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I talked to him the next afternoon, after he came home from school, as we had missed seeing each other the night before with my train being delayed.
He proudly showed me a signed MLS ball and a couple of NYCFC souvenir cups from the game. He proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed the game, and that he “loved NYCFC.”
That last part made me cringe a little.
How could I have let my brother down? How could I have let him become a fan of a soccer team that plays in a baseball stadium? How could I have let him choose to support New York City FC instead of the New York Red Bulls? I had failed as an older brother, and there was nothing I could do to convince him otherwise. It was too far late.
The following morning, while my brother was out of the house, I gathered the signed ball and the two souvenir cups and placed them on the kitchen counter, where I snapped a picture of the three items. I posted the picture in the always-entertaining Red Bulls Facebook fan group, the New York Red Bulls Discussion Group (join if you haven’t already!). Along with the picture I posted the following:
“My little brother came home from the NYCFC game with all of this, saying that he ‘loves NYCFC’ because ‘we have David Villa.’ What should I do to him?”
Within a few hours, the post had generated almost a hundred comments and quite a few likes. Comments ranged from, “see if your parents can cut him out of the will” to, “you should have taken him to a Red Bulls game first.”
Around 5:30pm I got a call on my cell phone from an unrecognized 973-area code phone number. I picked up the phone.
“Hi this is Frank DeRosa from the New York Red Bulls.”
“Oh, hey Frank. How’s it going?”
(Frank and I had been in contact before the season began, while I was contemplating purchasing season tickets in the South Ward.)
“Good. Listen, a friend of mine here at the office just showed me a post you made in a Red Bulls fan group on Facebook about your younger brother.”
“Yeah, the one that I posted a few hours ago.”
“Right. Anyway, I saw your name and recognized it from when we had spoken before the season began.”
“The New York Red Bulls would like to invite you and your brother to come out to our next home game. We’ll give you a private stadium tour and two complementary tickets. We want to keep our fans loyal.”
I was almost speechless. I’m pretty sure I was able to muster a “thank you so much” and he said he would contact me as the game drew closer.
I thought to myself, wow…I can’t believe that just happened.
I ran and told my brother. He couldn’t believe it either.
Friday, April 17th couldn’t come soon enough. We were both so excited for the game, but my brother was a little skeptical, for fear of switching alliances and being a “bandwagon fan” – a term not many sports fans wish to be associated with. I assured him that he wouldn’t be a bandwagon fan, so long as he chose the “right” team (the New York Red Bulls, of course).
Frank contacted me again the day before the game, telling me he had secured two tickets for us in the South Ward (yes!) and that he would be meeting us outside the stadium about an hour and a half before kickoff.
We got to Red Bull Arena around 5:00pm on Friday. We ate lunch and then headed over to Gate B to meet Frank. He shook our hands, gave us Red Bull scarves and decals, along with our tickets in Section 101, and then told us to follow him inside.
He took us to a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” He opened it, and within a few steps we were standing inside the players’ tunnel. Red Bulls photos lined the walls, and we stopped to look at the section of the wall dedicated to the 2013 Supporters Shield-winning team.
The San Jose Earthquakes, the opponents for that night’s game, walked past us on their way to the visitors’ locker room. I gave them an idle stare, thinking, I really hope you guys lose tonight.
Frank showed us around the special club dining areas before bringing us down to some expensive field-level seats in front of the media section. My brother and I posed for a picture near the field to be posted on Instagram a little later.
We did a lap around the arena, all the while talking with Frank, who was extremely nice and friendly. At one point, we even discussed the NHL playoffs, at which point he confessed his New Jersey Devils fandom. As a Rangers fan, I felt bad for him, having chosen the wrong team to root for.
When the tour was up, Frank took us to our seats in Section 101. My brother and I wanted to check out the team store, so we thanked Frank for his kindness and generosity and then went off to the Bullshop. Last season’s jerseys were on sale for 50% off, so I took advantage of the deal and bought one.
The Red Bulls dominated the game, and won rather easily, 2-0. Goals were scored by Sacha Klijstan and Mike Grella.
My brother and I spent the entire game in the South Ward, with some of the best fans in MLS. We sang, cheered, and danced for the full 90 minutes.
After the game ended, we watched the Red Bulls’ lap around the arena to give the team one final cheer before heading home. We said good-bye to a few people whom we had stood next to for the duration of the game, and then we ran out to my car.
We threw our stuff in the trunk, sat down, buckled up, and waited to get out of the parking lot.
“I love the Red Bulls,” my brother told me.
Thank you, Frank DeRosa and the New York Red Bulls, for providing me and my brother with such an amazing experience. We bought season tickets a few days after the game, and we couldn’t be more excited to attend the rest of the home games at Red Bull Arena.