Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Englishman's Love Affair with the New York Red Bulls

Today we'd like to introduce you to the newest member of The Viper's Nest crew, Glenn Williams. Glenn is based in the UK and runs a Major League Soccer blog aiming to spread the word to his fellow countrymen (which you can visit here). We thought it would be interesting to get the perspective on the team (and league) from someone outside of the U.S.  So, with no further ado, over to you, Glenn...  

Youri Djorkaeff can be blamed for what has developed into a passionate obsession with New York Red Bulls.
The year was 2005. Day and month long forgotten. What I do recall is leaving an essay until the last minute, almost literally. At 4am – five hours before the deadline – I started frantically typing while sinking cup after cup of coffee.
Despite the fear of failure looming large, I couldn’t help but switch the TV on. Amongst the many infomercials and rolling news channels I managed to stumble across live soccer, but my joy turned to despair when I realised it was broadcasting from America.
If you think Major League Soccer doesn’t get much credit these days, try to imagine what it was like five or six years ago. Especially in England, the proud birthplace of the sport. Oh how we Brits laughed as USA started up a league consisting of teams with silly names. We had Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. America had Earthquakes and Fusions and Fires.
But it was 4am, and only halfway through a word count of 2,000 I dropped the remote and returned my essay. In the background I heard strong American voices describe my favourite sport with strange expressions and unfamiliar names. Then Djorkaeff was mentioned, and I glanced at the television.
Sure enough, one of my favourite players at time, having excelled at Bolton Wanderers, was bursting down the wing. Why was this talented footballing magician now playing in a two-bit league no one cared about? Intrigued, I continued watching, and despite not exactly being won over by the quality of play I did find myself cheering for the strangely-named MetroStars. I began by supporting Youri every time he touched the ball, but when I discovered his team were half associated with the city of New York, the pieces started to slot into place.
Despite having never been there, I’ve always adored New York. The accent, the personalities, the monuments, the glitzy culture. So when the final whistle went at 6am and MetroStars emerged victorious (against whom, I doubt I’ll ever remember), I decided I’d follow them from then on. They were the reason I’d go without sleep to complete my sub-par analysis of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," so the least I could do was keep an eye out for their results.
Over the next year or so I occasionally remembered to check the latest Major League Soccer scores, hoping that Djorkaeff was guiding MetroStars to glory. Then the club was taken over by an energy drink company, and just when I was getting into the league, I found the rebranding too ridiculous. I abandoned my slowly-blooming fandom and almost forgot it had ever existed.
Then David Beckham made a sensational switch to LA Galaxy in 2007, and I vowed  to follow his every movement in Major League Soccer. Knowing it would be too shallow to start supporting Galaxy, I reignited my interest in New York. The league was better than my first experience two years previously, but New York were still frustrating, disappointing, unpredictable and underachieving. Much like my English team, Tottenham Hotspur. The uncanny parallels were enough to cement my choice of team, for better or worse.
The awkward time zone issues and a never-ending pile of university coursework meant I missed much of the 2008 season, so the disappointment of the MLS Cup defeat didn’t sink in. Runner-up status did fill me with confidence as I vowed to dedicate a lot more time to MLS in 2009. At the same time as I growing frustrated by the overpaid, underwhelming nature of top level football in Europe, I was falling in love with the humble modesty and work ethic of the improving American league.
My first committed MLS season was torture as I watched almost every losing effort as the Red Bulls sank to an embarrassing low. Still I stuck with them; for some reason I’d fallen in love with what was now the worst team in the league!
I followed every second of the 2010 MLS season, learning the finer details of the rules and becoming accustomed to the players of every side. My loyalty to New York was rewarded with a consistently impressive season and the arrivals of big names Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.
When I’m asked who I support, I answer with New York Red Bulls. Tottenham Hotspur will always have a place in my heart, having grown up with them, but I inherited them from family and birthplace. I have chosen New York, and I’m enjoying every moment of supporting them.
Youri Djorkaeff has long since departed New York, but I’m still there, in spirit at least. I’m English-born, but I’m proud to support the Red Bulls. It’s a pleasure being a part of the family.

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