Thursday, May 24, 2012

Angel and Demons

The image is less fuzzy than the logic behind the sign.
The return of our heroic and legendary goalscorer should have inspired the New York fanbase last night at Red Bull Arena, and that enthusiasm should have, in turn, inspired the players to perform their best for their beloved fans.  Ironically, that’s what happened.  The player whose name was sung by an adoring South Ward scored a stunning goal in front of the North Bank.  Unfortunately, he no longer wears our shirt.
Meanwhile, Thierry Henry played a full 90 minutes on his return from the hamstring injury suffered April 28 against New England.  Deemed “a disaster” at the time by Hans Backe, it was expected Henry would need at least a month to recover.  Perhaps since the four subsequent games since that injury were victories, collective amnesia set in among the Bulls supporters.  How else to explain the lack of appreciation for the talisman’s early return?  With the upcoming three week break, Henry could have been excused until June 17.  But his commitment to this club was evident as he was on the pitch at kickoff. 
And how was this dedication rewarded?  By hearing fans sing the name of his former teammate.  By seeing elaborate tifo unfurled in homage to the visiting team’s striker. 
Of course, this was no ordinary striker, but our team’s record all-time goal scorer.  There’s no denying the ability and class of Juan Pablo Angel.  In the four years Angel played here from 2007-2010, he scored 62 goals in 112 games, a terrific strike rate for a player who never failed to thrill.  Likewise, his charm off the field endeared him as he was the face of the franchise from our last days at Giants Stadium to the opening of Red Bull Arena.
Respect was due.  But how much is too much?  Frankly, I found the volume of support for an opposition player excessive, inappropriate and counter-productive.  Perhaps I should be relieved he didn’t face a chorus of “Metro-reject.”  My guess is the same “supporters” who have often taunted former players with that chant were the ones singing Angel’s praises last night.  The pattern is inconsistent but in both scenarios ultimately disrespectful and ill-conceived.  Angel was surely flattered.  He was just as likely embarrassed.
I couldn’t but wonder how our current players felt about the love-fest for the player they faced.  Where was the love for the guys defending home soil?
As yet another round of “how dare those divas snub us” is coming from certain quarters of the local media, as neither Henry nor Marquez thought it worth their while to deliver empty clichés upon demand (for if they dare an authentic response they risk being shamed for being impolitic), we have a few weeks of a break from Major League Soccer play to ask ourselves as a fanbase, do they get what they deserve?  Do we?
The Goats got more love last night at Red Bull Arena than they can ever do at the Home Depot.
As terrific as Angel was for us (last night’s flash of brilliance a painful reminder), I doubt his iconic status will ever attain the level of the statuesque, as Henry’s has at the Arsenal.  If, as Michael Lewis suggests in a piece on Big Apple Soccer today, our top wage-earners weren’t in the mood for post-match chit-chat due in no small part to the behavior of their “fans,” then I, for one, don’t blame them. 
For a “home” match, there simply wasn’t enough support for the home team.  More local fans showed more affection for the opposition than they did for anyone on the home team.  Did we as fans deserve to celebrate a home win?  You get what you give.
The demons plaguing this team aren’t those on the pitch.  Henry may have been a touch rusty last night but one can’t fault his effort.  And several times Marquez showed how his long-range distribution can find a seam in the opposition defense with surgical precision.  Yes, they earn terrific wages, but they can doubtless earn more elsewhere.  They want to be here, playing for New York.  Last night was enough to make me wonder why.
We can blame mediocre management from Stillitano to Soler for our lack of success on the pitch as well as a whole slew of poor front-office choices for the fact this franchise remains marginalized on the local sporting landscape.  And we can resent the hype over expansion supporters groups and say we’ve been there from the start and still remain.  We’ve a long list of characters we can demonize and vilify as we lament our legacy since the league’s inception.  But if we don’t celebrate the players who represent us, then the demons are among us and our home won’t ever be the opposition’s hell until we learn what it means to truly support our team. 

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