Preparation is as important to fans as it is to players. I just made it to Herald Square in time to sprint over to Legends to get a few rounds of drinks before kick off. Whatever energy I reserved for the day, most was expended in getting to one of my favorite soccer bars in the city, to join my fellow supporters in cheering on our boys for what was a crucial game against the Chicago Fire.
This was the game in which, fairly or not, RBNY would be perceived to win or lose the 2015 Supporters' Shield. The biggest game of this year (so far). The biggest game since the last time the Red Bulls played Chicago on the last day of the regular season, in 2013 - also the last time the Red Bulls won a trophy. So, yes, I ran to Legends to get drinks in before kick-off. There were nerves to be settled.
As I walked in, I was greeted by a friend who had stumbled up the stairs to grab a quick smoke before the game, his solution to the nerves I would calm with my own preferred remedy. Inside, I saw many familiar faces as I dropped my backpack under someone's seat and ran over to Jack at the bar. Two Carlsberg, my drink of choice while at Legends (don't ask why: it is, what it is), is what I need before I head over to the spot where a couple of friends wait to catch up with what's been happening since the Empire Supporters Club tailgate the week prior.
We speak, but the conversation is burdened by sheer nervousness. We know our club's history. The near-misses, the could-have-beens and never-weres. The situation we were in felt ominous. Sure, a win would confirm the title. But anything else was shaky ground as Dallas was right on our tail in the standings. And we were playing the Fire in Chicago. RBNY was 10 years without a win in Chicago, and that knowledge was the worst feeling. It was the thought that went through everyone's minds, the one that no amount of chit-chat could shake. The kickoff delay didn't help appease anyone's nerves either, as everyone kept looking at their watch and pacing around in the back of the Football Factory.
Finally, it was kickoff. Loudly, we started signing "We Love Ya", as is tradition after kickoff. The game seemed to start a bit in our favor. Chicago looked nervous, despite the fact there was nothing for the home team to play for but pride. And then it happens: we go up a goal.
There is pure jubilation around me as the song list for celebrating a goal kicks in, and is memorably topped off with "Twist and Shout."
But it still feels like we're all hesitant, even while singing. The feeling that something "so Metro" was about to happen can't be shaken by one goal. We kept spirits up by continuing to sing some of the classics that one can hear at Red Bull Arena on game day. A particular favorite of mine came up when San Jose scored against Dallas - if the Quakes win, RBNY wins the Shield. Part of the crowd began:
Your football's shite
all day and night
deep in the heart of Texaaaasss
When that was done we reverted to "Piss on the Fire," a special rendition for Chicago's side. Still, there is anxiety in the bar, the songs can't quite...OMG WAIT PENALTY THANKS TO GRELLADINHOOOOO!
Mike Grella is taken down in the box. Referee Salazar points to the spot. All it takes is for the call to be made for the bar to erupt into applause.
Truth be told, the call was pretty bad. I am almost certain it was not even a foul, let alone a penalty. But it didn't matter. The call was made. Sacha Kljestan prepared the ball to take the kick. Tension agan. The whole bar went silent as the referee fussed over the set-up. I broke the silence, starting to panic: "It's taking too much time! Let him kick the ball, ref! He's gonna get psyched out! It's taking too long!"
I was wrong. Kljestan cooly slots ball into net.
The bar goes nuts again: the Red Bulls are 2-0 up in Toyota Park, a place they've never won before. Everyone begins to sing again. "Oooooooh Neeeew Yoooooork" is the song of choice. And then the half end. Time for everyone to rest. The teams go into the locker room, we go to the bar for a new round, or rush to the bathroom before the line gets too long, or head upstairs for some air outside. Two goals up, 45 minutes to play, one trophy still to win.
The second half commences. From the get-go, we're trying to calm down: there is still a lot of time to play before the fate of our regular season is decided.
Word arrives that Dallas now leads San Jose 2-1. Anxiety creeps back into the room: if Dallas wins, RBNY has to win to get the Shield. The game seems to get more tense, despite that two-goal cushion. Then Chicago switches up and gets their attack in motion. Gilberto puts one away with a nice scissor kick, and sends terror and despair to a Manhattan bar.
The next 15 minutes seemed to be nothing but attack after attack from the Fire. We know our club's history. All those years without a win in Chicago. It felt like an equalizer was inevitable.
But the clearances were made. Heads, feet - fortunately no arms or hands, except those of Luis Robles - intercept the Fire's persistent forays into our penalty area. Every block, punt or header brings joy. But the team is trying to absorb pressure. This game needs to end before Chicago finds a way through. "Blow the whistle" is in every head in the bar minds, but we are too paralyzed to say it out loud.
FINALLY, the whistle goes. The Red Bulls win the game, the Red Bulls win the Supporters' Shield! For the second time in three years!
Mass hysteria takes over. We are in a circle in the center of the bar, gripping each other's shoulders, jumping up and down, singing everything that comes to mind. At some point, we were showered by every type of alcohol at large in the room .At some point, I lost my breath. I don't remember when, I don't remember ever letting up from simply screaming and jumping. It was sheer joy.
ESC, VA, and GSU now eagerly await the return of the Shield for its presentation, and for everyone to try to snatch a picture with our beloved Shieldy. Those pictures might last as long as my memory of the day we won the right to take them. Vamos Metro!