New York Red Bulls fans don't often have cause to think about Leeds United. Indeed, there is almost never a reason to think about Leeds United in the context of supporting RBNY. And that is shameful, because the Yorkshire club has often been a source of good news for the Red Bulls in recent years.
So it is time to set the record straight. Thank you, Leeds United for your consistent support over the past few seasons.
It's easy to miss, because LUFC is an inherently modest institution, not inclined to blow its own trumpet or help out another team for vainglorious reasons such as recognition or accolades. But the help has been real and significant.
It started back in 2012. Thierry Henry went on loan to his beloved Arsenal in the MLS off-season. To be honest, that spurred a moment of anxiety: would he come back? Would he get injured while away and lost to RBNY for some significant part of the new season?
As it turned out, Henry returned rejuvenated. His form in the early part of 2012 for the Red Bulls was perhaps the best period of sustained magnificence we ever saw from the captain. He scored nine goals in RBNY's first eight games of the season (and then got injured).
The reason he came back to us with such a spring in his step was Leeds United. Not to rub salt in an old wound, but for Henry not just to play for Arsenal after he thought he never would again, but also to score for his favorite club: it was exactly the pick-me-up he needed.
And Leeds was the opponent for the FA Cup match in which Henry came off the bench and scored a goal for his Arsenal.
We know it wasn't intentional, but thank you anyway, Leeds. It was certainly appreciated.
That would have been plenty for one club to do for another. But the favors haven't really stopped.
Later in 2012, a Leeds-born winger by the name of Lloyd Sam, who had struggled with injury after signing with his hometown club in 2010 and been loaned out to Notts County, was cut from United's squad at the end of the 2011-12 season. Sam found a trial at Portsmouth, ran into a man named Luke Rodgers, and heard good things about RBNY, where Sam was also invited to try out.
The rest has been a rather wonderful history between Sam and the Red Bulls. He had a shaky start in 2012: those injury issues resurfaced and it usually takes a while for a player joining MLS in mid-season to settle in. But Sam did provide hints at his talent in the five appearances and 164 minutes of play he managed in his debut season in New York. His contribution to Kenny Cooper's first goal in a 4-1 rout of Toronto FC was perhaps his most memorable moment of those brief, introductory performances.
We didn't see quite a much of him as we might have hoped in 2013, when he largely came off the bench - he started just 11 games in all competitions, and only logged 1,035 competitive minutes on the field. But he made extraordinary use of limited time: six goals in all competitions. Sam was the team's most efficient goal scorer that year: he averaged a goal every 172.5 minutes; no other player on the team averaged less than 200 minutes per goal.
And five of those goals came in the MLS regular season off just seven shots. That is the best scoring percentage ever recorded in the history of the league.
And one of those goals was during the most significant match played at Red Bull Arena to date: the 5-2 win over Chicago that clinched RBNY's first major trophy - the 2013 Supporters' Shield.
In 2014, he turned provider: 10 assists in all competitions may not seem like a lot (and it was second to Thierry Henry that season), but he was the first player who was not Henry to register a double-digit assists season since Amado Guevara in 2005. And the first who was neither Henry nor Guevara since Mark Lisi in 2003.
And he still scored goals: five in all competitions. And he set the club's all-time record for games started in a single season: 40.
Not bad at all.
This year, he's being asked to try to find the net more frequently, and he's off to an encouraging start. Two goals in his first three games of 2015: one of them a stunning shot from outside the area...
...the other an unstoppable drive past Bill Hamid, a man with legitimate aspirations of one day being the US national team's first-choice 'keeper.
Sam's next appearance for RBNY will be his 75th in all competitions, and should bring his 5,000th minute on the field for the club (he has played 4,930 for the Red Bulls to date). He has scored as many goals for the team as Youri Djorkaeff managed during his stint in MLS (13), and he's three short of cracking the club's all-time top-20 scoring list. He's also one assist shy of becoming one of the team's all-time top-20 assist-makers.
So thank you, Leeds. Lloyd Sam has been one of the better players on this team for the last two seasons, and if he carries that form through another couple of years, he'll be one the best players this club has ever been fortunate enough to have on its roster.
But that's not all. We also need to thank you, Leeds, for one of our newer arrivals: Mike Grella.
He's a local guy who seemed to have slipped away: first, to Toronto FC in the 2009 SuperDraft; second, to Leeds United, who proved a more enticing prospective employer than the (at the time) hapless TFC.
Grella didn't last long at Leeds - he was gone by 2011 - but he kept trying to find a gig in Europe, until finally landing with a team in the US (Carolina Railhawks) last year. And this season, after a decent trial, he's part of RBNY. He may never do anything worthwhile for the Red Bulls again, but his first goal for the team will forever be remembered as the 1,000th in the club's history. It was, aptly, a match-winner and wonderful.
Doesn't happen if he catches on at Leeds and doesn't spend several years wandering England (and, briefly, Denmark) trying to establish himself.
So thanks again, LUFC. He wasn't what you needed when you had him, and now he's showing signs of being able to do a job for us during a season when we sorely need a morale boost.
Speaking of which, RBNY fans don't want a repeat of the last off-season in a hurry. It wasn't fun, and we have the billboards to prove it. But Leeds has really been through the wringer this season.
As of the time of writing, manager Neil Redfearn is "considering his position" after assistant coach Steve Thompson was abruptly suspended. It has also been reported that the club's board is pressuring Redfearn to limit the playing time of top-scorer Mirco Antenucci to avoid triggering a contract extension for the player.
The club's ownership has been a well-documented shambles for several months, inspiring celebrity fan Russell Crowe to openly contemplate stepping in to buy the team. Less famous but no less motivated supporters are also reportedly organizing to try to take a more direct role in the management of their club. If that initiative reaches the potential some attribute to it, or joins forces with Crowe, LUFC may finally get the stabilizing force it has long needed in its boardroom.
Or it might get Papa Red Bull, who has persistently been linked with a bid to take some sort of stake in Leeds United over the past couple of years (it started with a stadium naming rights rumor in 2013 and blossomed from there).
Red Bull's name hasn't cropped up in the most recent speculation about LUFC, which will be disappointing to that portion of the RBNY fan base that would dearly love to see Papa find a new toy and quit Harrison altogether. Conversely, those who merely worry Red Bull's interest in its American investment is waning will draw comfort from any development in Yorkshire that appears to make it less likely Papa will be diverting some of his effervescent cash to a new project.
Because if Red Bull was to take over Leeds United, it would surely be for no other purpose than to drive the team to the Premiership. And since we suspect Brother Leipzig's Bundesliga ambitions already account for a considerable amount of the budget and attention Papa has for soccer, any Red Bull takeover of Leeds would seem to inevitably mean some reduction of the available resources for RBNY.
Either way, some part of RBNY's fan base is going to feel a little happier when Leeds United's current situation resolves itself. Once again, simply by looking out for itself, LUFC will help out a little club in Harrison.
After all you've done for us, Leeds, all we can do is wish you every success in the current campaign to stabilize your affairs. If that effort produces another player who isn't quite getting it done in Yorkshire but might have something to offer Stateside, or forces Papa Red Bull to reveal a little more of his intentions regarding his commitment to RBNY - so much the better.
For all you have done, and perhaps will do for the New York Red Bulls, a team you doubtless care not the slightest bit about, but that you continue to help out regardless: thank you, Leeds United.