Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hanging Out With The Fox Soccer Channel Crew & New York Red Bulls

Once again, I must give heartfelt thanks to a few individuals who combined to make a trip to the MLS Cup playoffs to see the New York Red Bulls host the New England Revolution at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Saturday night a great experience for the lads and me. First up is Max Bretos of Fox Soccer Channel. I had interviewed Max some time ago for EX magazine in England about him being a Hammers fan who enjoys a high profile on American TV (scroll down this blog for that Bretos interview). Max and I had been trying to coordinate our schedules when he was on the East Coast -- we had a near miss a while back at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Philadelphia -- but this time everything came off. Alex, Ben and I met Max near the Fox TV trucks at the West Gate of the stadium about 5 p.m., well before the 7:30 kickoff. Max and his colleagues, Mark Rogondino and Todd Grisham, were phenomenally gracious. They engaged the lads and I in conversation for a good 20 minutes, making us feel right at home. They also asked us if we wanted to appear on camera for an 'Ask the Announcer' segment involving their colleague Christopher Sullivan. The lads asked about the health prospects of Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna over the course of the playoffs, while I asked whether 19-goal scorer Juan Pablo Angel would stay in MLS for the long term. Both segments aired on the pregame show nationally, which was extremely cool. Again, you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of guys than Bretos, Rogondino, Grisham and co. They are top-notch people. The night got even better after the game, which finshed 0-0 (leg 2 of the series is next Saturday). As most of the crowd of nearly 15,000 filed out of the stadium, the boys and I were given access to the locker-room area for the second time this season thanks to the cooperation of Red Bulls official Remy Cherin and the continuing generosity of Red Bulls assistant coach John Harkes. As I'm sure you can imagine, the boys were on Cloud 9 as player after player, as well as coaches, from both teams stopped to sign shirts, pose for photos and have a chat. Among the players and coaches Alex and Ben met were Jozy Altidore, Claudio Reyna, Mike Magee, Dema Kovalenko, Juan Pablo Angel, Ronald Waterreus and John Harkes from the Red Bulls, and Taylor Twellman, Matt Reis, Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston and Steve Nicol from the Revolution. Again, the time these players and coaches have for the fans should be commended, as well as their good humor. The Revolution players all laughed when I asked them to score 'own goals' vs. the Red Bulls next weekend, and Steve Nicol -- who was a Liverpool legend in his playing days -- gave Alex some good-natured ribbing about being an Everton fan. Jozy Altidore, just a kid himself at 18, always has time for young fans and Claudio Reyna even handed his baby to his wife to sign shirts and talk to the boys. That's real class, and when you think how some of the athletes in the so-called 'big sports' in our country charge for their autographs, Major League Soccer can hold its head high. Well done to the league and Fox Soccer Channel for keeping the humanity in the sport and realizing that, in the end, it's just a game.