Fifteen years ago today, I married the love of my life. (More inside.)
Eight years ago, immediately following the first election of Barack Obama, I wrote a blog piece entitled The Great Release. While I had memories of writing it, I hadn’t re-read it in the years since.
The short version of the post: it had been around eight years since I had started this blog; writing was my catharsis, and I wrote to ensure I couldn’t forget the emotions I felt on that night.
Those exact emotions, I had forgotten. Sure, there were symbolic actions (“as the tears came to my eye”) and (now) foolish declarations that the country had “spoken resoundingly” and rejected fear mongering. But the description of those eight years under Bush felt like a repressed memory:
I can not ever forget what the last eight years have done to this country. It has divided us, such that my own relatives feel that calling me a “commie pinko” is acceptable discourse. It has destroyed our good standing around the world. It has warped our values: intelligence and eloquence had become something that we no longer wanted in our leaders.
So. Here we are again. Back where we started, as though the last eight years not only hadn’t happened but had somehow caused us to backslide. Our international good standing is shattered, buffered slightly by the UK beating us to the punch some months ago. Our values have warped farther, where playing to hateful views is not only viable enough to win you the nomination, but the presidency as well. And the “commie pinko” comment from one of my in-laws was not merely said but screamed at my wife last night.
Unlike eight years ago, my emotional spectrum over the last twenty four hours doesn’t feel worth jotting down in detail. Dread, regret, sadness, indignation, exhaustion – they all eventually gave way to knowing the sun would come up and the world around me would try to find a way to continue. (As I grow older, my emotional range in narrowing; less jittery highs and lows, more smooth curves.)
The emotion I do want to focus on is the recurring theme as I check in on my friends: heartbreak and resolve.
There’s the heartbreak of my LGBTQ friends who now will wait in fear for the inevitable rolling back of their rights.
There’s the heartbreak of my married friends who have to find a way to explain this to their kids.
There’s the heartbreak of my female friends who are terrified that birth control will be outlawed.
There’s the heartbreak of my immigrant friends who have had their impressions of what this country represented fractured.
There’s the heartbreak of friends who have to face antagonistic family over the holidays, who now feel empowered to spew hate about minorities, immigrants, and imagined threats.
The heartbreak was pretty uniform, but a collective resolve is showing through soon after. Whether that’s resolve to protest, resolve to work to understand the other side, or resolve to dedicate themselves to a cause, it’s starting to show up in my conversations as much as that initial heartbreak. There’s not talk about “second amendment solutions”, little serious talk about running away to Canada – everyone’s just ready to put in the work. Society can’t change on its own.
As for me: while I need to figure out a path to make a difference on my area of biggest concern (trying to reverse decades of slow-building voter suppression efforts), the thing I’m going to focus on for now is supporting the people I care for. Despite 2016 having plenty of low points, I refuse to lose sight of the incredible group of people I get to call my circle of friends.
So to the older version of myself, who will eventually pull this post up in a future election cycles: remember that you don’t win every time. Remember that what feels like progress can disappear in the blink of an eye. Remember to put in the work. And remember to be there to help with the heartbreak, because that is when you may be needed the most.
When I wrote that piece eight years ago, I chose a fairly deep cut from the LCD Soundsystem discography for the post title. The lyrics may not have worked as well as the title did, but it stuck enough to make it through.
This year’s post comes from a 2003 Ted Leo song. The lyrics work better here, but they’re slightly at conflict with the title of the song:
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
And I’ve walked from coast to coast
And I’ve seen, yes I’ve seen…
No one’s business but my own
Where I’ve been, where I’ve been…
And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
In the days when we were young
We were free, we were free…
Now that Georgie’s reign’s begun
We won’t be, we can’t be…
And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
Though I’ve lived my bygone years
In this land, in this land…
I’ll uproot it without tears
And I’ll change it if I can!
And, no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
Soccer is a never ending sport. On a match level, the clock never stops during play; on a competition level, there’s always someone playing globally.
The longest measure of defined time in soccer is the World Cup cycle, the four year period from the end of one World Cup to the end of the next. Experimentation yields to eventual stability, as qualification and continental competitions dot the timeline. It crests in the World Cup, and then it’s time to reflect and rebuild. Coaches move on, players retire, and we go again.
The end of 2015 marks the end of a four year cycle of my own: being a soccer writer. In those four years, I’ve gotten to do quite a bit. I’ve talked to legends, picked brains of coaches, and debated with fans. I’ve broken news, coined terms, weaved narratives, and written a few things that, even to my hyper-critical mind, are worth reading. I’ve co-hosted a podcast for a year and a half, gotten to do color commentary on a professional soccer match, and hosted pre-match coverage twice. And I’ve helped grow a small, passionate soccer community into a giant, passionate soccer community.
Which is why now feels like the right time for me to leave the soccer business, at least in the semi-professional sense. Effective today, I’m marking myself inactive.
“Wait! You can’t just do that! How can you just walk away from your job? And why would you want to, it sounds incredible! What kind of a spoiled prick are you?”
Slow down there, Imaginary Abusive Soccer Person Who Cares Enough To Raise Objections.
One of the most eye opening things that I discovered upon being inside the press box is that almost no one is there as their primary job. A sizable chunk have day jobs – IT guys, mechanics, small business owners, etc. There’s a subsection of journalists who do soccer, but usually either cover other sports (typically NFL or NBA) or do other things at their outlets (copy editor, webmaster). The sports journalism business is not doing great, and in a sport that still counts as “niche” in the US, soccer gets a very ad hoc press corps.
This was a shock when I first entered the box, but also relieving, because it meant I wasn’t going to be an anomaly. The soccer things I’ve done for the last four years haven’t been a job, but a really professional hobby. That likely sounds insane if you’ve never heard me say it before, but it’s not something I’ve been hiding. Anything you’ve read from me, any podcasts you’ve listened to with me on them – those were all done as an outlet, as stress relief from the rest of my life, as something to pour my energy into. I am not a professional sports journalist by trade.
What that all means was also this: I always have had the ability to walk away, if this no longer felt like the right thing to do.
The “why”, or even “why now” is tough to answer. I struggled with writing this post at all, because I don’t want to sound bitter, and I’d love to just fade away quietly. But walking away in silence is tough after spending such a long time writing and talking about soccer.
So let me boil it down to three quick things: one negative, one positive, and one sort of in the middle.
The negative: over the course of the year, I hit some major levels of burnout, to the point where seeing a game on my calendar lead to a groan rather than excitement. I made a joke in my last pre-season piece that I would be “covering all three soccer NYC teams to the utter detriment of his personal life this season”, and boy, was that prescient. I’ve worked 29 games this season, which is about 50% more than a typical season over the last four years. Podcasting has its own stresses, and /r/MLS hit that tipping point of subscribers where it becomes a constant battle to keep the place falling into disarray.
Emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion were not uncommon, and it lead to me indulging some old personality traits in order to defend myself. I’ve made some unhealthy decisions and many times have not liked what I see when I look in the mirror. And so, I need a change.
The positive: I went to three soccer games this year not as a media, but just as someone in the crowd. And I realized, especially during the days where the stress was high, how much I missed that.
During our two week vacation to Cascadia, I got to take in Seattle vs. Orlando from just above the Emerald City Supporters. A week later, I stood with the Timbers Army and sang my way through Portland vs. Houston. And not long after that, I paid for tickets to go watch NYCFC vs. Columbus with a friend and wandered around Yankee Stadium, taking in the game from different perspectives.
After having to have been “on” for so many games (live tweeting, observing, checking replays, locker room scrums, arguing over social media, laying out narratives), it was nice to just be able to watch a game, to eat some overpriced stadium food, and to be able to go out before and after the match.
The grey area: one of my favorite restaurants in Jersey City closed in November. The end of Thirty Acres in and of itself didn’t make me give up on soccer, but the story from co-owner (and generally awesome person) Alex Pemoulie describing the lifecycle of the restaurant got me thinking (emphasis mine):
So, that’s it. That’s the story of Thirty Acres. We took risks—some of them incredibly stupid, but all of them worth it. We are not the people that we were when we opened this restaurant. We know a bit more than we did then, but more importantly, we know how much we still don’t know.
And we did do it after all, we opened Our Dream Restaurant. It just turned out that in the end, once we had done it, it didn’t make us happy.
I can’t say the soccer journalism role never made me happy – it absolutely did. And even this year, there’s been some wonderful days. It just on a whole isn’t a positive anymore. It’s not filling a hole or gap I feel. And I’m ready to move on before the burnout and negativity overtake all the good memories and leave me resentful.
So what does this all really mean?
The most immediate is that I’m resigning as a moderator on /r/MLS, the community I’ve served as a moderator for four years. (There’s a post specifically about this from me over there.)
The next most pressing is that after a year and a half, I’m departing Seeing Red, the long running RBNY podcast. I look forward to being able to listening to the show again now that my voice isn’t a part of it. Mark and Eric will continue to be great, and listeners will get some relief from the whiplash hosting lineup that 2015 involved.
Lastly, I will not be applying for season credentials for any area team in 2016, and I won’t be writing regularly for Gothamist (or any other outlet) about soccer.
I’m not leaving “soccer Twitter”, and I’ll be back on /r/MLS, but I’m forcing myself to take a few weeks off after today, at least until the start of 2016. I need that space to decompress. But I will be back, at least as a voice in the crowd. Eventually.
(I should note that despite all of this, there are some question marks looming above my head, and so I can’t say that this is a permanent decision. If something earth shaking happens in the NYC soccer scene, I may still write a one-off for Gothamist. I hope to contribute the occasional non-soccer thing over there, as I’ve enjoyed writing on other topics – already talking with the food team about some future pieces. But returning to soccer is not part of my day-to-day plan going forward.)
I also must note that this is not secret code that I’ve taken a job with any club or league; that I’ve been sacked; that I’m buying season tickets for any club or joining a supporters group; that I’m leaving the NYC area; that I’m dying of some terminal illness; or that this means anything other than what it says above.
I want to close out with some thanks, because the one thing that kept me going with this very strange hobby is regularly being around some incredible people.
To Dave Martinez, who has mentored me for four years and occasionally gotten something worthwhile in return: thank you, thank you, thank you. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I could without your support. I wouldn’t have understood half the things going on without your guidance. And I wouldn’t have grown as quickly as I did without your help. Thanks for the trust, the laughs, and the faith. You’re a rockstar. Let’s finally get that brunch soon.
To Pablo Maurer, a guy I met through a hastily planned “trash talk” piece between the soccer guys at Gothamist and DCist: you’re the most underrated and most under-appreciated guy in the business. I wish I had a tenth of the creative spark and drive you did. Thanks for everything – the FIFA games, the endless jokes, and the constant perspective. Let’s catch a game together next year and/or do donuts in the RFK parking lot.
To Katie: thank you not only for your support as I’ve been wrestling with this, but for the four years prior. I know it’s been rough at times. I look forward to being next to you at games again, not in front of you.
To Jen Chung, Gothamist’s fearless EIC: thank you for putting your trust in me, for letting me associate with such a great news site for so long. Your kindness, support, and advice meant the world to me. (Additional thanks to the rest of editorial for helping get my pieces out into the world.)
To Mark Fishkin: Seeing Red has always been your show, Mark. Thanks for letting me be a small part of it for a little while. It’s been an honor to be a footnote on its storied history, and I’m really looking forward to the show in 2016.
To Eric Giacometti: I was honored to ever have you come to me for advice. I’m not going to pretend for a second I mentored you in any capacity, because you’re already way beyond what I’ve done. Keep writing great things.
To Brian Tsao: had any other communications person been running the team when I came knocking, I don’t know that this would’ve happened at all. Thanks for letting me get my foot in the door.
To Malena Barajas: thanks for all the lunches and being someone to lean on. May you never be in crisis.
To MC Bousquette: never, ever change.
To the communications staff over the years at RBNY (Frank, Corey, Joe, Jason, Gordon, Scott, Molly, Paul, and the team who helped produce two Seeing Red Live episodes), at NYCFC (Marty, Sam), and at the Cosmos (Dee, David), thank you all. It’s a shame the fans will never know how hard you all work. Additional thanks to folks at other clubs (Chris Thomas, Jonathan Kaplan, Trey Fitz-Gerald, Daniel Robertson, Lizz Summers, Frank Stanzl) who worked with me over the years on AMAs.
To the MLS league communications office (Dan, Susan, Sal, and especially Jane) – thanks for dealing with my random inquiries over the years. It’s been a pleasure.
To everyone past and present at MLS Digital and KICKTV who I’ve gotten to know (Greg, Andrew, David, Matt, Ben, Hans, Amanda, Folg, Sarah, Abner, Erin, Chris, Billy, Kuba) – you all rock. Apologies for ending up at so many of your parties. (I swear, it was mostly accidental.)
To the /r/MLS mod team: thanks for an incredible ride. Too often people were quick to credit me for team decisions, but it’s always been a team effort. I promise not to jam the “report” button too often now that the “remove” button is gone from my toolset. If you’re in town, drop me a note – beers are always on me.
There’s a countless list of soccer reporters both local to NYC and across the country that are all people doing this not because of the paycheck (in cases where there is one), but because they love the sport. There’s too many of you to list without the guarantee of forgetting someone, so I will hedge and just say: thank you, all of you. It’s been an honor to be a peer.
To all the players and coaches: whether it was a locker room interview, an AMA, or a podcast appearance, thanks for sharing. I’ve learned so much about this sport.
And to the fans, the followers, the subscribers, the listeners, the debaters, the trolls: thank you for the discussions, the arguments, the feedback, the occasional love, and at the very least, listening to anything I had to say. It’s been a memorable four years, and I hope I brightened your world even a little bit.
If you’re still reading this, and want to share a drink and some stories, I’ll be at the Seeing Red Holiday Party tonight. Hope to see you there.
This isn’t the post I thought would be the one to break my blogging silence, but it’s the one I need to write.
It was Sunday evening, and the perfect conditions were combining into a moment of perfect joy. The weather was spectacular. The venue, a 12th story rooftop in the heart of the city, gave us perfect views in every direction. There was barbecue, and drinks, and a few close friends up there with us. The USWNT was destroying Japan, my phone pulsing every few minutes with news of another goal.
And then, the subject turned to “The Friend”.
“Anybody hear of any leads on The Friend lately?”
“No, but did you guys know about this Tumblr…?”
While it’s far from the reason the friendship existed, there was a common bond among the group on the roof that evening: each couple had either been ripped off, or was close to someone who had been ripped off, by someone deep in the social circle that criss-crosses between NYC’s tech, food, and photoblogger communities.
The Friend disappeared from the Internet about two years ago – right after I got ripped off.
I’ve alluded to the incident in passing on this blog before, and I’ve thrown out a subtweet or two in frustration, but this will be the first – and potentially last – time I write about it at length. It’s hard to want to write about how foolish I was, how much of a sucker I momentarily became, and the negative impact that moment has had on me as a person. But the events of the last 72 hours have left me craving what little catharsis I can wring out of my own hands.
It was two years ago today that I got a text message from The Friend, threatening to throw themselves into the Gowanus.
The Friend, at this point, was someone I had known for over five years and considered extremely close. We chatted semi-regularly, saw each other on occasion at friends’ parties, and hung out when we could. In a city where you can easily go years without seeing friends, that’s a pretty good interaction rate.
The resulting IM conversation was, in hindsight, perfectly crafted. There was urgency: a client check bounced, a new place to live about to collapse. There was constant self debasement, declaring their life a failure. There was desperation about an amount of money that was neither huge nor insignificant. And in the end, an invocation of a friend I didn’t know, who had agreed to float half the amount in perfect timing with my growing inability to help.
I checked our finances. I checked with the wife. It was an amount we could live without but that we would certainly want back. So I agreed to float the other half.
My phone rang almost instantly – it should’ve been a red flag for a person who was notorious about never picking up the phone. But I was just happy to help. I wrote up a quick agreement (balance due in 30 days, failure to pay would allow the use of unspecified “further actions”), ran to the ATM, withdrew the cash, and met The Friend in the shadow of St. Paul’s Chapel. It was chosen for subway convenience rather than moral significance, but the detail is not lost on me.
The agreement was signed, the cash was handed over, we chatted briefly and everything was fine as we parted ways.
That was the last time I saw The Friend.
Three weeks later, as the due date set in, a text message conversation threw alert at me. While casually talking about meeting up (at which point I was going to gently remind about the debt), The Friend mentioned that they couldn’t meet for coffee because they were totally broke.
That would, in the end, be the last text message I would receive from The Friend.
My head tried to ignored the signs but my fingers fired off a reminder about the debt. There would be no answer.
As the debt hit the due date, more texts were sent. Emails fired off. Phone calls made and going to voicemail. Katie joined in, futile as it was. There would be no answer.
It was only days after the radio silence begun in earnest that I thought to ask mutual friends for leads, and non-mutual friends for advice. The responses sent my stomach to the floor.
“Oh no, not you too,” said more than one mutual friend.
“Is it The Friend?” said a non-mutual friend who I had spoken to in only generalities.
How could I have been so stupid?
The two years that followed became an attempt to put the incident out of mind, with occasional lapses into anger, dejection, and sheer disbelief.
Soon after, I reached out to the friend of The Friend who had allegedly floated the other half of the cash, which was of course not at all true. (He still apologized for a role he hadn’t intended to play in the deception.) I heard from a few other people who had been ripped off by The Friend, who had shared connections with me. Others had been hit for more, or in worse ways. I occasionally felt lucky that I hadn’t gotten it worse, which made me feel terrible.
The Friend went silent on social media. Occasionally there would be a sighting at an event, or on a mailing list, and I’d get a heads up from someone I had alerted. We investigated getting a PI or filing in small claims, and both were more costly than the amount we’d recover.
We hung the worthless agreement on our fridge, a sad reminder to not be so trusting and perhaps a hope that someday, The Friend might do the right thing. I felt myself pull back from putting a lot of trust in new friends. I became more cynical, more selective, less open to want to hang at length at social functions.
Every now and then, the incident would flare up at home, triggering arguments and anger at a circle of friends and acquaintances who had failed to warn us, failed to tell us not to trust The Friend. Of course, there’s no good way to have that discussion, no easy way to say something simultaneously essential and cruel. But it didn’t matter when the anger got the better of us. It would pass when other battles in life took priority.
About a year after the incident, another email would come in from someone who got burned badly by The Friend, asking to chat. They were thinking about setting up a Facebook group, or a Tumblr for fellow victims. About six months later, a Tumblr appeared, matching the emailer’s story. We found it, but didn’t think much of it.
Until this weekend, on that rooftop.
Monday morning, a friend from the rooftop posted a link to the Tumblr onto Facebook. The resulting thread ignited and burned strong for a day.
More victims appeared in the thread, nodding in agreement or expressing anger that nothing had ever been done to stop The Friend. Bewildered people who knew The Friend’s name went wide-eyed in disbelief. (A few people joked about how the thread had reunited so many people who hadn’t spoken in years.) And those who had known The Friend the longest, many of whom had been burned lightly and let it go, decried the public shaming of someone who had struggled with depression. They objected to witch hunts in a social community that was above it. They dubbed the Tumblr that had used questionable tactics in the battle for some form of justice or retribution as toxic.
(In case there’s any confusion as to why I’m not using The Friend’s name or linking to the Tumblr, it’s because multiple people took the stance that ruining The Friend’s reputation is worse than the crimes committed. While I whole heartedly disagree, I don’t want this to be about that – although I recognize the same argument that this is dehumanizing The Friend might apply.)
The only meaningful update was someone who had been in contact The Friend in January, indicating that they were now homeless and was in a “bad bad place” for having burned so many bridges.
When I read that, for a brief moment, I felt…well, not sad. Not happy either, but not terribly torn up about it.
And then I realized how much this had been eating away at me, and that all of this angst and pain and conflict inside me desperately needed a release.
The Facebook thread was taken down last night, smothered and stomped out before someone could dump more gasoline on it.
So here we are, two years past a threat to jump into the Gowanus that turned me into a fool. Allow me the following attempt at catharsis:
To the people who opted to defend The Friend on the grounds that public shaming is the wrong tactic, I understand and respect where you stand. We have all made mistakes, and no one wants their dirty laundry aired on the Internet. I would love a proper conversation with The Friend, a sincere apology, maybe even the money back. But two years of radio silence have sent the message that isn’t on the table. What you’re asking is for victims to not speak up, to sit back and just accept a crime being committed. I hope you can understand why I have such a hard time with that.
To the people who opted to defend The Friend on the grounds that their relationship was not a con or a swindle, I understand and respect where you stand. I thought the same thing, for as long as I could. I’m not even sure I can still bring myself to believe that it was intentionally a con. I just think it became convenient. I fear I became a relationship that was worth more to cash out than to keep. I hope you don’t become the same.
To the people who are harboring someone like The Friend in their social circles: speak up. Don’t assume your friends know about the damage they have caused. It doesn’t need to be vindictive, but it does need to be clear and up front.
To the person running the Tumblr, I understand and respect what you’re trying to do – and I wish someone had done it before I got taken advantage of. But I do wish you’d use better tactics, ones that wouldn’t compromise your message to those who can’t believe someone they hold close could be so awful.
To The Friend, I hope you get the help you need and can fix the damage you’ve caused in so many lives. And I hope you never do this to any one, ever again.
One of the things that makes the whole situation more complicated is that most of the social connections that drove this incident were triggered through social networking. It’s easy to find new acquaintances and friends-of-friends, to develop relationships.
The problem is, there’s rarely nuance to the connection on social networks. You follow on Twitter. You are friends on Facebook. You are a connection on LinkedIn. There aren’t labels on your social graph, no way to indicate that the connection may be waning or broken. You see a large number of mutual friends and you assume the person is on the up and up.
I, along with many others, have kept The Friend in my social network graph long after being burned. It’s out of a false hope that there will be a slip, a re-emergence, a tell that The Friend is still out there. Those slips have happened, but they’re ultimately worthless. It’s clear they’re hiding from more people than just me. Meanwhile, those connections in my graph become tacit endorsements – an opportunity to use me as a silent reference, vouching for their character. Now that I’ve wrung my hands, I just want to wash them clean.
With this post, I’ve unfriended The Friend on all the social channels I can think to. I don’t want that association hanging over my head. The margin utility of tracking isn’t worth the pain.
Time to move on.
“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”
So offered Facebook repeatedly over the last week, as various friends clicked/tapped the “Auto-generate my year in review, please” call to action. Everyone in their respective social networks were treated to a algorithmically generated review of the pictures they chose to upload and the life events they allowed Facebook to ingest.
I have never been much for the programmatic, and while I appreciate the visual nature of Facebook (and I’ll do my own, hand-selected photos post not long after I write this one), I still enjoy the dying art of writing a blog post about what happened in a given year.
I’ll remember 2014 for a few things, but mostly the exhausting emotional toll that enveloped the world. From the Ebola scare, to Ferguson, to the current behavior of the NYPD, to the respective NFL and NBA scandals, to the hand-wringing about a Franco/Rogen film, it’s just been a complete wear to read the news and try to feel some level of optimism about, well, anything.
At a more personal level, a few things stand out:
2014 was the year we went full cocktail nerd, after years of dabbling. Our obsession with spending Friday night at The Dead Rabbit got us to what Jack has referred to as “super-regular” status. (Also quoting Jack: “You guys are family. You know the drinks better than I do now.”)
We have branched out to other bars as recommendations floated by and friends moved between bars. Attaboy, Underdog, Distilled, Bachanal, and Mother’s Ruin have all earned pushpins on my mental map of NYC. We also went to Speed Rack 4, which was incredible.
Conversely, it was not a year where we tried a ton of new restaurants. Marta was decent, Little Park was impressive, and I’m appreciative that Hudson Eats opened to give us a lot of decent options for takeaway dinners. But by and large, we were still at the usual spots constantly. (I did finally get to try Prosperity Dumpling, which is mind-blowing.)
At the day job, two radical changes at the end of 2013 (one planned, one less so) made 2014 a very different year in terms of my focus. My team has grown significantly, and we transitioned from The Old Way Of Doing Things to The New Way Of Doing Things close to seamlessly enough to make me happy.
It being a World Cup year, soccer activities took over my life far more than I would normally expect. My final count for actual watched games this year: 16 league games, 4 playoff games, 1 national team game, 2 Champions League games, 1 All-Star game, 3 friendlies. (That’s a troubling 40.5 hours of professional soccer watched live.) I also played in two media games, made too many podcast appearances to count (and one TV appearance), and churned out 81 posts on Gothamist.
Unsurprisingly, after that much soccer, I’m a bit burned out and unsure on the best strategy going forward. While I love covering the sport and being a part of that community, it’s a strain on the rest of my life, and with the NYC beat expanding to two MLS teams next year, I haven’t yet figured out what 2015 will look like. I’ll figure it out soon, but it’s been looming most of this month and the answers are still a bit muddled.
2014 was also the year the Port Authority decided, out of complete kindness, to completely ruin our weekends by shutting down our local PATH station. I am glad to consider that we may finally be able to have people over again on the weekends.
That, then, is what I can remember about the blur that was 2014. Pictures and a much reduced survey of what happened with my gaming life in future posts.
…then you’re on the new version of VJArmy, which has been relatively quickly migrated over to a new host.
Those of you looking for RemyWiki will notice it’s gone. It’s not gone forever, but we’ll need to have a talk about it. More details this afternoon.
It’s a brisk day in March 2011, and I’m in Harrison. And I am terrified.
It was my first ever team event for the Red Bulls – and not merely a team event, but Media Day. I didn’t know what Media Day was when I accepted the invite from my friends at Gothamist, but I had figured it out early that morning and it sent me into colon lock. I thought it was a press conference; instead, it was a free for all where you walk up to whoever and ask whatever.
There’s Thierry Henry, world football legend. There’s Rafa Marquez, who at the time wasn’t a complete villain. There’s Juan Agudelo, just back from scoring with the national team. Here’s me, barely six months into following the team, trying to look like a sports journalist. I was a disaster.
I head toward the coaches – and after weighing my options, I went to Mike Petke. Petke, the local boy. Petke, who had just retired from the club he loved. Petke, who had been given the (seemingly honorary) title of “Individual Development Coach” in the front office like so many retired MLS players do.
I threw him a softball question – the only kind I had, having never interviewed anyone before – about the Parks Department donation announcement. (I thought this was the main focus of the event; it certainly wasn’t.) As I flubbed my way through my first ever team interview, Mike didn’t look at me funny, didn’t put me down – just answered the questions kindly.
Quickly running out of material, I recall the two videos about him trying to adjust to front office life, and asked if we should expect him to show up in any other team videos. This time, he laughed – and gave me an answer that was more prescient than either of us knew at the time:
“Hey, you never know where I’ll pop up.”
It’s a warm wet day in June 2011, and I’m in Portland.
It’s the weekend of the first RBNY-Portland match. I’ve written about this trip before, but there’s one story I left off.
At one point, feeling rather emboldened by being in the team hotel as a fan (I hasn’t yet fully crossed to media), I figure – maybe I can take advantage of this a little bit more than just random collisions. I try to think of who on the team is on Twitter – and there aren’t many at that point.
But there was, of course, Mike, now an Assistant Coach with the team. So I tweet at Petke, offering to buy him a drink in the hotel bar. But I never hear back, and it didn’t really cross my mind again. We did see him after the game, and he gave Katie a big hug and me a handshake.
Two weeks later, I’m digging around on Twitter, and click over to Petke’s timeline. And then I realize why I never heard back from him: because he mangled the tweet and the mention never hit my timeline:
Petke joked this year that he didn’t know how to get his phone to stop beeping when he got mentioned on Twitter. Social media isn’t his thing.
It’s a rainy evening in March 2013, and I’m in Portland. It’s the weekend of First Kick, and New York is again away at Portland.
Not two months earlier, Petke was named head coach – a surprise, given that the typical set of also-ran European names had been thrown around. And on the eve of his first match running the franchise, I am again in the team hotel, waiting for Mike with Matt Doyle and Jeff Carlisle. He’s running a little late.
Finally, he steps out of the elevator – and as he’s getting introduced to us, he gives me what seems like a smile of recognition. It throws me a little. “Why would he remember me?” I wonder.
This time, the questions come a little more naturally to me, having been doing these sorts of interviews for a year and having a much better knowledge of the team. I ask about continued crazy matches between RBNY and Portland. I try to catch him with a question about Tyler Ruthven, who had seemingly won back his contract after being terminated at the end of 2012, but then was suddenly on the outside looking in.
Mike just smiled. He nearly always smiles when taking media questions, whether he likes the question or he doesn’t. He handled them well enough (especially the Ruthven question), but I could tell he was a little nervous going into his first match. A little wound up.
I head back up to our room to find Katie so we can have dinner, but she’s not there. I switch my phone back on, and there’s a text from her, from just before Petke appeared, to the effect of:
“Just ran into Petke. He’s on his way up to see you now.”
Of course, of course, Katie would find him before I would.
It’s a lukewarm morning in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.
It’s this past Saturday, the final weekend of the regular season. The Red Bulls have one game left on Sunday against Chicago – win, and they bring home their first championship in their 18 year history. Lose or draw, and unless other results went their way, it would be the same old story for the club.
It’s the final regular season practice, at Red Bull Arena, and I’m the only member of the media in attendance. (Full media availability was the day before, so there’s less appeal for media attendance.) But I’m not there primarily for interviews – I’m mostly there to get a sense for how the team felt rolling into their last game of the season, the one that might deliver them a trophy.
They were relaxed. They were joking and having fun. They were working, but it was a different air than I had ever seen the team in.
I ask for Mike for an interview, and then there I am, again alone, putting my microphone in his face. Mike had refused to talk for weeks about the chance of winning a trophy until they got into the playoffs – and even after locking a playoff spot, he was nervous to talk about it. So I tried for a different angle:
“When you look back over your career, in terms of anticipation, where does tomorrow night rank for you?”
He laughs. He gives Brian Tsao, the team communications director, a look that pretty clearly reads “Can you believe this guy?”
I try, poorly, to clarify: “Not asking about jinxing it, just – how much are you anticipating it?”
“Listen,” Mike says. “I anticipate – I’ve anticipated – I anticipated every game. I get wound up for every game. That’s exactly how I’ll answer that. This is 90 minutes, three points, that’s what we need.”
I don’t push further. He’s said more than enough.
It’s a cool evening in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.
If you read my coverage, you know how this ends. The Red Bulls give up a goal to a former player, sending a wave of familiar dread through the stadium. Then Thierry Henry scores a golazo. Ibrahim Sekagya scores a goal-line scramble. Lloyd Sam scores a beauty. Eric Alexander goes one-on-one and wins.. Jonny Steele scores with ease. Five unanswered goals from five different players. The margin is so big, Chicago scores a consolation goal and the crowd barely notices.
The final whistle blows. The stadium doesn’t so much roar as it lets out an excited sigh of relief, that the team has finally ripped off the label of Never Won Anything. A few seats down from me, Dan Ryazansky – who runs Metrofanatic.com, which has meticulously chronicled 18 years of club futility – is beside himself, half in tears, half smiling. The Supporters Shield, snuck into Red Bull Arena secretly by a group of supporters just in case, appears near the South Ward, and it is hoisted again and again. Petke dedicates the win to the crowd, apologizes to his wife, and promises his kids the best off-season ever if they can give him just five more games – he’s already focused on the playoffs.
This moment obviously wasn’t mine alone. I shared it with everyone else in the stadium that night. But it was certainly the moment, so far.
I’m not a “96er”, like Mark or Miguel. I was there in 1996, missing the Curse of Caricola by a single game, but then I wouldn’t return for 14 years. I spent a year and a half as a fan, and then the last two years as a member of the media that was (perhaps not so secretly) hoping this team would finally win. And now they have, under Mike’s wound-up heart-on-his-sleeve leadership.
When I considered my trajectory with the team – from casual fan, to season ticket holder, to media noob, to occasionally being the only beat reporter at practice – I realized this week that Mike has pretty much been there for each and every step I took. More than any player, he’s the one that’s most represents the connection I have to the club. And that’s even after I missed most of his playing days.
It’s great to see the Red Bulls finally put something in the trophy case. But to have Mike be the one that lead them to it means so much more: to the club, to the players, to the supporters, and yes, to me.
So congrats, Mike. To be honest with you? You’ve earned this.
There are few things harder to understand as a kid than having to uproot and move. Getting familiar with a new town, fitting in at a new school, making new friends – these things are hard enough when you’re an adult in control of the situation. As a kid who doesn’t quite yet understand how the world works, it erases nearly everything you knew and forces you to start over.
Ten years ago today, I married the love of my life. Reflection, anecdotes, and more old pictures of the two of us inside.
Over the last few weeks, the writing stuff got a little hectic and surreal. I contributed to a piece in the Guardian, had another piece cited by the New York Times, and then had a NY State Assemblyman chase me down to correct a misquote in the Wall Street Journal.
In the spirit of making sure I keep tabs on all of this, I’ve thrown together a quick clippings page. It’s not every last thing I’ve written, just the posts of significance or things I liked.