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Media Lessons From The King

Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.

So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.

But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.

If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.

Obligatory Picture Of My Stupid Face In Henry's Scrum

I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.

Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.

Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.

His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.

Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.

Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.

Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”

Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”

Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”

An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.

My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:

What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.

There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:

I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.

Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.

Moments With Mike

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.


jeldwen_2013

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.

The Bearded Face Of A Media Villain

If it’s not already painfully clear to my friends, I love anecdotes. I love minutiae and trivia and obscure statistics. And I think that’s a big part of why I’ve taken to this whole sports journalism thing as a hobby: soccer is full of metrics (that are often meaningless), and every game I cover gives you a moment or two to hang on to longer term.

Take Thierry Henry. Thierry has won practically everything there is to win in the sport: Premier League, Champions League, World Cup. He is an intense competitor, and more than a little prickly in the locker room. So much so that I’ve only ever asked him two questions in the 18 months I’ve been “on the beat”, the last of which earned me a mild bollocking which included the phrase “I don’t know if you know what it’s like to play in a pre-season friendly”. (No, Titi, I don’t, but thanks for asking.) Even getting sassed at by Thierry is a fun memory, not a point of shame.

Sometimes, though, you don’t know an anecdote is happening until 9 months later. And that happened to me recently thanks to one Tim Cahill, although it wasn’t intentional on his part.

Continue reading The Bearded Face Of A Media Villain

It’s Safe To Stop Ignoring Me On Twitter

After fielding multiple complaints from multiple friends – along the lines of “Will you ever shut up about soccer?” – I have opted to split my Twitter account into soccer and non-soccer variants.

So: if you’re looking for occasional tweets of wit and whimsy from me, you can follow/re-follow/stop muting @Remy. If you instead want frequent updates about the Red Bulls/MLS/the soccer world in general, you should follow @GothamistDan.

Can’t promise I’m going to do the same on this blog, of course, but I get the feeling not a lot of people are stopping by here anymore.

So, About That “Mugshot”…

No, I Didn't Go To Jail

In mid-February, I changed my profile picture on most social networks to the above photo and casually mentioned there was a story that I might be able to tell in the future. Given that my glasses were off, I was in front of a white wall, and was trying to neither smile nor frown, the response was somewhat predictable: “Did you get arrested?”

No, I did not get arrested. But today’s the day I can tell the story.

Across 2011, I chipped in articles to Gothamist about the New York Red Bulls. I made a trip out to Harrison to cover Media Day before the home opener. I helped write some blurbs for “Last Night’s Action”, the daily sports round-up, in a pinch. Around September I started writing full match reports, starting with the Rafa Marquez drama and ending with getting knocked out of the playoffs.

Writing these was a fantastic mental outlet. It’s no surprise that I love to write and tell stories – I’ve been doing it here since 2000. My love of soccer and my interest in the team turned into a very natural topic to want to write about, and I even got a few pieces of fan mail thanking me for the coverage.

During the off-season, I came to the conclusion that it might be worth stepping up this engagement slightly, and after some discussion with my editor, got the go-ahead to apply for formal press credentials for the 2012 season. The oddly taken picture that had people believing I spent a night in the slammer? Actually just part of my application process for the credentials.

I was notified yesterday that my application was accepted. So my insufferable chatter about soccer will likely only get worse, as I will officially be covering the Red Bulls (and other soccer matters) for Gothamist this season. As my first formal press gig since 2001, I am eagerly looking forward to waving a microphone in the faces of a bunch of players I’ve been following closely for much of the last two years.

This does mean I’m going to be leaving The Viper’s Nest (where I occasionally penned a piece or two) on a free transfer. Heartfelt thanks to Matt, Miguel, Tim, Brian, and the rest of the crew, who not only provide a constant stream of great discussion and passion for the team, but acted as fantastic guides to the long (and rather perplexing) history of this club. I was “chuffed” and “over the moon” to get to join them, and the RBNY world is better with them in it.

So with that story out of the way – keep watching for my coverage over the course of the season. If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching this team, it’s that win or lose, there’s always an interesting story to be told.

So, About That Portland/RBNY Tilt

Out of the twenty MLS matches I have attended to date, that was by far the most interesting. It is also the first time I have stood with the Empire Supporters Club for the game, which involved 90 minutes of chanting, standing, and clapping.

Inside: thoughts about the officiating, the experience at JELD-WEN Field, and the inevitable hilarity that came from staying in the same hotel as the team.

Continue reading So, About That Portland/RBNY Tilt

The RBNY Walkover

ADDENDUM 7/18/11: Per an email I received from the Empire Supporters Club, the walkover will no longer be involving flares on the bridge. Direct quote: “We can no longer do flares on Bridge, FBI & Homeland Security are involved, they are going to arrest people, it won’t be pretty, etc.” So while there are alternate plans to work in flare usage in other places, please take the article below as a snapshot of what once was.


“Yeah, you went to a riot last night.”Alexandra Klasinski

Like A War Zone

Of all the traditions held by the “South Ward” – the collection of supporters groups and ultras that make up the three sections behind the south goal at Red Bull Arena – the most chaotic may be the Walkover.

Starting Over The Bridge

What is the Walkover? Take about 200 hardcore fans. Feed them lots of beer. Give them flares and smoke bombs. And then send them over the bridge that connects Newark’s Ironbound district to Harrison, the one that empties out right near the gates of the stadium.

South Ward Go Hard

The whole process takes about 30 minutes – the bridge is not terribly long, but once the crowd hits the middle there’s less forward progress for a bit. There’s a constant threat of arrest for improper use of flares, the possibility of minor burns, and the air is thick with ash and smoke.

South Ward Unity

But between the chanting, the general party atmosphere, and the crackling energy of the whole thing, it is a hell of a lot of fun to be in the middle of. The traffic cops were befuddled, the cars trying to get across the bridge were more amused than pissed off, and it was a fantastic way to get pumped up before the game.

Anyone who has the time before a RBNY home game should skip Harrison and head over to Newark. Meet up with whichever supporter’s squad you want – GSS meets at MMM Bello’s, ESC at El Pastor, or the Viking Army at Catas – about an hour before kickoff.

And bring some ruckus.

Forza Metro.

More pictures of the walkover are on my Flickr account, as part of my growing collection of RBNY photography.

ADDENDUM: Some video from “GSSDave”, who shot the walkover: