Anthony’s NYCFC Preseason Experience
Sweatshirts and Florida usually don’t appear in the same sentence, unless the sentence is, “You don’t need a sweatshirt in Florida”. 52 degrees never seemed so cold. Very glad I found a sweet hoodie brandishing the NYCFC logo on the left sleeve earlier in the day at an ADIDAS outlet. Never thought I’d have to be bundled up in Florida. I also never thought I’d see my favorite team within shouting distance in Florida, either.
After a few hours and 3 cups of black coffee, navy shirts with orange trim emerge from the far locker room. Can’t make out faces, but I know it’s our crew. The excitement starts to build. Maybe they’ll come over and chat. Nah, not before a game. Sure its only pre-season, but this is the big one. The final chance to show you’re in good form. Last chance to show you want it. Last chance to tweak the squad and see what pieces go best where.
Waiting patiently to get some pictures of warm ups, a man wearing official NYCFC gear walks up to me and shakes my hand and thanks me for coming out. His name is Daniel Fradley, our performance analyst. We talk about the weather back home and how we didn’t expect new York weather on the west coast of Florida. He heads up the metal stairs to the booth to take his place for the game. The next man I meet makes me realize how awesome this team is when it comes to its relationship with fans.
Claudio Reyna and an exec walk by me, one of two people in the entire section (the other being my lovely girlfriend). Decked out head to toe, from my custom navy and orange Oakleys to my new navy Nikes, he notices and kindly excuses himself from his conversation to come over and shake my hand and thank me for coming down to give my support. Totally didn’t have to do that. I didn’t expect him to, nor would I be upset if he didn’t. And from there on the evening got colder, but much more fun.
Fradley comes back down and tells me if I want to meet some of the guys, I should make a move during the second half and wait by the locker room. I thought to myself, this is actually going to happen. I’m going to interact with some of footballs biggest names. Some world class players. As the game commenced I tried to keep an eye out for the new faces. I wanted to see first hand what we are working with. Tony Taylor looked impressive as he did all preseason. Shelton is even faster live than he is on TV. Pirlo isn’t a soccer player, he’s an artist. His game oozes creativity, and he even managed to find the back of the net on a beautiful strike from just outside the box. I was in all my glory. I just saw my favorite player net his first goal with my favorite team. And you know what, they looked really good. Much different than last year. Team seemed more of a unit than individuals. A truly great sight to see.
62 minutes have ticked off the clock and I make my way down behind the net to watch the remainder of the match and grab a good spot to meet some players. I know with a tie, players probably won’t be too thrilled and probably won’t want to interact. And then I saw it. Before it even happened I knew it was going in. Mix and his flowing locks fly through the air and head a ball perfectly passed the opposing keeper. YESS!
Final whistle blows and the next thing I know to my left is the great Frank Lampard. He makes his way over and signs my shirt and poses for a picture. I wish him a speedy recovery and he shakes my hand. I just shook the hand of one of Englands greatest players of all time. Khiry Shelton now comes over and signs my shirt and thanks me for coming down and showing my support. Never seen a happier player in my life. His smile says it all. The great Poku makes his way over and poses for a pic. A very humble and happy player much like Shelton. And then comes a personal favorite. Tony Taylor, whom I have previously mentioned to be my breakout player this season, smiles and poses for a photo and thanks me for my support. I make sure he knows how I think he’s going to be valuable to this team and that his play so far was outstanding. After a short conversation about how it cold it was, all players exited the pitch and the chaos was over.
On the walk back to the car, I realized how different this game is than others. There’s a different relationship between opposing players. There’s a different relationship between players and fans. There’s a level of respect that you just don’t see anywhere else. These players go to war for 90 minutes and still go out of their way to make sure you feel appreciated. Don’t believe me? Check social media. You can interact with these guys on a regular basis. And they all have the same thing in common. Their ultimate goal is not only winning, but at the same time showing that we matter. And when your team makes you feel like you matter, you become the 12th man. You sit in freezing weather or scortching heat at Yankee stadium yelling your face off because you want your team to know “hey, we got your back”. And these guys know we do. That’s why this game is full of passion. That’s why it’s emotional. That’s why it’s beautiful.