Hey folks, there's a new movie coming out. It's about an average team that has had some rough spots and hasn't done many things right in the past 12 years. They go through coaches as much as people go through a pair of shoes (about a year); and players almost never stay at the club. The captain went into retirement; their star player got sold to a bigger club for millions; and a couple of their players have been banned from the sport because of illegal substances. They barely make it into the playoffs and somehow make it to the championship. There they meet a club that almost twice as good as them and then...
Sounds like a good storyline for a movie, doesn't it? Well, this is no movie. I just reviewed the Red Bulls entire season into one paragraph. The New York Red Bulls are only a victory away from winning MLS Cup. It might sound like fiction to many sports and soccer fans who have followed the exploits and misadventures of the original MetroStars and the Red Bulls. It seemed the club could do very little right from the onset. However, after what seems like a miracle, they find themselves on MLS's biggest stage - the MLS Cup Final.
In their 13 season history, New York has gone through more coaches (11 in 13 years) and players (202) than any other club in Major League Soccer. What is worse, they haven't been able to gain the exposure people thought they would in New York. In essence, the New York Red Bulls can be considered Major League Soccer's greatest underachievers, much like Newcastle United is in the Premiership.
However, no longer are they just an average club. With a good mix of young and old players, the Red Bulls have found their stride and could be on their way to becoming MLS Champion.
The club couldn't be where it is now without its young players. Let's take a look at some highlights.
- Rookie midfielder Luke Sassano, who turned 23 on Oct. 14, hadn't started a game since the 2-0 win against Toronto FC on Aug. 17 ane then became a forgotten Red Bull, appearing in two more regular season games as a second-half substitute. But after the 5-2 regular-season ending debacle of a loss to the Chicago Fire in which Juan Pietravallo played poorly and after Seth Stammler learned he would miss the postseason with a knee injury, coach Juan Carlos Osorio decided to use Sassano in the defensive midfielder role. He could not have done any better, limiting two-time MLS MVP Dwyane De Rosario to no goals or assists in the upset of the two-time defending champion Dynamo and playing very well Saturday night.
- Midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic, a second-year pro and 25 years old, had last seen the starting lineup Sept. 6, when the Red Bulls lost at the Fire. Ubiparipovic played some 25 minutes of the 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake on Oct. 9. When Venezuelan international midfielder Jorge Rojas, the team's playmaker, underachieved, especially in the regular-season finale, Osorio decided to turn to Ubiparipovic to run the show at central midfielder. Like his good friend Sassano, Ubiparipovic has done a tremendous job, not only on the attack, but on defense as well.
- Thrust into the starting job when verteran Jon Conway was banned for illegal substances, young Danny Cepero has become a very very good goalkeeper. On his debut in October 12th, a freak accident happened - he scored a goal from a 80-yard free kick. Guess who he scored against? None other than the Columbus Crew. Since then, Cepero has remained the Red Bulls starting goalkeeper. He's done a pretty good job at it too.
Let's not forget about the hardened veterans of the club. Without them, the youngsters might not be as good as they are.
- Juan Pablo Angel, 33, might be best known as a goal-scoring machine, but his presence in the locker room has been vital to the team's success. According to Red Bulls players, Angel is the last thing from a foreign player who is a diva. He may be talented, but he has a blue collar mentality, setting an example as the hard-working player. If Angel can do it, the rest of the team has to fall into line.
- Midfielder Dave van den Bergh - the other David in the news on the same day the Los Angeles Galaxy signed David Beckham on Jan. 11, 2007 (the Kansas City Wizards traded van den Bergh to the Red Bulls for a third-round supplemental draft choice) -- has been the team's most consistent player since literally the first minute of the season, scoring seven regular-season goals and one in the playoffs (yeah, the game-winner against RSL). Actually, make that the 47 seconds. In the Red Bulls' season opener on April 5. Van den Bergh, 31, stunned the Giants Stadium crowd by connecting for the fastest goal in club history. After taking a pass from Ubiparopovic, van den Bergh found himself with the ball on the left side and let loose a 24-yard shot for a 1-0 lead the game only 47 seconds old en route to a 2-0 triumph.
Goes to show that a club who gels together goes and wins together (or something like that).
Now like any good sports movie about a down-on-their-luck team, the Red Bulls have to face their biggest opponent on the biggest stage - the Columbus Crew at the MLS Cup Final. The Crew have been a monster this season and go into the final as the favorite. New York is hoping to spoil the party. New Yorkers should take heart in knowing that the Red Bulls have a 2-1 record against the Crew.
There's really only way to explain this phenomena: expect the unexpected.