Supporters Week: Going the extra mile for club and country

"If we win, we can always savor the fact that we were there," exclaims New York Red Bulls fan Brent Gamit.

Not that it always happens. Going on the road for your team can often be a thankless task. Logging thousands of miles, if not more, only to see your team crumble doesn’t always leave a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.

As Gamit’s fellow Red Bulls fan and Empire Supporters Club member Corey Vezina explains, “Most times on the road your team will lose and you’ll be upset about it, but it’s always worth it for the handful of times when it pays off.”

The desire to experience that payoff has taken the pair from improbable playoff runs to the din of the Estadio Azteca to World Cups on three different continents.

“You go for the fun of supporting your team, the thrill of being surrounded by people rooting against you, and the hope that just maybe you’ll get to see something special,” says Vezina. “I was at RFK on July 4th weekend with about 11 [other] New York fans in 2003, when Eddie Gaven scored a goal in overtime to beat DC United. The dozen of us went nuts, 15,000 of them when home upset.”

Vezina – who is entering his 12th year of traveling to support club and country – and Gamit have been to 14 MLS venues between them, including all the West Coast stadiums, and will soon add a 15th when the Red Bulls travel to Montreal on May 19.

The pair of Red Bulls fans both agree though that perhaps the most special moment they have experienced on the road came in 2008, when New York made an improbable run to MLS Cup keyed by a 3-0 away win at two-time defending champion Houston Dynamo.

“We tied the home leg [vs. Houston] 1-1 and went out there, knowing that the odds were stacked heavily against us,” Vezina recalls. “But, Dane Richards went nuts, New York won 3-0 and it was one of the best wins in franchise history.

“That’s why you travel, every once in a while, your team might just make history. Wouldn’t want to miss out on that.”

The Red Bulls, with Gamit and Vezina in tow, went on to make MLS Cup thanks to a 1-0 road win over Real Salt Lake, but fell 3-1 at the final hurdle to the Columbus Crew in Carson, Calif.

In addition to traipsing back and forth across the country to see the Red Bulls play, Vezina and Gamit have done more than their fair share of traveling to support the US national team.

They each have two World Cups under their belts, taking them as far as South Africa, Germany and South Korea to support the US, but both highlight their pair of trips to Mexico as the most memorable experience they have supporting their country, including the USA's 2-1 defeat in August 2009 during World Cup qualifying. (US fans celebrating Charlie Davies' goal in that game pictured right. Credit: Corey Vezina.)

xx“No trip in American soccer can compare to being one of 3-400 Americans in a sea of 105,000 Mexicans bent on seeing you suffer,” Vezina explains.

Gamit is in full agreement with his colleague.

“The feeling once inside the Azteca is amazing. You're surrounded, and I feel nothing but the urgent need to sing loud and support the nation of my birth and obviously engage in the ‘semi-friendly’ banter with the local fans,” he enthuses. “I feel compelled to sing even louder, to hold my scarf even higher. It's just a great feeling.”

That is not to discount the experience of a World Cup, especially when you are on hand for one of the defining moments of modern US soccer history.

“Ninety minutes of unbelievable tension,” Vezina says of the USA’s deciding group stage game of the 2010 World Cup between against Algeria. “Then Landon puts one in the net and we all became human meteors. No gravity could contain us, no words really describe it.”

Even in locales less exotic and a little closer than Pretoria or Mexico City, the opportunity to travel has offered Vezina and others the chance to experience some of the most poignant moments in US soccer history.

Take the US men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying campaign in 2002, for example. Vezina recalls a painful day of traveling that saw the USA record the first of two straight defeats to put their trip to South Korea and Japan in serious jeopardy.

“I was at D.C. on September 1, 2001 for the 3-2 loss to Honduras at 10 am, after which I hopped the 1 pm Acela and made kickoff for the 4 pm New York vs. Chicago Fire match, and we lost that one too,” he explained. “That was an awful day.”

Over the course of the next month, American history was unequivocally altered by the September 11 attacks, adding an emotional twist to his next trip to see the US men play.

With the US’ World Cup hopes on the line, Joe-Max Moore led the US to a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Foxborough, Mass., while Trinidad & Tobago defeated Honduras to secure the Americans’ trip to Asia.

“Once we saw Cobi Jones next to a cell phone start jumping up and down, we knew we’d made it,” Vezina reminisced. “The next hour was a blur of people losing their minds. We get back in the car, turn on the radio, and the USA had just started the campaign in Afghanistan. It was a surreal day.

“So, you win some and lose some, but, you always feel grateful you were there.”