Commentary: Father’s Day 17 times a year for MLS fans

The Empire Supporters Club at Red Bull Arena

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I’m not saying my son Jack is the No. 1 six-year-old Red Bulls fan in the Tri-State area, but he’s definitely in the running.

He’s been going to games since he was three, and he can name every player on the roster and tell you what number they wear. That includes Brian Nielsen (number—hold on, let me ask Jack: “Nielsen is number 21,” he says, looking over the book he’s reading. How about Sacir Hot? “Number 91.” Ibrahim Salou? “He’s not on the team anymore, Dad.” I know, but what number was he? “29 ”).

Jack closed out Giants Stadium in a biblical rainstorm in 2009 (NY 5, Toronto 0) and opened the sparkling new Red Bull Arena on a perfect spring day in 2010 (NY 3, Santos 1).

He was at Giants Stadium in April 2009 when the Red Bulls gave up not one but two stoppage-time goals to squander a 2-1 lead against D.C. United; and he was at Red Bull Arena in June 2010 when Juan Pablo Angel beat the Houston Dynamo with a stupendous 35-yard free kick on the last play of the game.

At his very first game, in April 2008, just before his third birthday, Jack tried to join the match—literally.

Five minutes after kickoff, he made a break for the aisle from our third-row seats, and started heading down the stairs toward the wall beyond the front row at Giants Stadium. The 10-foot wall beyond the front row.

I scrambled after him and carried him back to our row, explaining that we were there to watch the game, not play in it.

Once my wife and I convinced him to stay in the seating area, I figured he’d make it to halftime, if that, before we had to call it quits due to toddler overstimulation. But not only did he go the full 90 in his debut, he also spent the entire time on his feet, chanting (“Ole, ole, ole, ole”), cheering and clapping. About 20 minutes in, my wife turned to me, smiling, and said, “You’ve created a monster.”

New York won that game 2-0, so it may have been a misleading sample, and it certainly left Jack unprotected for the 2009 disaster against DC. When Chris Pontius’s winning goal hit the net in that one, less than a minute after United’s equalizer, Jack burst out crying.

I felt like a Red Sox fan, circa 1978, introducing his son to that star-crossed franchise.

Fortunately, that heartbreaker didn’t kill his desire to keep coming out to games (or crush his spirit, in general), and we continue to go to Red Bull Arena. We hop the 4 or 5 express train on the Upper East Side, take it to Fulton Street, and walk to the PATH train at World Trade Center. We usually grab a pretzel from a sidewalk vendor there, for the 20-minute ride to RBA.

At the stadium, we hit up the booth where kids can measure their shots on the radar gun (Jack’s best: 30 mph; kid can thump it) and the soccer-tennis booth, where he volleys a few balls back-and-forth. Then we head to our seats for a hot dog and the game. You can’t beat it with a stick. As Ray Hudson would say, “it’s pure class in a glass”—like Father’s Day 17 times a year.

And there are bonuses: Such as the time, midway through this year’s game against Kansas City, when five-time MLS champion Jeff Agoos settled into the seat next to Jack.

Agoos retired the year Jack was born, and I didn’t want to bug the man, but I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to introduce my son to a two-time World Cup veteran, so I said hello.

Agoos couldn’t have been more gracious, smiling, shaking Jack’s hand, and asking him who his favorite Red Bull was. Jack turned to show Agoos the name across the back of his Red Bull T-shirt—“Angel”—adding, “I’m really sad he left.”

Jack didn’t know who Agoos was at the time, but a few days later, he was watching one of his favorite DVDs, Gamebreakers, The Stars of Major League Soccer (it’s a close second to The Incredibles), and he called out to me in the kitchen. “Dad! Jeff Agoos is on this!” And another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

New York won that game against Kansas City, 1-0 on a goal by Luke Rodgers. Last weekend, the new Red Bulls forward made an appearance at Nevada Smith’s, a famous soccer bar in Manhattan’s East Village. Jack found out about it (by reading the video screen at Red Bull Arena) and of course he wanted to go. (“You’re taking him to a bar?” my wife said.)

He met Rodgers, got his autograph on a ball, and before we left, another bonus. They were asking trivia questions during the event, and the first one was, “After last night’s win over New England, the Red Bulls are in what place in the Eastern Conference?”

To Jack, this was a sitter: “First!” he called out, and the young woman running the quiz handed him two free tickets to an upcoming game.

By the smile on his face, you’d have thought that 2009 DC debacle had never happened.