MONTREAL – When Zarek Valentin reached Andrew Wenger after the rookie scored the first goal of his professional career last Saturday against Toronto FC, both Impact players turned to the Montreal supporters and held the three middle fingers of their right hands towards the cheering crowd.
Yes, the District 12 respect sign, of The Hunger Games fame.
The childhood pals, who grew up together in Lancaster, Pa., and are now housemates in Montreal, went to see the blockbuster hit – though Wenger insists he, unlike his friend, read the books – and drew inspiration from protagonist Katniss Everdeen to show their respect to the fans.
“I enjoyed the movie a lot,” Valentin told reporters during an unusual double media scrum with Wenger after training on Thursday. “We simply wanted to come away with something that would be kind of memorable. ... We got the win, so we wanted to do our piece and maybe they’ll give us a sign back!”
WATCH: Wenger scores first MLS goal
Both players have been hard at work for the Impact since the beginning of the season, and the fact they are both very young by MLS standards (Valentin is 20, Wenger 21) suggests they could become the spine of this team over the years.
Describing Wenger and Valentin as inseparable would not be a stretch, at least when the No. 1 pick of the last MLS SuperDraft is not writing his term papers at Duke University.
For the moment, however, the genuine friendship which exists between the two mostly means that Valentin gets a kick out of Wenger's double duty as professional soccer player and student.
“I was watching TV, playing a little video games,” Valentin explained. “And I said [to Wenger], ‘You’ve got to go to your room and do your homework! We need you back for the rest of the season!’”
Replied Wenger, “Not only does he play video games, but he turns the music up really loud. ... If I don’t pass, then it’s his fault.”
And just as Valentin and Wenger respectively assume defensive and offensive responsibilities on the pitch, tasks are shared at home.
“Zarek made dinner last night, and it was pretty good,” Wenger said. “I did the dishes, but our dishwasher is broken, so it’s quite a struggle.”
Retorted Valentin, “He’s needy, but it’s OK. I do his laundry and clean up after him. He’s a real scrub at home. He’s a good guy, he has a kind heart.”
Thanks to their fun-loving personalities, the Montreal fans already have a soft spot in their hearts for the Impact’s odd couple, as evidenced by their Twitter accounts. However, social media can also work against you, as Valentin learned on Wednesday night.
As he watched the NHL playoffs, Valentin innocently tweeted a Philadelphia Flyers cheer. He had not taken into account Montreal’s animosity towards the two-time Stanley Cup champions, however – the Canadiens following is sometimes akin to a religion.
“I got a lot of heat,” Valentin recognized. “I’ll be cheering for the Habs, going to a lot of games next year and potentially ... we’ll give away some tickets, maybe get on the good side of the fans."
With the Canadiens missing out on the postseason, hockey fans will now have to turn to soccer for their customary Saturday night sports helping. Signs of respect guaranteed.