Last weekend, April Fools’ Day was faithfully observed in locker rooms across Major League Soccer. Sporting Kansas City had some fun with rookie Colton Storm, while Liam Ridgewell pranked his Portland Timbers teammate Jack Barmby. Meanwhile the Montreal Impact’s Argentine contingent tried their hand at a (fictitious) Latin rock band, just to name a few prominent examples.
Excellent work, all of it. Yet it’s quite possible that the New England Revolution’s golden era of prankdom in the early 2000s will never be equaled.
The team's culture of banter started near the top. The Revs’ then-head coach Steve Nicol and his first assistant, Paul Mariner, were wise guys themselves who once swapped out a fellow coach’s size 11.5 boots for size 10.5 models, leaving the victim limping at training sessions for weeks before he discovered the crime. Nicol got his comeuppance not long after, though, when his own cleats went missing, only to be found in the clubhouse refrigerator, encased in a large cube of green Jell-O.
“The coaching staff, media relations staff, the players, everybody – nobody was safe and everybody was having at it,” says Brad Feldman, the longtime Revs television commentator who was also their communications director at the time. “It was definitely an environment that cultivated these sorts of things.”
The standout netminder achieved myriad team and personal honors over a 16-year MLS career. But Reis was (and still is, based on the handlebar mustache he sported during last month’s USMNT matches) also blessed with a dry sense of humor and a willingness to take part in more than a few April Fools’ plots.
In 2004, with Nicol routinely being pressed by fans and pundits to sign a true No. 10 to push his MLS Cup-chasing squad over the top, the baldheaded Reis donned a flowing mullet wig on team photo day. As a lark, he also announced himself as the flashy foreign playmaker his team needed.
“I walked in – and it was a heavy day for me work-wise – and Matt was parading around with this wig on and a headband and a windbreaker that was only partially zipped, to expose his chest hair,” recalls Feldman.
Back then the MLS regular season started about a month later than it does now, and April 1 fell during the week of New England’s first game. So Feldman and his staff turned the mulleted Reis into Luis “El Lobo” Fangoso. The made-up, Argentine-born Gibraltar national teamer was able, they said, “to play in any weather conditions – snow, ice, FieldTurf, rain, and, as his surname would suggest, mud,” who would solve the Revs’ creative needs.
They broke the news via a highly tongue-in-cheek press release. And in those dark days before the rise of social media, it was a great deal harder to get to the bottom of such gags.
“When it hit on April Fools’ Day, we didn’t put the ‘Happy April Fools’ Day’ at the bottom of the website until later,” says Feldman. “So with BigSoccer and everything, it started to go around that the Revs had actually signed a Latino No. 10. And there were some fans who were initially fooled by it who didn’t realize the whole thing was a windup, and it started to go a little bit viral in the New England soccer community.”
Reis – who this week asked to postpone MLSsoccer.com’s interview request until March 31, 2018 – got back into the Fangoso character during pregame warmups at New England’s home opener two weeks later. That's where he helped fellow 'keeper Adin Brown limber up as the Gillette Stadium PA system blared “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran (video below courtesy of Kraft Sports Productions).
“We straight-faced the whole thing, so it took on kind of a legendary status,” says Feldman. “The name ‘Fangoso’ goes around [among Revs fans] every time there’s an international signing. I think this actually may be the first time I’ve ever admitted that it’s the same person, because we kept that going for a long time. They were never seen in the same place at the same time.”
But they outdid themselves the following year. The team’s practice gear at the time included one-piece jumpsuits for goalkeepers, and someone remarked that they made the chrome-domed Reis look like a member of the Blue Man Group. And it so happened that New England’s first game of 2005 was a visit to San Jose on April 2.
So a communications staffer Photoshopped the goalkeeper’s team mug shot a deep azure tone, and on the eve of their season opener, the Revs distributed a press release headlined “Goalkeeper trades in Revs' blue for blue spotlight.” The statement announced that “in a shock move” the starting 'keeper had retired at age 30 “to pursue a career in music and theater.”
“This comes as a tremendous blow, coming as it does just a day before the opener, it must be said,” read Nicol’s quote in the release. “I can understand football burnout, but to go and be one of those blue guys defies reason. Matt always marched to the beat of his own drummer. I guess now he's going to be his own drummer.”
Feldman remembers that Reis wasn’t as taken with the Blue Man gag – “for whatever reason he thought it wasn’t organic enough” – until one of the staffers at a major soccer news website missed the joke and treated it more or less as serious news.
“I think that went down in [MLS] history as the best April Fools’ prank,” says Feldman. “Never mind the fans – the top brass bought it for a second. I think Matt appreciated that.
“Now, in the age of social media, it’s much easier to transmit information and broadcast,” he adds. “In the time of analog fax machines – it was sort of early on in the internet days – the fact that BigSoccer or a text-only Blackberry was the way to make these things live, so they weren’t exposed immediately as pranks… Matt certainly was one of the people who recognized that and exploited that to good effect.”