Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Primetown on the Road: MLS Western Conference Final: New York Red Bulls @ Real Salt Lake

The date: November 15, 2008.
The location: Sandy, Utah.
The moment: The Red Bulls first ever conference title and a ticket to MLS Cup.

After the historic victory in Houston the week before, I quickly asked to take off the following Friday so I could go to Utah to see the Red Bulls attempt to make MLS Cup. I am lucky that my boss is well aware of my passion for soccer and more specifically for New York Red Bulls soccer and gave me the necessary time off to enjoy the playoff run.

After a week of anticipation, I left my job after working half a day Friday and headed to Laguardia Airport (Triboro Bridge crossing above). Originally, I was supposed to fly through Chicago and then on to SLC. With poor weather on the way at home, Chef Leon, Hockey Trophy, and myself took an earlier flight through Dallas. The one plus side of this flight experience is that I got to pick up a "Don't Mess with Texas" shirt in Dallas. Is there a better state slogan than that?

We arrived in Salt Lake City around 11 PM. We quickly picked up the rental car and were on the look out for a liquor store. Luckily, we stopped at a gas station and learned Utah is one of those states that sells beer in a gas station. ESC's first victory in Utah... ever. Eventually, we made our way to a large neighborhood and found our way to the house. Calling it a house is a bit of an understatement. This place was huge... 8,000 square foot huge. 2 master bedrooms, several other bedrooms, a 60 or 70 foot basement, a theatre room, an amazing kitchen, and even an eliptical machine which the Vezinator is pictured above testing. After some initial conversations, and a couple brewskies, it was time to hit the hay.

Born and raised in the suburbs of New York City in New Jersey my entire life, it's not too often I get to wake up to a viewing overlooking the Rocky Mountains. It's great to wake up and look out the window to the sight of snow capped mountains. Sometimes you need to take a break from the norm and experience something different, that is something Utah can provide. After taking a bunch of photos outside the house, it was time to hit the supermarket and pick up all the necessary supplies for the tailgate. Almost $300 later we left with food to feed 20+ people. Once we got back and began preparing the food, others began to arrive throughout the morning. At about 4 PM we made our way to Sandy, home of Rio Tinto Stadium.

The setup of the parking at Rio Tinto was subpar to say the least. Gravel parking lots sort of in the middle of nowhere. It was a cold day, not crazy windy cold, but it was seriously cold. After all, it was November in Utah. We setup the tailgate and just about as we were ready to eat, we noticed some Red Bull vehicles in the corner of the lot. We went over to them and were lucky enough to be asked to join. They opened up one of the trucks and our eyes lit up... bottle after bottle of hard liquor. Not to mention carton after carton of Red Bull. Enough liquor to keep us wasted for a good 2 weeks. Perfect. It was cold and how else does one get warm... liquor.

Decent crowd on hand. It didn't have the feel of a big game, but certainly to all involved on our end it certainly did. Midway through the first half, Dave van den Bergh sent the traveling supporters into a frenzy as he put home a pass from John Wolyniec to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead.

The remainder of the game was absolutely nailbiting. Salt Lake hit the post several times including twice in the final minutes. When the final whistle blew, the ESC was as jubiliant as ever. A trip to our Super Bowl... MLS Cup, was now a reality. Text messages flying in from the East Coast as the boys had done what was considered unthinkable just a few weeks ago. The front office was kind enough to share some championship gear with us as well. After the game, the crowd of very happy RBNY fans waited for the team outside the stadium. Each player received a chant as they walked out of the stadium and onto the team bus. My fondest memory was the ESC doing a full fist pump to the bus. All the players on the bus responded returning the NJ status symbol back to us. Awesome experience, awesome day.

Above is your picture of the folks who made the trek across the country to see RBNY win their first ever conference title. It is moments like this that make supporting a team to the fullest worth while. One game away from winning it all... I wouldn't miss it for the world. To be continued...

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