It is hot as hell and the sun is beating down like it’s high noon on the equator. But it’s not high noon on the equator. It’s 5:30 on a Sunday evening in August in New Orleans and I am in search of a bar. But not just any bar. A bar that will broadcast NYCFC’s game against the New England Revolution. In which I hope, of course, that NYCFC beat New England.
The Revolution Will Not be Televised: NYCFC Beat New England
So there I am, walking through the edge of the Lower Garden district with my laptop, looking for the Rusty Nail, where Jesse behind the bar tells me, sure, we can find that game, sit down and have a drink. Which I do as he scans devices and screens until ultimately turning sad eyes to me. “Sorry, pal. I guess we don’t.” But he gives me directions to another bar, in the Irish Channel, Tracey’s on Magazine, so I head over there and meet Bob.
“Let’s see what we’ve got” Bob tells me, and brings me over to an empty section of the bar where there’s a screen that no one’s looking at. And someone puts a drink in front of me and we begin searching through the hundreds of channels. I look at my watch and, making a quick calculation that takes into account the time change, note that the game started ten minutes ago. Or perhaps not, because, you know, MLS.
“Sorry, man. Doesn’t look like we get that channel,” Bob says. Like it’s his fault this bar doesn’t carry NYCFC matches. Like it’s not the most ridiculous thing in the world that I should walk in off the street in August and want to watch a match being played 1,300 miles away between two teams that have no logical connection to this city, in a league with no representation here. “No worry, brother,” I tell him as I pack up my laptop. “If you’ve got a car,” he says, “you should head up to Finn McCool’s in Mid City. They’re sure to have it. They’re a big soccer bar.” And so I get back into the car and drive these ancient, arbitrary, river-run streets, towards Mid City and the home of this mythical warrior.
And as I roll up I have to confess, it doesn’t look promising. Old men are sitting under umbrellas, arguing unintelligibly about something. I open a door with a sign on it that regrets that dogs are no longer allowed inside, and am briefly blinded by the darkness that greets me. I take a few tentative steps inside until my eyes adjust, and then when I can see again, there is Neymar, big as life, schooling Toulouse on the big screen. Okay, I think, this looks promising.
I ask Connor behind the bar if they can show the NYCFC match and she doesn’t even skip a beat. “You want to sit over there, you can see this screen here,” she says, pointing me to a table in front of a screen that’s showing the Saints’ pre-game (no, not Southampton; the New Orleans Saints. The football team. They’re playing in San Diego later). She pushes a few buttons, tilts the screen, and PRESTO CHANGO! There’s the Bronx, there’s Yankee Stadium, and there’s David Villa running his ass off. Ladies and gentleman, the Eagle has landed.
And sure, I missed the first 30 minutes, and sure, it was the Revolution’s feed with dear old Paul Mariner on the call, but it was the game, nonetheless. So I fired up the laptop, pulled up a chair, and settled in to watch.
And to be honest, it was kind of awful.
Not Finn McCool’s, which was great. A real soccer bar, not one of those tchotchke-laden corporately sanitized funhouses that put a fan off his pint. But the kind of local a guy could wander into at 6 am and watch the EPL or Ligue 1 or Serie A and be greeted as a regular among regulars. And have trouble remembering he was within earshot of the Big Muddy.
No, I mean NYCFC. For some reason they didn’t quite look like a team, did they? Every pass was a step long or a step short. When they could complete a pass, they couldn’t complete a second pass. And then by the second half it looked as if they’d completely given up any hope of a second pass and were just content to clear the ball out of their own zone and hope for the best.
Which frankly is the kind of behaviour you would expect of a side that’s at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. Not one that’s second best in the league.
But hey, sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. And the mark of a great team is that even when you don’t have your best stuff, you find a way to win. Which is why it made sense for Patrick Vieira to bring in Khiry Shelton, Ugo Okoli and Jon Lewis in the second half. Because when you’ve got a team that’s not playing like a team you bring in guys who have a knack for creating individual chances.
Which, curiously, they didn’t. They actually created teamwork. David Villa’s goal probably doesn’t happen if Khiry Shelton doesn’t dummy in front of him, and it was Ben Sweat’s vision to see Lewis that made the game winner possible.
But it was that kind of a game.
And it had been that kind of day for me as well. Mistakes had been made. Errors in judgement. Wrong turns. Hell, I missed the first 30 minutes, didn’t I? But like NYCFC, I had persevered and I had found success eventually.
I just had to keep pressing on, and eventually, rely upon the kindness of strangers.
You’d think I’d have expected that, in this city especially.