Myth, legend — it all ties into the tapestry of sport with a fluid ease. In baseball, it was Steve Bartman who famously endeared himself to Marlins fans while enraging his fellow Cubs fans by “Catching Hell” (as ESPN 30 for 30 coined it). Further East, there was the Curse of the Bambino that plagued the Boston Red Sox for almost a century. Meanwhile at the home of the New York Red Bulls, there is a similar pessimistic conjecture that emerges around the time of the playoffs.
‘Caricola’ is a name that conjures the image of a medieval middle eastern monster. The truth is somewhat less fanciful. Nicola Caricola, the former Juventus and Genoa defender, spent a spell in MLS and also holds the unwanted mantle of ‘own goal’ scorer at Giants Stadium.
“It was the first game at Giants Stadium, 46,000 people, I’ll never forget that game,” he told MLSSoccer.com recently. A memorable day, but it gained a more sickening relevance for Caricola when Tony Meola palmed away a shot in the final seconds. A tired prod from Caricola sent the ball into the one place he didn’t want it to end up — his own net. With New York Red Bulls the only original franchise still unable to win the MLS Cup, reasoning was sought and so the curse was born.
As with any good folklore and tales of misfortune, there must be supplementary examples. “The curse of Caricola is a great story to me, it’s like the ‘Curse of the Bambino’,” current head coach Mike Petke admitted.
Petke is a non-believer even though he has had closer exposure than most. Chicago, the Eastern Conference Final, 2000. The decisive fixture in a three game series (as was the format then). Tied at 2-2 after recovering from a two goal deficit, Adolfo Valencia races onto a defensive mistake, and scores what he (and at the time Petke) assumed to be a potential game winning goal.
Piercing the celebrations with a shrill whistle, Petke likens the polarizing feelings to ‘what I imagine a heart attack to be like’. If Petke’s heart was weak at the moment, Valencia’s goal was struck off. It suffered a second blow minutes later. Ante Razov burst through to end the Metrostars hopes, and gave further credence to the cynical curse believers among the fan base.
“It haunted me for a while,” Petke said with a chilling tone. With a name change, and a rebranding, you may have thought the curse would perish too. Could the new Red Bulls
provide the catharsis its patrons had longed for? It had a chance in 2012 against DC United, the antithesis of New York when it comes to success in MLS.