The following evening only affirmed my convictions about the widespread fandom of European clubs in America. Red Bulls fans, who habitually fill the stadium in Harrison, were intermingling with Chelsea fans from near and far. Interviewing fans ahead of kickoff, many told me they expected a Chelsea victory – even those in Red Bulls colors. To their credit, Red Bulls had played in the US Open Cup the night before, and had gone to penalties, eventually losing to Philadelphia Union. The fans I spoke to definitely weren’t the only ones expecting a resounding win for the visiting Blues.
In the end, Red Bulls II, comprised mostly of USL-Pro players, ended up stealing the show. Led by Franklin Castellanos, who scored one and assisted another, the Red Bulls youngsters put in a fearless performance, scoring four second half goals in just 35 minutes.
Speaking to Castellanos after the match, I asked him how it felt to compete against players he likely venerated his entire career: “We didn’t even think of winning the game, to be honest. Before the game, we thought about it more, but we just enjoyed the opportunity.” Quite humble, and poignantly candid, considering how big this opportunity really is.
For players like Castellanos, plying their trade in a lower league in North America, exposure can be the best possible thing. If Laurent Blanc is to be believed, the commitment to develop players like Castellanos is not only intelligent, but necessary.
After the final whistle, the Chelsea and Red Bulls players mingled in the hallway, taking photos and signing autographs. Unsurprisingly, some Red Bulls were lining up to swap jerseys with Chelsea players, while others were posing for pictures and exchanging information. Outside the locker rooms, Thierry Henry, former Red Bulls player and Arsenal legend, spent a good twenty minutes chatting with Cesc Fàbregas, while Raúl and Mourinho had a laugh. It was refreshing to see such humanity from people we most commonly see mid-match or during a press conference.
Leaving Red Bull Arena, I felt drained but perked up when I remembered how easy it was to leave the parking lot. Harrison is quite ideal for post-game traffic, considering its proximity to major highways and the NJ Path light rail transit system. Driving home, I thought about how applicable Castellanos’ words really were. He, like the thousands of fans who came to Red Bull Arena, was simply grateful for the opportunity to experience this prestigious tournament – and so am I.
Editor’s note: Amadi will continue his International Champions Cup travelogue in the coming days. Next up on his itinerary is the Benfica vs. Fiorentina game (July 24, East Hartford, CT) followed by Red Bulls vs. Benfica (Sunday, Harrison, NJ) and Chelsea vs. Barcelona (July 28, Landover, MD).
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