With little or no soccer news available to the public, FrontRowSoccer.com has decided to run some of its memorable feature stories and some of editor Michael Lewis’ favorite columns and features over the past 16 years. This is a column about the Red Bulls’ amazing 2008 MLS Cup Playoff run. This story originally was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com on Nov. 19, 2008.
By Michael Lewis
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — They have been called miracle workers and magicians during their amazing playoff run to MLS Cup.
To many fans, however, the New York Red Bulls are much more than that. They are heroes, perhaps even super heroes, as the team prepares to take on the Columbus Crew in the 13th MLS championship game at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. on Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m.).
Saying that, presenting the sport’s version of the Legion of Soccer-Heroes:
That has to be goalkeeper Danny Cepero, whose incredible, insect-like moves and reflexes have saved the Red Bulls time and again. How does he make some of those saves and why do those balls keep bouncing off the woodwork? Can it be more than his natural talents? Does he have some kind of web fluid that comes out of his goalkeeper gloves that helps him either snare the ball or repels it off the wood?
Since the beginning of the playoffs Chris Leitch has been playing some of the best soccer of his MLS life. His focus and concentration have been as straight as arrow, as been his passes and shots. Besides, there is a striking resemblance to actor Justin Hartley, who plays Green Arrow on TV’s Smallville (editor’s note: he also plays Kevin Pearson in This Is Us).
At 6-4, Andrew Boyens is the tallest field player the Red Bulls have. And while he will admit he has made share of his mistakes, the New Zealand international certainly has come up big when it matters — in the playoffs against the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake.
While many of his teammates get publicity or the headlines, Diego Jimenez calmly keeps the ball out of harm’s way in front of Spider-man, err, Cepero, in goal. His play might not be spectacular, but the Mexican native has had ice water in his veins, which certainly can remind us of the X-Men character.
Yes, as in the character from the legendary Metal Men would be left fullback Kevin Goldthwaite — his nickname is Goldie, by the way, because sometimes this season his performances on both ends of the field have been worth their weight in gold (and sometimes not as he has struggled on some occasions). And like the comic book character, Goldthwaite has sacrificed limb and body for the good of the team.
No one has been able to stretch his game at both sides of the field than left midfielder Dave van den Bergh, whether it is playing some tough, gritty defense in his team’s defensive third or scoring some long-range goal that will decide a match.
Now, this is one character whose name is difficult to pronounce and to write. Does that remind you of someone on the team? How about central midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic, who appeared to have one of the most intimidating names in the league (after a while you certainly can get used to it). As for Sinisa’s powers, he might not have the ability to make life miserable and sometimes silly for Mr. M’s nemesis, Superman. But he certainly has had some magical moments during the post-season, including setting up an important goal in the Houston Dynamo series. Wonder what would happen if we said Sinisa’s last name backwards? Would he return to his former dimension? Let’s see, that would be Civopirapibu.
Sometimes players have to play multiple positions to get some playing time and survive. That seems to be the case of rookie Luke Sassano, who has performed at central and right midfield and at right fullback. And depending on the position you play, you take on different roles. During the playoffs, Sassano has been a defensive central midfielder.
No one is faster on the team than right midfielder Dane Richards, who burned the Houston Dynamo with his speed. The Scarlet Speedster (especially when he wears the red uniform of the Red Bulls) is with the Jamaican national team for its vital World Cup qualifier vs. Canada on Wednesday. But the team expects Richards to speed back to the team on the West Coast on Thursday.
This character can use only one power at once. That reminds us of John Wolyniec, who brings a work ethic second to none to the team. He can score. He can pass. He can shield the ball. Never an all-star. Perhaps never a regular. But always someone you want on your team.
While some readers claim he is really Superman, Juan Pablo Angel fits the role perfectly. After all, he is the team captain and he has been marvelous this season, after overcoming some early-season back problems. Shazam! What a great season for the former (and perhaps) future Colombian international.
You need a genius running the show who masterminds the strategy to save the world and record wins while using all of his powers to keep the team motivated and together than Charles Francis Xavier? And what better than the man who founded and leads the X-Men? In this case, Prof. X is Juan Carlos Osorio — with hair.
OK, that’s the starting lineup. But there are some more players on the team, the team’s substitutes, aka the Legion of Substitute Soccer-Heroes.
This has nothing to do with anyone’s looks or performance. That has to be for the player with the longest continuous service at the Swamp — midfielder-forward Mike Magee. He has toiled at Giants Stadium since 2003 and he has seen the more misery than any other Red Bull/MetroStar. Now, he’s enjoying the team’s greatest moments.
You need a hard man in this role and Argentine defensive midfielder Juan Pietravallo certainly fits that role. Sometimes he can be too punishing on an opponent and he will get a yellow or even a record. Ironically, his name will boomerang on him as he will punish himself and his team in that game or the next match with a suspension
Like the namesake who can teleport for the X-Men, you don’t know where Carlos Mendes will pop up these days. He started out as a central defender, found himself at right fullback, on the bench and then as a back-up defensive midfielder. In the 1-0 win at RSL Saturday, Mendes popped up as a central defender after Boyens could not start due to a forearm injury.
This Marvel character is known for the “optic blasts” from his eyes. While Jon Conway certainly does not have this power, a defender or teammate certainly would not want to have soccer’s version of an optic blast — a mean look — from Conway after a mistake or blunder. Unfortunately, Conway and Jeff Parke made major blunders for using performance-enhancing drugs, however ignorant both were of the situation. He has been banished to the league’s version of the Phantom Zone — a 10-game suspension for that mistake.
Jeff Parke has been the team’s iron man for several years, playing in many games and moving up the ladder in career matches. Unfortunately, that run was stopped by the suspension and like Cyclops, err, Conway, he is serving his time in the Phantom Zone.
Superboy was forced to project his friend, Mon-El, into the Phantom Zone to save him from dying from lead poisoning. That forced Mon-El to miss the good things in life. Stammler has been forced to miss the good things in the Red Bulls life, their incredible playoff run, with a knee injury that he had been trying to overcome since August. He underwent an operation only days prior to the post-season.