I was not much of a soccer fan until 2014.
I flirted with the Cosmos phenomenon in the late 1970s, and intermittently watched World Cups every 4 years, but basically had a typical US disinterest in the sport. But then something clicked during the 2014 World Cup. When it ended I was hungry for more, but I have never been able to care much about foreign leagues, despite the high quality play. I’ve tried and even now, as much as I love the sport, I cannot care about La Liga, or the EPL, or Bundesliga or even Champions League.
In 2014 my focus was even more on local options. Where could I go watch some live games? I knew so little about Major League Soccer. I had a slight awareness that the local team for New York played in New Jersey, and maybe were once called the MetroStars but not any more? Researching that led me to discover that the MetroStars had indeed become the Red Bulls, which was both a team name as well as a sponsor and owner. But, as it happened, I also learned that NYCFC was going to begin play in 2015 at Yankee Stadium, pending a new stadium of their own.
Which is , of course, its own sad unending story, but that’s not this story. Anyway, I was very taken with the idea of getting in on the start of a new team, and put down a deposit on season tickets, not sure if I would stay a ticket holder for more than a year or two. As it happened my daughters enjoyed coming to games, and I made some friends via the team. I became very active in a forum community & started this website to analyze each season’s playoff push week to week.
Plus, the team has an odd habit of playing, and winning, on my birthday.
It began that first year, when they beat Orlando 5-3. Playing on my birthday itself was not remarkable. It was a Sunday, and ignoring days of the week any given date has an even 1/7 chance. More fine-tuned, the bulk of games take place on Saturday or Sunday. But winning that year was rare in itself, when the team won just 10 of 34 games. They then did not play again on my birthday until 2018, skipping 2 years. But in 2018 they played and beat Orlando City SC again on a Thursday night, and beat Sporting KC on a Friday night in 2019. That’s 3 games, all wins, on my birthday in 5 years.
Given that MLS teams play on average one game per week during the season, and the vast bulk of those are on Saturday or Sunday, having three NYCFC games on the same date, in 5 years, and only one of those on a Saturday or Sunday was against the odds, to be sure. When the time came for MLS to announce its 2020 schedule I was cautiously optimistic of another birthday game, which fell on a Sunday this year. I figured there had to be at least a 40% chance or so of having a birthday game.
But, when the 2020 MLS schedule was announced on December 19, 2019, I was disappointed to see a Saturday game for that weekend; not my birthday. I mean, it didn’t ruin my day or anything, but I did think “Damn, I wish they woulda scheduled a game for my birthday this year.”
Now, I’m closer to 60 than 50 at this point. I’ve made a lot of birthday wishes, and as far as I remember none have ever come true, including all the ones made more traditionally on the birthday itself while blowing out candles and eating cake.And in December 2019, nobody was thinking about a pandemic. Not WHO, not Dr. Fauci, or the CDC, or the CCP, or Trump, or whoever you prefer to blame (or praise) for their response. That’s not what this is about at all, but I do need to stress that nobody had it on the radar then.
And then, in a twist worthy of any good Monkey’s Paw story variation, by birthday wish magic did its thing. Which in addition to all the more important negative effects it cancelled the MLS season, and led to the MLS Is Back Tournament and a new schedule for every team. But it doesn’t end there. NYCFC’s 3 group stage games were scheduled for July 9, 14 and 20, all days before my birthday. NYCFC would have to qualify for the knockout round to have a chance, and then end up somewhat randomly in a pre-set matchup scheduled for my birthday.
After losing the first 2 games, it seemed grim, and the team looked a bit flat finally winning over a winless Inter Miami FC team in the third game. But with that record and a -2 goal differential, NYCFC would need a lot of help to advance. It was one of those things where I think 4 of 6 other results had to go a certain way, and in the end it came down to the next to last group stage game between the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy, and then it required a penalty kick being awarded to the Galaxy in the 90th minute to allow them to tie the game, knock out Houston, and put NYCFC in the next stage.
And then, sure enough, the fates put NYCFC against a strong Toronto FC team in the first knockout round, on my birthday. Toronto was favored. They have been stronger this year in the tournament, and have a history of beating NYCFC in playoff and tournament style competitions. But, my NYCFC Birthday Magic came through again, and NYCFC roundly dominated Toronto, won 3-1, and advance to the quarterfinals.
To sum up, NYCFC has now played 4 times in 6 years on my birthday, despite playing on average just 1 game any given week. The odds of that are tiny by itself. But they have also won every time. Overall, their W/L/T pcts are about 44/31/25. So NYCFC wins are not uncommon — they happen more often than either ties or losses — but Wins alone account for fewer than half of the results overall.
So I’m very happy that the team has this odd little quirk in both its schedule and results. And I’m sorry it took a pandemic this year to make it happen. I would, of course, never actually trade dealing with a pandemic and global recession just to get a NYCFC game and win on my birthday again.
But given all that bad stuff happened on its own, I’ll take this small upside, one of the few positive surprises 2020 has thrown at me. And I hope everyone gets, finds, and can enjoy your own little moments this year as well.
Thanks NYCFC and MLS.