Kids only get one chance to experience their first professional sporting event in person. Naturally, we as parents want this memorable outing to go as swimmingly as possible. I’m not going to lie, as someone who already experiences social anxiety in big crowds, I was not about to bring my son to a game featuring one of the “Big 4” local teams (Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics). Since he’s loving playing soccer these days, I decided to take the opportunity to attend last night’s match between the New England Revolution and Toronto FC at a relatively packed — for soccer, anyway – Gillette Stadium. Upon reflection, it was certainly the best way to introduce Little Man to the wonderful world of sports spectatorship.
The weather certainly helped ensure a smooth evening with bright blue skies and an unseasonably high temperature of 82. Who says global warming doesn’t exist!?
Upon parking in a free spot (Thanks, Mr. Kraft!) near the Patriots Pro Shop, Little Man and I descended upon the Revolution Fan Zone – a makeshift area in a blocked off portion of the stadium parking lot filled with interactive activities aimed at fostering a love of soccer for visiting youth. I was incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm of the young staff as they continually zigzagged their way through the growing crowds, checking-in with families and asking if they could do anything to enhance the kids’ experience. From bean-bag toss to watching a soccer clinic, we spent almost an hour in this fenced off part of parking lot real estate. After working up a sweat, Little Man was ready to enter Gillette Stadium for the first time.
With 45 minutes left until game time, I knew we had a few moments to walk around the concourse and take in the sights and smells of the stadium. The first scent my son picked up was naturally that of a spilled cup of beer as the liquid evidence of a party-foul trickled down a flight of cement steps leading to the Bud Light Party Deck located next to the lighthouse in the north end zone.
“EW. What is that smell? Gross.”
“That son is the smell of lost inhibition.”
Ok, moving on.
Little man ran right up to the metallic barricade separating the general admission Party Deck with the seats of Section 143. He was in awe of the enormous field and surrounding seats. He looked at me with a wide-eyed look of amazement as he said, “That’s where the Revolution and Tom Brady plays!” It was just one of many proud daddy moments I’d experience over the course of the evening.
We dashed across the concourse, weaving our way through the crowd as we pretended to make our way downfield in an attempt to score the winning goal. We stopped at a concession stand just outside our section, and I purchased Little Man some popcorn, cotton candy, and juice. It’s not the healthiest of snacks, but hey it’s standard sports spectator fare. We only live once!
With snacks in hand (my hands only, of course), we made our way down the steps of Section 138 and settled in to our seats for the evening. What a view! The excitement was building rapidly as Little Man continued glancing around the stadium, taking in every last detail, as we inched closer to the start of the post-Jay Heaps era of Revolution soccer.
I beamed with pride as Little Man was quick to stand and place his hand over his heart for the National Anthem. The kid still has no idea of the enormity surrounding the recitation of our nation’s anthem, but he nevertheless stood quietly and at attention as country music singer, Wildee, delivered a lovely performance.
At first glance, you’d think Toronto FC would waltz right into Foxborough and deliver another crushing blow to the psyche of Revolution players, coaches, and fans much like the knockout punch suffered in Atlanta did just 10 days earlier.
The early minutes of the match did little to quell those fears as Toronto dominated Time of Possession with smooth passing and unrelenting patience. Yet, despite long spells of ball possession, Toronto was unable to get a shot on goal, giving the Revs a glimmer of hope against the MLS-leading club from the North.
Halftime Score: 0-0
During halftime, Little Man and I grabbed some dinner – a pair of hastily-cooked personal cheese pizzas at a respectable cost of $8.50 per pie. While a tad bit greasy with cheese that apparently wanted nothing to do with the slightly overdone dough, the meal-on-the-go hit the spot and we were anxious for the second half of action.
Fast forward to the 64th minute, when Lee Nguyen finally entered the match – marking his first appearance off the bench this season. Perhaps it was interim head coach Tom Soehn’s successful way of sending a message to the squad as Nguyen, who’s quietly having a productive year in an overall disappointing season for New England, sparked the team as they seized control of the back-and-forth match. Finally, in the 83rd minute of the contest, Nguyen, running gallantly up the sideline, took a pass from Chris Tierney and was able to knock it past Toronto goalkeeper thanks to a fortunate deflection.
However, Toronto showed just how quickly they can turn it on as Michael Bradley’s gorgeous diagonal feed to Nicolas Hasler set up a beautiful goal just two minutes later.
Considering the tumultuous week that surely deflated the Revolution and its passionate fan base, it would not have been a surprise to see New England tighten up and just hope for a draw. However, the team refused to back down and in the 87th minute of play, a Kei Kamara header past Toronto’s diving goalkeeper gave the Revolution a much needed victory. While the odds may be against them, the Revs remain mathematically alive for a playoff spot with 4 games remaining, including a rematch at home against those bullies from Atlanta.
The win capped off a wonderful night out with Little Man! He thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of a professional sporting event and left the game wanting to return to see more Revolution soccer. Thank you to the entire Revolution squad, coaches, and Gillette Stadium/Kraft Group crew for providing a well-run, family-friendly event that will not be forgotten.
Until next time…