Tim Hall rejoices as New York Red Bulls win another Supporters Shield.
Let us begin not with a hypothesis or with a postulate but with a simple declaration of unassailable fact.
Joe Cocker’s version of ‘With a Little Help from My Friends‘ is better than the Beatles’ version. Vastly superior in every way, in fact, by a wide margin. If an alien race landed on the planet tomorrow and heard both versions one after the other, they would assume Cocke’s rendition to be the original and the Beatles to be just some guys noodling around on instruments, with which they were barely proficient.
We offer this, not simply because it is pure unadulterated truth in a time when we need all the truth on which we can lay our hands, but also because it is perhaps the shining example of a remake being superior to the original. We’re getting a lot in the way of remakes and remixes and revisits and re-imaginings lately.
A look at any list of the most eagerly anticipated movies for 2019 will bear this out: do we need a live action ‘Lion King’, or ‘Aladdin’? Does anybody want a gritty Tim Burton-led ‘Dumbo’? Has enough time elapsed since the last ‘Charlie’s Angels’ to do it again? And so on.
On Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, a match started out like so many other New York Red Bulls failures in the past, yet another remake bereft of any real original ideas in plot or climax. Sure, the date was different – but it was one week short of two years to the day from the classic – and the cast got a good shakeup, but the overall storyline from the word go was so darn familiar you wondered why they bothered reshooting the thing to begin with.
The original was in the Major League Soccer playoffs two seasons ago. The Red Bulls came in to the second leg down a goal to Montreal Impact, but hosting the final game of the series in a place where they’ve been so dominant since the Arena opened. Before too long into the match, it looked like New York would have their chance.
In the 20th minute, Gonzalo Veron stole the ball from a Montreal defender and was alone in the box when goalkeeper Evan Bush came out and dove to swipe the ball away. Veron probably made a mountain out of a slightly smaller mountain, but got the call from the referee regardless, and a penalty was awarded.
Sacha Kljestan stepped up to the spot to even the aggregate, but it was saved. The air, and not long thereafter the crowd, left the place in a hurry. The Red Bulls offense went limp, Montreal got a road goal, and New York’s season was over.
So for the gritty reimagining, any director worth their salt will know to change up the minor details first. Two years on, the opponents are now Orlando City. Instead of the 20th minute, the big play happens in the 12th. Instead of Gonzalo Veron being scythed down by the goalkeeper, it’s Bradley Wright-Phillips going thigh-to-thigh with a defender.
And instead of the then 31-year old Sacha Kljestan stepping up to the spot, it’s the 21-year old Derrick Etienne Jr. But just as an easter egg, a nod and a wink to the fans of the original, Kljestan made a cameo appearance as a baddie for Orlando. Inspired casting.
The major elements of the story, however, must remain the same. You couldn’t redo ‘The Shining’ if the Torrance family just stayed at a hotel and had a marvelous time. Penalty taken, penalty saved, and, are they really remaking this so soon? The Kljestan version’s barely come out on Netflix. But this version was different, partly because this wasn’t a playoff game, and because of that, the Red Bulls could get by with a little help from… well, not exactly their friends.
2016 was the year it ended against Montreal. 2018 is the film in progress. In between was the one that ended against Toronto, and that was a series that ended in confrontations and dives and halftime fist fights that involved the Canadian police (you’re thinking of someone dressed like Dudley Do-Right, aren’t you? Of course.).
So even though Toronto went on to win MLS Cup last year, they still had no love lost with Red Bulls, and so they might have gone out and laid down in their final regular season match which meant nothing to them at all.
Only they didn’t. They only went out and beat the league leaders. And as the score from Toronto changed, the noise inside Red Bull Arena did as well, getting louder and louder still. Atlanta might just trip up at the line.
Still, it was one point in the standings between Atlanta and New York for the Supporters’ Shield, and just the loss by Atlanta wouldn’t do. And if the original was any indication, after the saved penalty, the Red Bulls offense would go limp, et cetera, et cetera.
In the 53rd minute, Etienne – on the hook to be the goat – sped and weaved and cut and shot and bounced one in to make it 1-0, a lead that somehow withstood an onslaught from Orlando that saw them have a goal disallowed for offside.
Supporters’ Shield, best record in MLS. Third time in six seasons.
Most wins and most points in a season ever. It took every last bit of the season to pull it off, as you would expect in a league designed to have parity like Major League Soccer. It took five wins in a row down the stretch, including beating Atlanta, just to get themselves in the right position. And ultimately, it took a little help from our friends. But this remake, so far, is outshining the original by leaps and bounds.
If the New York Red Bulls are going to flip the script completely from here, if they are going to change how this movie has ended 22 times before, it will be a five game season from here on in. Get through the first four, and it’s a one game final at home.
No more friends to help you, no more rewrites. Now the MLS season begins for real. This team has the feel of something special, but the fans have been burned before.
We have seen this team have the easiest path to the title and still blow it. We’ve seen this team be the consensus best in the league during the regular season and abandon what made them great in the playoffs. We’ve seen the Shield come and go, and while it is still sweet to have it back, familiarity breeds contempt, and greed gets the better of us all. Buckle up for the wildest ride of the fall, coming soon to a theater near you.