Pride is a really funny thing. It can take many forms in a person and a lot of those can come out through sports. The New York Red Bulls win on Thursday night against Atlanta United, 2-1, had two types. Both were very loud and very proud.
First off, the game was New York’s yearly Pride night. While the event was more subdued that usual, following in a similar vein to the Autism Acceptance night, the night was without a doubt a return to form for the club. The lack of a promotional giveaway was replaced with more in house LGBTQ+ content.
For one final game the team dawned their MLS Pride warmup kits, including some players who hadn’t worn the kit in previous matches. The game launched with the South Ward enveloping the stadium in a cloud of rainbow smoke that made the first few minutes hard to watch. Not that I’m complaining though. Finally, musical duo OneUp Duo performed both the national anthem and performed songs at halftime from the pitch. The two were the first openly gay couple to perform on The Voice last season. This all doesn’t even include the pregame events the team had going on outside the arena.
With everything going on in the world it was nice to have a sense of normality. People were smiling across the arena and having fun at the game. The video packages that played during pregame and halftime caught the eyes of plenty of the crowd (recorded at 14,122 officially). All of this was going as the team’s largest supporter’s group, Empire Supporters Club, wrapped up June by adding two more pledges for it’s Prideraiser campaign.
But that wasn’t the only kind of pride on display. For hometown pride, you needn’t look further than Serge Ngoma.
The North Plainfield, New Jersey native scored the game winner for RBNY in the 89th against Atlanta. Following a hamstring injury that sidelined the Homegrown for several months he made his return to the pitch in Los Angeles last weekend. For his second straight appearance, Ngoma had family in the crowd watching on as he scored the biggest goal of his career so far.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) July 1, 2022
“It’s really a blessing to be able to be in this position at 16 years old and be able to score my first time playing in the arena and have my family there,” Ngoma said after the game. “My dad, who trained me since day one. My mom, who’s the best mother in the world, and my sister as well, the best sister in the world. To have them here to share that moment with me was amazing.”
Ngoma was signed to the first team as a homegrown player in February this year. Previously he spent two seasons with New York Red Bulls II in the USL Championship. At the time of his debut on September 23, 2020 he was only 15 years old. That game, funny enough, was against Atlanta United 2.
It’s been a good time to be a local player for New York. Bronx native Omir Fernandez scored a game sealing goal against rival New York City FC at the arena on June 22. His first instinct after the goal was running towards the corner seating to celebrate with his family. Something Ngoma also did after his goal on Thursday night.
When asked during the postgame about his path and how other academy kids, especially locals, could continue to advance – he was honest.
“Everyone’s path is different,” he said. “Everybody has a different timeline to break into the professional level, but just continue to work hard. You know, continue to put your head down. Don’t ever don’t ever think ‘oh, I’m not good enough’. You know, all you need is one opportunity and you have to be ready for the opportunity. So, when it’s there, take it.”
This article is going to come out on July 3rd, the day before Independence Day celebrations in the United States. For many right now having patriotic pride isn’t easy or even possible. The last month especially has been traumatic to many across the nation for reasons I need not delve into. Even the appearance of the Bulls’ stars and stripes inspired kits for the holiday felt a bit off.
Instead, the Bulls providing two kinds of pride on Thursday night, in a way, makes up for it. At least to me.