It began as a lark for Steve Ferrezza. He took the bait and immediately was hooked.
And now it has led to Ferrezza attending the past 100 games the Red Bulls have played across all competitions. Because of the CONCACAF Champions League, he has attended games in six countries outside of the United States in the past year.
Tuesday night’s CCL loss in Mexico was Ferrezza’s 100th consecutive Red Bulls match, which will make Saturday’s MLS home opener against San Jose at Red Bull Arena his 101st in a row.
This remarkable streak would never have even started had a friend of Ferrezza’s, who at the time was a fellow “Bleacher Creature’’ season-ticket holder at Yankee Stadium, not implored him to come to a Red Bulls game with her.
“I used to make fun of MLS, and finally we were at a Yankees game in 2009 and she said, ‘Quit making fun of it and just come to one Red Bulls game with me,’ ’’ Ferrezza said. “She told me to bring fake money from a dollar store and I didn’t know why. I brought it and handed it off to this guy that was collecting it and putting it in garbage bags.
“When we were in the stadium, as the players were walking out to the field underneath us in Section 101, they dumped three bags of fake money on David Beckham’s head, and I immediately turned to Jen and said, ‘I’m getting season tickets. I’m hooked.’ ’’
So began the journey of arguably the most dedicated fan in Red Bulls history, a journey that has caused him to miss family weddings and holidays. Priorities, after all, prevail.
Ferrezza’s streak began on Oct. 1, 2016, at a home game against the Philadelphia Union, and he’s still going strong with no end in sight.
If you’re wondering whether Ferrezza has a day job, he does. Indeed, it is a major factor in enabling him to get to a lot of these matches. He’s a logistics analyst for Delta Airlines at Newark Airport and has flight benefits.
That, however, should do nothing to detract from his dogged dedication to the club.
His 60th consecutive came in a CCL match against the Honduran club Olimpia last year in Costa Rica, where the match was played because of political unrest in Honduras and closed to the public because Olimpia was under penalty because of poor home fan behavior.
Ferrezza arranged a press credential through SB Nation to get into the stadium and, just as in Mexico on Tuesday, he was the only Red Bulls supporter at the match.
When some Red Bulls players heard that Ferrezza got himself into that match in Costa Rica, they bowed in salutation.
“Him sneaking into the Costa Rica game makes him a legend,’’ Red Bulls defender Aaron Long said. “That’s just the kind of fan that I want to win a trophy for. He’s given himself to the team. How can I not go out there every night and give myself to fans like that?’’
Red Bulls midfielder Alex Muyl called it “amazing to hear that someone could be so committed to the team.’’
“Those are the kinds of people that we want to be winning for,’’ Muyl said.
“For a guy like that to remain that passionate, I hope he continues to bring that support, because it’s contagious,’’ goalkeeper Luis Robles said.
“A hundred consecutive games … that’s amazing, it’s humbling, it’s awesome,’’ Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said.
“He loves the sport and he loves our team and we appreciate the support he gives us,’’ Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlet said. “We want more fans like that have such a connection to the team they will die for the team. The more of that we have, the more our sport is going to grow.’’
Ferrezza, who’s a “capo’’ (leader) and board member for the Empire Supporters Club that fills Section 101 behind the south goal in Red Bull Arena (the “South Ward’’), carries his streak on with a sliver of guilt because his girlfriend, Larisa Perino, was a part of that streak with him until the 2017 season.
Perino, who’s also on the ESC board, was unable to get to a match in Portland because all flights into the area were booked because of the solar eclipse. That Portland match was No. 35 of the streak, and that’s where it ended for Perino.
“My attitude has always been that I’ll keep going until I can’t make a flight,’’ Ferrezza said. “That’s when it’s going to end. I’m never going to say, ‘This is it. I’m not going to any more games.’ It’ll end when I’m stuck in an airport like Larisa was.’’
Now that he’s at 100, what’s the next milestone?
“If I can pass Robles’ streak of 183, I’d be happy,’’ he said, only half-joking, referring to Robles’ MLS record for consecutive games played.
Ferrezza, who’s from Hawthorne, N.J., knows that one day the streak will come to an end. When that time comes, how will he process it?
“I’ll be proud of what I accomplished,’’ he said, “but I think I’ll be a little bit annoyed because I didn’t figure out the flights to make it work.’’
For both Ferrezza and the Red Bulls, Saturday’s home opener represents a new beginning of sorts as they try for their first MLS win of the season and he attends his 101st consecutive game.
“Hopefully,’’ Ferrezza said, “No. 101 goes better than No. 100.’’
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