Former New York Red Bulls forward Fabian Espindola was apparently having a sad when he addressed his former club during Super Bowl week.
The 28-year old who is now a member of New York rivals DC United went public with his frustrations about his brief Red Bulls stint while speaking with Emmanuel Quispe of MLSSoccer.com. “Luckily, I scored goals, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t like that they almost left me out of the playoffs,” Espindola stated. He also hinted at being out of favor with his now former coach Mike Petke.
Espindola, on paper, had an OK 2013 season. He netted nine goals, third-best on the squad, and he assisted on two others in 28 appearances (23 starts) with the club. Just as during his time spent with Real Salt Lake, consistency was an enemy of the front man. He started off hot, finding the back of the net twice in his RBNY debut.
Espindola didn't score again for another month, though, and he notched three tallies and had zero assists in the final two and a half months of the campaign. As with other would-be goal-scorers who have made their way to Harrison, New Jersey over the past few years, Espindola appeared to not mesh with captain Thierry Henry. He was twice replaced in Petke's starting XI in the second half of the season, first by Péguy Luyindula and then by the pacey Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Luyindula, who never located his shooting boots during his first Major League Soccer stop, eventually settled in as a makeshift attacking midfielder. Wright-Phillips was an ideal partner for Henry, and thus Espindola ended the regular season as an invisible man and an unused sub.
Espindola, intentionally or not, also tossed out a bit of a jab at RBNY fans and at the team regarding how the MLS regular season title, the first major trophy ever won by the franchise, was treated. “[The Supporters' Shield] is a phantom prize,” he explained. “It seemed more a distraction than a trophy, and the playoffs are very hard. Sometimes, not everyone can assimilate to that.”
He isn't the only MLS personality who sees the Supporters' Shield as a secondary award. Red Bulls TV analyst and former New York Cosmos star Shep Messing also, on several occasions last fall, stated on the air that, in the North American top flight, MLS Cup and not the Supporters' Shield is the ultimate goal.
While both made valid points about what is technically the top prize in MLS, calling the Supporters' Shield a “phantom prize” is, at best, a misunderstanding of how North American soccer works, and at worst it's a dig at a fan base that, in all fairness, hasn't had much to celebrate over the past two decades.
You know who doesn't consider the Supporters' Shield to be a phantom prize? CONCACAF. The regional governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean will be including the Red Bulls in its 2014-15 Champions League competition.
That's right. Champions League, because champions are what the Red Bulls are heading into this spring.
Those pesky and tired “MLS Cup vs. Supporters' Shield winners” discussions that pop up every fall shouldn't mean much to the fan bases of the clubs that hoist those two trophies. Both sides are champions, both were able to take team photos while holding some shiny silverware, and both will play in champions league.
As for Espindola, he hasn't left RBNY fans with many fond memories of his season with the club; not because of his recent comments, but because I'd have to go back and watch highlights to recall his wearing New York red and white.