Since its creation in 2006, the Garden of Dreams has created events and opportunities for more than 225,000 New York City kids. For the fifth annual summer, Dream Week, which showcases the extensive resources of the Madison Square Garden family, is offering 40 kids from SCO Family of Services the opportunity of a lifetime. Throughout the week this Brooklyn-based group of kids will link up with the Knicks, Rangers, Liberty, Red Bulls, and Rockettes, to try their hands at various activities, and get up close and personal with some of New York’s biggest athletes.
Dream Week kicked off with a bang bright and early Monday morning at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. The lucky 40 hopped off their ride from the city, entered the VIP entrance to the arena, and were greeted by Red Bulls stars, Luis Robles, Eric Alexander, Brandon Barklage, and Andre Akpan. After engaging in various soccer games and activities with the players, the kids headed upstairs for a pizza party and a quick Q&A with the players. We caught up with the Red Bulls to find out what it means to make such an impact in the community, and what the team needs to do down the stretch as they prepare for a MLS playoff run.
Interviews by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
Why is it so important for the Red Bulls to maintain relationships with the community through an event like Dream Week?
Steve Cangialosi, Play-By-Play Announcer: There’s nothing like connecting to your present fan base and your future fan base, and that’s one of the things Red Bull accomplishes today. We’ve long said at Madison Square Garden that the Garden of Dreams is the most important work we do. In the television landscape we do some important work with the Knicks, Rangers, Red Bulls, Devils, and Islanders, and all of that is on us to give the most professional broadcast we can on a week-to-week basis, but Garden of Dreams is up there with any mission we set out to do.
Luis Robles, Goalkeeper: I think public relations is important because it shows that we’re not just in the community to make money, we’re trying to focus to be a part of the community. Not only does the outreach play a part in the development of some of the youth, but hopefully it allows us to be a symbol of some sort of encouragement and aspiration.
Eric Alexander, Midfielder: Just seeing the smiles on the kids faces is great. We’re regular people, too, and we like to interact with them just as much as they like to interact with us.
Brandon Barklage, Midfielder: I think it’s great. The more relationships that you build in the community, the more people that are going to come out to the games. The support has been fantastic all year long. This only helps us out in the long run, and at the same time you get to put some smiles on kids faces.
Does an event like Dream Week afford the players a much needed respite from the daily rigors of training and playing on matchday, and even a chance to refocus afterwards?
SC: Absolutely, it’s a long season. MLS is a 34-game season that’s spread out over eight months, so if you don’t take that time to step back, you’re probably going to have a few gray hairs by the time the season does come to an end. The fact that they get to do it for such a good cause like this is just a bonus.
LR: I think that regardless of our situation in the standings, an event like this always gives us a different perspective that there’s other stuff going on. Even though our world maybe to train hard and play the best that we can, we can’t only have that perspective, we have to think about helping other people in the best way possible.
What does it mean for these kids to have an opportunity, that without the Garden of Dreams, they would never normally get to experience?
SC: I’ve been walking into this stadium for four years, and I’m still in awe of its beauty. Every time I step out onto the grass I just look up at what I think is the best soccer facility in the United States. When a young kid looks up, and sees an edifice like this, I can only imagine what goes through his mind. The first time I saw the Empire State Building as a kid, I just sat there in amazement. I think when kids see Red Bull Arena, Yankee Stadium, MetLife Stadium, whatever it is, it just gives them that feeling of something special. That’s a great thing.
LR: I think they had a lot of fun today. The one thing I took away more than anything is sure we could have the mindset of trying to teach, but I think the kids looking back on today will remember more than just meeting professional athletes, it will be the opportunity they had to come to Red Bull Arena and for an hour just have a lot of fun.
Even though our world maybe to train hard and play the best that we can, we can’t only have that perspective, we have to think about helping other people in the best way possible.
How does the depth of the MSG organization play into making Dream Week such a special event?
SC: We’re a complex company, there’s no doubt about it. We stretch into the entertainment world, the sports world, and those are things that kids relate to, even at a very early age. Whether it’s an opportunity to meet a professional soccer player, or a professional basketball player, it’s something that the youth of America and the city connects with right away. That to me is something that’s very special.
Considering how tight the standings are in the East right now, how important is it to finish the season as number one going into the playoffs, and how easy is it to go from being on top to being on the outside looking in come the end of October?
LR: I think what’s really important for us is that whenever we play Eastern Conference opponents, especially at home, we need to take care of our three points. Then when we go on the road, if we can sneak a point or three points it would be great, but because of the parity it’s making it very tough with the remaining 10 games.
EA: The one seed is important because of positioning in the playoffs, but it also allows us to say we got on top and stayed on top for the last 10 games of the season. I think it’s just important for us as a confidence booster going into the playoffs.
Andre Akpan, Forward: The point gap from one to five is not that big right now, absolutely first priority is getting into the playoffs, but ideally getting that first seed and home-field advantage.
BB: The number one seed is the main priority. We’ve been really good at home, but struggled a bit on the road, overall we feel comfortable that we can play anyone here and give them a really good game.
You guys struggled a bit in the beginning of the season, but really put it together over the last few months, what do you attribute that success to?
BB: Just players stepping up, a lot of young guys are coming through and getting playing time. Team unity, I think we’re in a good state of mind right now. We’re playing well as of recently, we’ve gotten some good results in the past few weeks, and we just need to keep building on that.
Did you guys have any opportunities like this when you were kids, aspiring to be professional athletes?
BB: I remember growing up and looking up to all the major league baseball players. There was no soccer team in my area, but those were the people I looked up to, and hopefully these kids are looking up to and learning a few things from us.
AA: I grew up in Dallas, in the early days of the Dallas Burn, going to all those games and getting autographs. I looked up to Jason Kreis and the Oscar Oscar Pareja’s of the world, and that was always a great experience meeting those guys and having that kind of influence.