Pitch of the Year: Photo Essay on Covering Major League Soccer

Endings and Beginnings

Above the Fray by Jen Gallardo
Above the Fray by Jen Gallardo

The end of 2016 was rough. Like many other women, the outcome of the November election reflected the reality of the doors that continued to feel very much closed to me. The glass ceiling with the 18 million cracks in it suddenly felt more like solid lead — and it was poisoning me.

To cope, I decided to dive head first into photography in the coming year. Making pretty pictures won't change the world, but, for me, the act of going out to shoot soothes the soul and the post production definitely helps quiet the mind.

Fleur de Lis Gate by Jen Gallardo
Fleur de Lis Gate by Jen Gallardo

I bought a bunch of new equipment to kickstart that warm and fuzzy feeling about the world taking photos again. I submitted a sample of my work to a stock photo company and was accepted as a contributor. And then, like clockwork, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to photograph some Major League Soccer games both in New York and DC.

Being on the field for games is a bit of a hazard with soccer balls whizzing by in dangerously close proximity to all my new gear. That said, my presence there helped get me excited about 2017 and the promise 2018 holds. Yes, even if the US Men's National Team did not make it to the next Men's World Cup — another sensitive topic these days.

Superstars and Future Stars

One of the games I covered this year was essentially the "subway series" — to borrow from baseball for a moment — here in New York City. The fairly young New York Red Bulls faced off against the fairly new team NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. Previous matchups were always exciting games; the crosstown rivalry gets New Yorkers excited. It's something I can't explain but you feel the energy in the air.

Andrea Pirlo at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo
Andrea Pirlo at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo
David Villa Waves to Crowd by Jen Gallardo
David Villa Waves to Crowd by Jen Gallardo
Carli Lloyd at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo
Carli Lloyd at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo

To add to that energy, in attendance were a slew of bonafide soccer superstars. Women's World Cup champion Carli Lloyd humbly answering questions before the game like she isn’t the second person in soccer history to score a hat trick in that level of competition. Former player and current commentator Alexi Lalas grabbing a bite in what is essentially the press mess hall. Andrea Pirlo drinking in the adulation of young Italian American admirers. Current NYCFC captain David Villa showing up young players of the opposing team on the grass, reminding them of his past success on the international stage.

Tyler Adams at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo
Tyler Adams at Yankee Stadium by Jen Gallardo

And, on the subject of those young players, they definitely showed flashes of brilliance. It is amazing to see kids — Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls is after all still a teenager! — holding their own and developing their skills. Even more interesting is following them around with a camera! Their awkward stares and sideways glances tell you they aren't quite sure what to do with all this newfound attention just yet.

Young Red Bulls by Jen Gallardo
Young Red Bulls by Jen Gallardo

This was refreshing for me as I too was a bit out of my element. For example, I wasn't quite sure how I ended up wearing a hot pink potato sack press vest to photograph the Red Bulls victory over DC United on the field of a former baseball stadium about ready to be condemned or torn down (whichever comes first). All while trying not to get elbowed in the face by the other, mostly male, photographers trying to muscle me out of the way to get the same shot. If only 17-year-old me could see me now! Not quite as glamorous as Tyler Adams, but I’d bet she’d be pleased.

Last Call at RFK by Jen Gallardo
Last Call at RFK by Jen Gallardo

Fanatics and Maniacs

Littlest NYCFC Fan by Jen Gallardo
Littlest NYCFC Fan by Jen Gallardo

Whether on assignment or not, I have a knack for finding the absolute tiniest fans in the building. I honestly don’t do it on purpose; it’s simply hard not to notice when someone’s brought an itty bitty baby to a soccer game. Though, it’s not a surprise that they are there. While our sport affiliations do not define us (even if you’ve literally been going to soccer games since birth), they definitely help describe where we come from.

Pigeon Fan by Jen Gallardo
Pigeon Fan by Jen Gallardo

As we all know, it takes a village and being a fan of a particular team from a particular town helps describe to the world the tribe, if you will, to which you belong. In my case as a New York Mets fan, I’m a member of a family of masochists — but I digress! Of course, when you start to talk about the tribal nature of soccer, you can go down a pretty dark rabbit hole: hooliganism in the UK, puto chants in Mexico, racial epithets lobbed at players throughout main-land Europe.

In the United States — and especially New York City — there’s always the risk of things going sideways, in a whole host of different ways, when you are among large groups of people. But it’s so refreshing that I continue to find these adoring little humans. It means people feel safe here. It proves that, for the most part, people can disagree about whether New York is red or blue but at the end of the day laugh about it on the train ride home. Together.

Kids watching soccer by Jen Gallardo
Kids watching soccer by Jen Gallardo

And I sincerely hope that people see the cohesion among the plurality of the players on the field and work to see the same diversity and inclusion in whatever field — literally or figuratively — they end up in. There’s plenty more work to do on that front, especially as it pertains to including women both in soccer and the real world.

But, on my last game of the season, a funny thing happened. On my way to the photographer area, I see a little girl walking with her dad at field level. I was walking in the opposite direction toward them wearing my polka dot printed glasses with my camera slung over my shoulder. As we crossed paths, we made eye contact; she looked up at me through her own funky printed glasses, smiled and quietly waved.

In that small moment, my perhaps unexpected presence made an impact and (I hope) inspired a young lady to aspire to risk being the first or simply to risk looking ridiculous in a pink potato sack in the margins of a televised sports broadcast in order to fulfill a passion.

And, with that little victory, suddenly the lead ceiling doesn't look so impenetrable any more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *