Editor’s note: Rhode Island Reds left back Kevin A. Gil will be keeping a diary for NESoccertoday.com this season. You can check out his first entry here.
In his third entry, Kevin talks about the Reds’ recent run of games, as well as the pride he takes in playing for his home state’s sole semi-professional side.
When I last wrote, we were just hours away from our third home game against one of the best NPSL teams in the country, the New York Red Bulls U-23 side. A lot of time has passed since my last journal entry, and several other games have been played, including two games against the Red Bulls, two games against first-year club Greater Lowell United, and our latest game against New York Athletic Club. We have had some disappointing results, but the team has showed a positive response to adversity and tremendous strides towards better games to come and a brighter future for the Reds.
Our first game against the Red Bulls was a disappointing 3-0 result in favor of the opposition. This was a game I was unfortunate to have missed, but gave me even more to look forward to as we would play them again soon. The next game was our first game on the road against Greater Lowell United of Massachusetts. Both teams were very informed on how this game could direct either team straight to the bottom of the standings. Lowell had the best home fans of the NPSL that I have yet to see. Loud chants and vigorous banging of drums from fans cheering on Lowell gave the players a spark that we just didn’t have on the day. The game ended in a 2-0 result, adding yet another loss to our record. We were then winless in our opening four games of the 2014 campaign.
Starting off my first season for the Reds with four-straight losses was very difficult and was challenging for the rest of the teams as well. At that point, we had the worst record in the league, and it became challenging for everyone - the new players, the returning players, and the coaching staff of our team – to remain optimistic about the future of the club. We weren’t going in the direction we expected to in our third season in the NPSL and we needed something powerful to lift our spirits.
One point that Coach Kabba emphasized after our loss against Lowell, and for the remainder of the week until our next game, reminded the team of something inspiring to all of us. Very few people get to play at such a high level of soccer that we currently participate at. The NPSL is the largest semi-professional league in America, and the Rhode Island Reds are the only semi-professional team that the Ocean State has. Since there is no professional team based in RI, the Reds are the closest soccer establishment that there is in the state to it. The Reds currently have no major sponsors, and a lot of people are investing money into the club straight out of their pockets for something greater than just winning games.
The Rhode Island Reds exist to provide a high level of soccer that players of the state, including myself, should dream about playing in. As someone who has spent his whole life living and playing soccer in RI, there is no better honor than to represent my state in a league filled with successful soccer clubs and great play of the sport. The Reds were established for the players. Kabba created this club for us, to provide us with what might be the highest level of soccer anyone of us will ever play at. The sacrifices that those involved with the club have made are strictly for the people of RI, the young men and women who aspire to play the sport against great competition. There are people out there who wish they had the opportunity that we have now and would give anything to take our place.
The inspiring words from Coach Kabba and Coach Sheldon following tough training sessions drove us to host Lowell at home and defeat the team in a 5-1 score-line of redemption. Our first win of the season brought joy to all of the Reds supporters and enabled us to keep our heads up for the games that followed.
A tough loss against the New York Red Bulls at their brand new training facilities was a harsh defeat, but it was an inspiring trip. The facilities had security personnel at every end, brand new locker rooms, and a turf field next to a perfectly-cut grass pitch. As we warmed up for our game, the Irish national football team trained on the grass next to us preparing for a game they would later play in East Rutherford against the Portuguese national team.
Considering that the Reds play at a rented facility at Cranston Stadium that is shared with many other teams of other sports, it is tough to compete against a club like the Red Bulls U-23 team, which has a professional branch in their club, a multi-million dollar training facility, and wealthy sponsorships.
I remember a specific moment when Kabba was filling up our team van with fuel, which we used to travel to New Jersey to play the Red Bulls. I considered how expensive this trip was, and all of the other trips the club takes to away games. I asked Coach Kabba where exactly the Reds receive all of their funding to exist. He explained how the club is yet to find a sponsor and people are financially contributing to the club without any strings attached, strictly to keep the club functioning and alive. I then mentioned how costly that must be since these trips can be very pricey with food, board, and travel all as expenses. Players aren’t expected or asked to pay for any of it. I also recall his response to me when I explained how difficult it must be to not have any sponsors. “Yes, it’s difficult but you know what? I have a dream that one day we will,” said Coach Kabba.
The confidence that Kabba had when talking to me about the future of the club gave me confidence. It is a privilege to play for a coach like Kabb,a and for a club like the RI Reds that face the financial struggles of the business aspect of running a club along with the challenging aspects of the sport itself. If this club, and all of those involved, are doing so much just to give us young men a chance to play, then it is our obligation to show them results, and even if we aren’t winning, to show them that this club is moving forward at a promising pace.
Our next game was against New York Athletic Club, another team with a lot of financing and beautiful facilities. I remember seeing Kabba fill out the starting line-up sheet with the appealing facilities in the background and telling him that these were the type of facilities he deserved and that one day he would have them. He smiled and said, “Yes, maybe one day!”
The differences in financing made no difference on the field this time around as the game ended in a scoreless draw. As we move forward, I realize more by the game that I’m playing for something more than just a team to play on during the summer as I get ready for my college season. I’m playing for a club that has the potential to achieve great ambitions, and I will do what it takes to make sure I can help out in doing so.