New England Soccer Today

Ringside at Gillette

Revolution defender Darrius Barnes stares down boxer Danny O’Connor outside Gillette Stadium. (Photo: Jason Dalrymple/New England Revolution)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Last Saturday Gillette Stadium played host to a doubleheader featuring a 3-1 victory by Italy’s AC Milan over Honduran club CD Olimpia in an international friendly and a New England Revolution 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City in MLS action. Such events – international friendlies paired with MLS games – are a fairly regular summer occurrence in the U.S.

This Sunday’s doubleheader is a bit more unique. Following the Revs match vs. the Montreal Impact at 7 p.m. will be a three-fight boxing card headlined by Framingham boxer “Irish” Danny O’Connor (17-1, 5 KOs) facing Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s Eddie Soto (12-4, 4 KOs). The event will mark the first time Gillette Stadium has ever hosted a boxing match.

Having O’Connor headline the match is fitting. The 27-year-old two-time national amateur champion and 2008 US Olympic Boxing Team alternate is a longtime fan of the Revolution.

“I’ve been a Revolution fan and since the second I’ve met the organization – I mean, in my mind – they are really special,” said O’Connor at halftime of Saturday’s Revolution match. “None of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for them, so I need to first of all thank of all them. All players, staff, everybody has gone out of their way to make this happen.

“I think it’s great to be able to do a cross promotion,” he added. “I think a lot of the fans that come to soccer are fight fans and vice versa… I’m just really excited to be part of the first boxing match ever in Gillette history. Regardless of what happens, when my son’s older I can tell that. It’s a special thing.”

O’Connor’s ties to Massachusetts are shared by his manager, Ken Casey, front man of the popular Boston-based punk rock group Dropkick Murphys. In May, O’Connor sold out the House of Blues Boston showcasing his popularity in area.

Now he’s hoping Sunday’s doubleheader will help introduce some of his fans to soccer, while also getting some of the Revolution supporters to start following him.

“I remember back in the days when [the Revs] had Alexi Lalas… way back,” said O’Connor. “I think it’s great the more popularity the team gets. I was hanging out with the supporters at the tailgate [on Saturday]. They’re great. To see the type of fans like that that support a club, it really is an amazing thing… Hopefully with the cross-promotion some of my fans can now come and support the Revs and the Revs can support me. I’ve had a lot of feedback from people being like ‘I’m so excited, I’ve never been to a soccer game’ and some of them are going to come here and fall in love with the game.”

While O’Connor has been impressed with the fans, he has also been impressed with the Revolution players and how they interact with the team’s supporters – something he also prides himself on.

“I interact with a lot of [the Revolution players] and I see how they are,” said O’Connor. “They respond to their fans and they talk to their fans on Twitter. I really like that. They are accessible to everyone and they see what the fans want and their needs. I think there are a lot of similarities between us.”

O’Connor recently attended a Revs practice where he got the chance to spend time with some of the players and while he’s not sure any of them are ready to step into the ring, defender Darrius Barnes impressed him with his stare down.

“Barnes loves the stare down,” said O’Connor at Saturday’s Revolution match. “He loves it. I was hoping because he was practicing [right in front of me], warming up – I know they’re focused – but I was hoping he would look at me because we already did two or three stare downs together me and him. I don’t know if he could make it in boxing, but he’s excited about it.”

O’Connor might not get the chance at another stare down with Barnes on Sunday, but fans at Gillette Stadium will have a unique opportunity to see both in action as Barnes and the Revs face Montreal in Foxboro for the first time and O’Connor battles Soto in the stadium’s first ever boxing match.

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