September 13, 2012
THE SPIRIT OF 911
Brosi, Iriarte, Hickey give U.S. team some perspective on Sept. 11 a night before its big game
By Michael Lewis
|Pardon the clarity and lighting: Steve Cherundolo, Wayman Iriarte, Clint Dempsey, Jason Hickey, Tim Howard, Joe Brosi and Braz Guzan pose for a photo on Monday night.
Photo courtesy of Joe Brosi
FDNY Captain Joe Brosi admitted he had some reservations about leaving New York City on one of the most important days of the year -- Sept. 11 -- for the first time since 2001.
After all, he had honored, remembered and memorialized his other family -- the 343 fallen firefighters who had died at the World Trade Center -- for the past decade on that date.
But when he discovered that U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann and his staff wanted he and his colleagues to talk to the team the night before Tuesday's vital World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio he could not pass up the special invitation.
"What their goal was: 'It's very important that these young players on the team be reminded and understand what it means to play for our country, what it means to wear the red, white and blue for the USA to the flag on your patch.' To have that pride that goes along saying that I represent America. What more fitting time than on 911?"
The U.S. dominated the first half and scored on a 55th-minute free kick by Herculez Gomez to register a 1-0 win at Columbus Crew Stadium. The result propelled the Americans into a first-place tie with Guatemala in CONCACAF Group A. The top two teams in the group will reach next year's hexagonal final.
After dropping a disappointing 2-1 defeat in Jamaica last Friday, the U.S. needed that victory desperately.
"The result, 1-0, does not give the guys justice for the way they played for the first half," Brosi said. "They played hard. We felt that we were a little bit a part of it, a little tiny bit a part of it."
Almost 24 hours prior, Brosi, along with Battalion Chief Wayman Iriarte, the FDNY soccer team captain, and Lieutenant Jason Hickey, the goalkeeper spoke to the U.S. team and coaching staff.
"Could you imagine, the night before what could one of the coach's biggest games with this team, he's got three strangers that he never met and he says, 'Yeah, come in and talk to my guys and get into their heads the night before a big game,' Brosi said. "Coach Klinsmann, he gets it. These players, they are not horses for him. You could tell he really cares about their personal development and their minds and their heart and their passion. It was a refreshing thing to see.
"They didn't want to forget. the coach and staff knew how important was that these guys didn't forget. This is just not another team that these guys play for. It's definitely just not another day. He wanted to remind them of it. I was very taken back by it because a lot of teams will have moved on -- I don't want to say forgotten -- It was that important for these guys on his staff to recognize that, I thought that was really impressive."
So the three FDNY men gave the U.S. a perspective of what 911 has meant to them.
"How we lived it, how we recovered from it and what our mission was after it," Brosi said. "I spoke with them just what firefighters, police officers and first responders what we have in common with soccer players. Our worlds are very similar. On the soccer field, it takes teamwork. Well, it's the same thing on the fire floor. It takes the dedication and the hard work and the ability to dig in, make that 10-yard run, get stuck in on that 50-50. It's the same thing as the fire service. In the fire service we talk about being able to make one more room, make it to the back bedroom, put that fire out. Quitting is not an option. You've got to get the job done."
The three NYC firefighters were far from finished.
"At the end, I explained to them what 911 was for," Brosi said. "We had our day. It was a lot about not wanting to be thrust into the spotlight. As police officers and firefighters, we were thrown into this spotlight, expected to live up to this pressure of name recognition and brand recognition and things along those lines. Prior to 911, we enjoyed the anonymity of just doing their job we loved. The pressure was on us, again, very similar to these guys. A lot of these guys had relative anonymity just a few years ago. Now they're under the microscope of the critics and coaches and stuff. We can really relate."
Brosi brought up the fate a member of the FDNY soccer team, a former police officer Sergio Villanueva who was a member of the FDNY and a member of its soccer team, the College Point Flames. Two days prior to 911, Villanueva, who wore No. 10, connected for the lone goal in a 1-0 victory. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, Villanueva died while trying to save lives at the Twin Towers. He was 33. A scholarship was established in his honor.
"On that day, Sergio was our No. 10," Brosi said. "When they step onto the field, take a little bit of him with them. Take that pride and work ethic and that honor he had when he played with us when we represented New York and the Fire Department in the Olympic Games that we competed in around the world. Take a bit of him, take his passion for the game, take it out onto the field. When you walk out there, take that extra minute tomorrow, look around the stadium, look at those fans who are waving that American flag, wearing that jersey and calling your name, and that flag means something. That pride of singing USA anthem and calling you out means something to them. This is just not another team, this is just not another club you are playing for. You are representing your country and it needs to be the most important thing you do. "
The three FDNY members wore their dress uniforms.
Brosi said that Hickey told U.S. captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra before Tuesday's game, 'Listen, these uniforms we're wearing, we only put them on for two reasons. One is to mourn our losses and the other to celebrate our victories. We went to church today. We remembered our fallen brothers this morning. The rest of the night is up to you to go out there and get it done."
The U.S. team did.
"I hope that I impressed on them that this was their moment, that there was their day," Brosi said. "They had to make it their day and enjoy the moment and play for each other. I was very impressed with this group of kids, with the staff and with the coach. Just real candid, real honest, real sincere. They get it, they felt it. It was about winning the game. You could feel it. They knew they had to win this game. It was the most important game of this group for them."
It wasn't the first time that Brosi and the FDNY had journeyed to Columbus for a vital soccer game. They were there for MLS Cup 2001 a little more than a month after 911 as part of official ceremonies. They returned in 2005, for a 2-0 U.S. victory over Mexico that clinched a 2006 World Cup berth.
"We were honored on the field, not for us, but for the sacrifice by our fellow firefighters, police officers and first responders made," Brosi said.
On Monday, Iriarte, Hickey and Brosi wound up making yet another impact.
"It was really an incredible experience for us," Brosi said. "It was right in line with what we wanted to do, the way we wanted to do it."