Tag Archives: New York Rangers

Bruce Vilanch: Secret 24th Member of the USMNT?

As I mentioned yesterday, I fell hard for this year’s World Cup, watching more soccer than I ever imagined I could, transfixed by matches like Ivory Coast vs. Greece, arranging my schedule around France vs. Switzerland. But even though I watched the majority of knockout games and an entirely unnecessary amount of group games, regardless of the matchup, it was the U.S. Men’s National Team that really stole my heart and refused to let go (despite only winning one of four games, and losing their last two. But we won’t focus on that). I didn’t know much about the team before the tournament, other than that Landon Donovan was not on the team and Tim Howard is really, really good and Clint Dempsey is not Clint Mathis. But by the time the USMNT rolled into Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova to take on Belgium we could roll off the names Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and DeAndre Yedlin like we had been following the club for years. In a truly abbreviated amount of time the USMNT became our team the way that the New York Rangers are our team, and as we lived and died with the Broadway Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup Final, we felt similarly about the USA squad. And even though the dream only lasted a couple of weeks, our bond was deep, if only so brief.

But a few days ago we stumbled upon Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil, an ESPN Films series covering the journey of the USA team from the World Cup qualifiers to their departure for Brasil, and all the roster changes and training sessions and Jürgen Klinsmannisms in between. And since beginning the series I’ve been obsessed. It’s just like in 6th Grade when everyone fell in love with Green Day’s Dookie (or so they professed) and wrote the band’s name on their backpacks with Wite-Out and then discovered their early stuff like 39/Smooth and Kerplunk (except in my case it would have been Billy Joel and collecting all of his albums that predate his Greatest Hits Volume 1 & Volume 2). March to Brazil is the USMNT’s early stuff, and I’m really digging it. Sure, they’re raw and unrefined, and there will be some personnel changes before they settle on the definitive lineup, but the soul is there.

But as much as I’ve enjoyed this series, learning the background of these players that I cheered so hard for just two weeks ago, there was something else that I found absolutely stunning: Bruce Vilanch was a member of the USMNT.

Well, maybe not exactly, but he definitely makes an appearance in Part 2, evidently having traveled on the same flight as Defender Omar Gonzalez. Take a look:

 

Did you catch him? Look again:

Bruce Vilanch Omar Gonzalez USMNT

 

Let’s go in for a closer look:

Vilanch-CloseUp

 

Well, if the one size too small graphic t-shirt and red glasses don’t give it away, then the blond Fry Guy hair sure does. I mean, it can’t be, but it’s gotta be:

Bruce Vilanch

Now, as I said, I’ve watched a Bruce Vilanch-worth of USA soccer and haven’t seen the writer-comedian anywhere else, but is it possible that the Off-Center Square was Jürgen Klinsmann’s secret weapon? Did Klinsmann do what Whoopi and Billy have done before him and Get Bruce? Did Vilanch keep Michael Bradley at ease with his playful, suggestive puns? Did he help immerse Jermaine Jones and Julian Green in American culture? Did he trade hair secrets with Graham Zusi and Mix Diskerud? Or maybe, just maybe, he was making a surprise cameo in Kyle Beckerman’s engagement photos? Whatever the reason, Vilanch needs to be on the roster for 2018.

We’ll never be able to beat the Germans by playing their game. We need to create our own American style, embrace what makes our country unique. Maybe, just maybe, Bruce Vilanch is the key.

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Alexi Kovalev: The Original Troller

Alex Kovalev 94 Stanley CupFor the past two months, as indicated by my (attempted) playoff beard, I have been fully absorbed with the New York Rangers post-season run, something that has now become, thankfully, an annual occurrence. For years the Rangers franchise (and fanbase) suffered through a post-1994 Stanley Cup Championship hangover, hurling gobs of money at player after overpriced-player, the vast majority of which were either too old or too injured or too ill-suited for Broadway (see: Bure, Pavel; Lindros, Eric; Fleury, Theo; Gomez, Scott; et al). However, this syndrome ended, oddly enough, with the lockout of 2004 and the strong play of another imported superstar, Jaromir Jagr, who bucked the trend and helped turn the Rangers into a perennial playoff team. A decade later the Rangers have established themselves as one of the most consistent teams in the NHL and arguably the most successful in New York (take that, the Liberty!), and, now, they’re about to appear in their first final since that ’94 dream run But before we look too far ahead to Game 1 in Los Angeles tomorrow evening (8pm EST, 5pm Pacific, sometime in between in the midwest), let us quickly look back at that legendary 1994 squad, the team of destiny that exorcised the demons of 1940 and firmly established the likes of Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Stephane Matteau and even back-up goalie Glenn Healy as immortals, and elevated captain Mark Messiah to legitimate god status. But it’s not any of those champions we want to talk about today; no, right now we’re focused on that young  dynamo out of Togliatti, Russia, the one with the fast feet and the quick hands, the one with the broken English and who broke through defenses. That, of course, being Alexei Kovalev. Long before current Rangers defenseman and Minnesota native Ryan McDonagh announced himself as a force on the Rangers blueline for many, many years to come, Kovalev was the premier #27 in a Rangers sweater. His speed, stick-handling and clutch scoring made the right-wing a quick fan favorite at Madison Square Garden, and in only his sophomore year in the NHL he was playing big minutes and scoring big goals. But it wasn’t just his explosive skating, triple dekes and dangerous wrist shot that endeared himself to the Garden faithful. It was also, his big, bright, goofy personality. More specifically, it was his troll. Yes, throughout the ’94 playoffs Kovalev kept a lucky troll doll at his locker. And when the Rangers won the cup, breaking the curse of 1940, the troll was there, sharing in the celebration. What Kovalev might have lacked in English proficiency, he surely made up for with youthful exuberance. With his electric play and a genuine enthusiasm that transcended any language, Kovalev made an indelible mark on that ’94 cup run and on our childhood. And so it was no surprise that his appearance at last week’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 at MSG sent the crowed into a mid-game frenzy, showing that if you win in NY, you’re a hero for life. He might be twenty years older, his baby face morphed into the aged countenance of a grizzled hockey veteran, his English no longer just barely comprehensible, but sporting that iconic hat (and surprisingly nondescript official t-shirt), Kovalev is as beloved as he was twenty-years ago, a champion not for a year but for eternity. Alex Kovalev NY Rangers Playoffs Now just imagine the reaction had he brought the troll.

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