The New York Red Bulls's home opener is Sunday (February 29) against FC Cincinnati. The excitement about all the fan improvements inside Red Bull Arena is matched by the optimism surrounding the boosted development around the stadium in Harrison.
Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre joins host Doug Doyle for an emotional edition of SportsJam where the Montreal native talks about soccer, the area's growth and how his family still is his top priority.
Marc de Grandpre rejoined the Red Bulls in 2014 and quickly gained the respect of his staff and peers. In 2015 he was named MLS Executive of the Year.
His enthusiam for his team and community are infectious.
"With what's going on in Harrison, what we've done for the experience for our fans in the building and what the team has accomplished over the last five to six seasons, it's been a tremendous ride and it's only going to get better."
Red Bull Arena now sits in a part of Harrison that has seen tremendous growth recently and that's another reason why de Grandpre is so excited about the new season and the future of Harrison and his MLS club.
"When you see the development around the arena. There's about six to seven thousand apartments going up. Some are already up. To see those fans embrace the club is obviously a tremendous opportunity for us. And to see the reach we have not only in the Ironbound and Newark and Kearny, but Harrison really becoming part of our fabric of the club, it's really fun to watch the community boom. Just the expansion of commercial development in Harrison is tremendous. All that at the end of the day was triggered by the investment our owner made in this stadium ten years ago. This is our tenth season in the building and it really triggered this development."
Growing up in Montreal playing hockey and baseball de Grandpre never imagined he would become an executive in the MLS.
"Not in my wildest dreams. I obviously coming from Canada dreamt of being in sports, on the ice with skates and baseball before I dreamt of being in soccer, but I've fallen in love with the game now. My son (Tyler) plays the game. I'm an avid watcher of the game whenever it's on. Now that I know and understand this game, I wish I played when I was younger cause it's very similar to hockey except it's a much larger surface with 11 players on the field, some similar dynamics. I'll be honest what I love about soccer is the athletes themselves are so down to earth and commited to growing the game and being part of the community. It's something you don't see across other sports. Our players are one of a kind."
The new captain of the Red Bulls is midfielder Sean Davis who was born in Long Branch, New Jersey and grew up in Holmdel where he attended Holmdel High School before transferring after his freshman year. Davis, a two-time captain at Duke University, was a member of several youth clubs growing up including the New York Red Bulls Academy. Marc de Grandpre was all smiles when talking about Davis.
"He's part of our Academy, he's been through our system. He understand this club inside out. This is a great moment for Sean and a great moment for our organization.
On December 11, 2014, Davis signed a homegrown contract with the New York Red Bulls, making him the ninth homegrown signing in club history.
Davis spoke with Doug Doyle on Media Day at Red Bull Arena.
Marc de Grandpre says it's an amazing message for the community when you can come and actually support local kids. I think there is no other team in the New York metro area that has that many kids who were born and raised in New York or New Jersey.
Another example of homegrown talent in Brian White, Red Bulls forward, who also played his college soccer at Duke University. White grew up in Flemington, New Jersey where he attended Hunterdon Central Regional High School and played youth soccer for Players Development Academy for nine years.
Smith also spoke with Doyle on Media Day.
White, Davis and the other Red Bull players are part of a intense community effort with events scheuled throughout the calendar year. GM de Grandpre says it's very important for the club to give back to the community. Some of those efforts include creating community mini-pitches in Newark and a Unified Team with Special Olympics.
The Red Bulls have found a new way to supoprt a cause near and dear to the soccer club, establishing the de Grandpre Family Grant for Autism Programs as part of their ongoing efforts to spread autism awareness. The grant will be awarded annually in April, which is Autism Awareness Month nationwide, with the amount varying each year. Marc, his wife Kim (son) Tyler and (daughter) Julia continue to serve as passionate and vocal advocates in helping families of loved ones on the autism spectrum.
"Autism is near and dear to our family. We've been blessed with having a child who is challenged by this disease I'll call it but for us it's a blessing. It's shown us how to appreciate life, how to embrace it everyday and how to be carefree because that's what our daughter teaches us everyday. She's loving. She enjoys life. She doesn't really care what other people think and sometimes we get caught up in that. She has embraced this club as her second family. Julia loves to dance, loves to sing, she does gymnastics, she does soccer in the fall, she does basketball right now, she's on her cheerleading team at school. She's gifted."
When asked about his son Tyler, de Grandpre became overcome with emotion.
"My son is as gifted as she (Julia) is. I've never met a kid that is so strong, so determined and so kind. There is no better child with the heart he has, the determination and the poise for a 16-year old to handle what he's handled throughout his childhood is amazing and I'm so proud of him everyday."
Marc de Grandpre has his priorities in the right place. Dad first.
Click to the top of the page to hear the entire SportsJam interview with Marc de Grandpre.