It is about 4:45 P.M. and the PATH train from World Trade Center is rolling through north Jersey. Fans of the New York Red Bulls make up roughly half of the passengers coming in from the five boroughs, many dressed in red. And among them is an early 20s young man in a black shirt and jeans looking non-descript and staring down at his iPhone complete with a requisite cracked screen.
He is none other than Alex Muyl, the rookie Red Bulls midfielder who has cemented himself into a Starting XI spot on the wing. And he’s riding the train like he has done for every other home match and doing so in relative anonymity.
On one side of him, a few seats away, sits a middle-aged woman, head phones on and wearing a Red Bulls jersey and cap. She rocks away, completely unaware that one of the players she will cheer for in a couple short hours is standing feet away, holding onto a railing on the train.
The entire trip from his childhood home – Muyl lives with his parents on the Lower East Side – takes no more than 40 minutes. Sometimes he rides a bicycle to the World Trade Center PATH station or he’ll grab an Uber ride.
The trip is a little bit shorter to Red Bull Arena than Yankee Stadium.
“Sometimes I get recognized, sometimes I don’t,” Muyl said as he stood on the train. “It’s pretty easy, you just have to figure out the schedule and all.
He turns 21-years old this Friday.
Even though he got his license this summer he still plans on taking the train for home games. But to get to the team’s training facility in Hanover, N.J. he has to take a car as the train ride would be well over an hour. When he played with the academy team, his trip to practice was 55 minutes to Rutgers-Newark.
Now to get to practice he hops a ride with Dax McCarty, the Red Bulls captain and longest-tenured player.
“Sometimes I drive,” Muyl said. “I’m surprised Dax doesn’t sit in the back like I’m his chauffeur. Taking calls and answering emails.”
He chuckles and smirks. A joke perhaps but perhaps part truth.
The train is now at the Harrison station and there’s a buzz in the air. He squirms his way through the crowds that empty out of the station, tourists and residents mixing now with Red Bulls fans walking to the area’s only soccer-specific stadium.
He blends in with the crowd, many who are young millennials and hipsters. Muyl is walking briskly now, fans dressed in red talking about the game now about two hours away. If the Red Bulls win (which they will, beating the Montreal Impact 1-0) they clinch a playoff berth. Since moving to Red Bull Arena in 2010, the team has never missed the playoffs.
There’s a coconut water in his left hand and a small kit bag. He’s completely unnoticed now as he joins fans walking to get their tickets or head into the stadium. Smells from local tailgates mingle with the cool air of a day that feels like the first true fall afternoon.
“That smells good,” Muyl says, glancing over at the red tent where a half-dozen fans are grilling and drinking. He then glances down at his watch – “Good, I’m going to make it.”
It is about two hours till game time now and Muyl needs to get to the locker room to get changed into warmups and head out to the field to stretch. Preparation is key for Muyl who came through the Red Bulls Academy before going off to play at Georgetown. He left college early to sign a Homegrown deal with the Red Bulls.
He’s almost at the stadium now but then he stops and makes a left.
Next to the stadium is a booth for the shield won by the New York Red Bulls II, the organization’s reserve team, for taking the USL regular season championship. He walks in and poses for a photo, playing tourist for a moment. The college interns manning the booth have no idea that he’s set to take the field in a couple of hours as a starter on the Red Bulls. They assume that he’s just another fan.
It is there after leaving the booth that Muyl is finally recognized by a father and his two young sons and he stops to sign autographs. Then he is at his entrance to Red Bull Arena and is stopped before he flashes his player ID to gain entrance.
He’s gone now, his commute over.