He won’t be bringing the orange slices for halftime, but Red Bulls midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy can only watch Saturday night’s game at Montreal.
Due to his immigration status, Ballouchy is not allowed to leave the country, which means trips to Canada do not include the mercurial midfielder. Ballouchy, who hails from Morocco, has been attempting unsuccessfully to straighten out the visa issue for much of his MLS career. But while he is in the peculiar situation of being healthy and in-form but unable to travel, Ballouchy said he will stay in the northern New Jersey area and watch the game on the television.
“I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll definitely be with some of the guys,” Ballouchy said.
It’s frustrating for him to be able to contribute, but to be unable to cross the border and play with his teammates. Now in his third year with New York, Ballouchy is having perhaps his best season with the Red Bulls since being acquired in a trade with Colorado late in the 2010 season. He’s played 11 games — seven as a starter — with one goal and one assist.
Last year, Ballouchy was a common target of fan angst due to lackluster performances and his inability to jell with the rest of the team. He was criticized for his play and the “Mehdi Bluecheese” Twitter handle became a popular spoof of a player labeled as a failure. But this year, whether as a starter or coming off the bench, he’s earned rave reviews for his deft passing and energy.
He’s been a major reason why the injury-depleted Red Bulls have won four in a row.
“I think I’m having fun playing soccer as always. Of course, it’s more fun winning. I think it shows,” Ballouchy said. “I’m going to do whatever the team needs. If they want me to be on the left, I’ll be on the left. If they need me to be in the middle, I’ll do that. If they need to play off of the forward up front, I’ll do that. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win, I’m willing to do that.”
All of which makes it all the more frustrating for Ballouchy to sit out Saturday night. On Saturday morning he will volunteer to go to a local youth soccer clinic on behalf of the team and then will gather with his injured teammates to watch the game.
Don’t expect him to bring any snacks for the viewing, however.
“To be honest with you, probably just a cappuccino,” Ballouchy said.
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for much more on the team.