April 24, 2006 – It should be quite a meeting, if it ever happens.
Alecko Eskandarian, say hello to Dietrich “Didi” Mateschitz.
Eskandarian, as Major League Soccer fans know, is the D.C. United striker whose timely goals led the team to its fourth MLS title in 2004. He is also the son of Andranik Eskandarian, one of the galaxy of stars who graced the Cosmos when they ruled the North American Soccer League roost 30 years ago.
Mateschitz, meanwhile, is the Austrian businessman who made his fortune with an energy drink he named Red Bull. Among his many pals is none other than former Cosmos star Franz Beckenbauer, now head of the Germany ’06 World Cup Organizing Committee.
Mateschitz is also the man who, with a little advice from Beckenbauer, spent upward of $100 million this spring to buy the MetroStars and rename them the New York Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls play at Giants Stadium, the old home of Pele, Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and the rest of the Cosmos, many of whom were on hand for the Red Bulls’ 2006 home opener a couple of weeks ago.
On Saturday, Eskandarian left his own mark at the stadium where his father once starred.
After scoring the first of his two goals in what would be a 4-1 rout of the Red Bulls, Eskandarian, the top MLS draft pick in 2003, ran over to the D.C. United bench and caught a can of Red Bull tossed to him by teammate Jamil Walker.
Eskandarian took a swig of the drink, then turned and spat it out in mock disgust.
Laughter all round, right?
Well, yes and no.
Some didn’t know what to make of it. Was it simply a gag, harmless fun by a player enjoying his moment in the spotlight? Or was it a tasteless, unnecessary and unsportsmanlike bit of mockery aimed at the opposing team, its owner and his cash-cow product?
Should referee Kevin Stott have given Eskandarian a yellow card? Will his own team or the league fine him for his antics? Stott did make note of the incident in his game report that was forwarded to the league.
“By no means was I trying to offend anyone in their organization,” Eskandarian said. “It was just something funny for the guys to laugh at in the locker room.
“They’re our rivals, and I apologize if I offended anyone, but it was just a little joke.”
A premeditated joke?
“I’ve had a history of concussions, so I can’t really remember,” Eskandarian told reporters after the match.
That does not jibe with what he told Heather Mitts, the U.S. women’s national team defender who was a sideline reporter for ESPN2 during the nationally televised game.
Eskandarian told Mitts that it had been teammate Santino Quaranta’s idea all along and that he had been the one “dumb enough” to go along with it.
It remains to be seen whether MLS officials see it as a joke or as offensive to Mateschitz, the man who has just put millions of dollars into the league.