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Closing Time: New York City FC vs Tigres, before COVID shut down the world

Today is the anniversary of the last game before the pandemic stopped sports for us all.

UANL Tigres fans wear hazmat suits and medical masks during the first half against NYCFC at Red Bull Arena March 11, 2020 | Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
"Closing time ... You don't have to go home, But you can't stay here."
- Semisonic, "Closing Time" (1998)

The result was crushing: Four years ago today, on March 11, 2020, New York City FC fell 1-0 on a stoppage-time Tigres stunner at Red Bull Arena.

And then, the sports world stopped for us all.

Earlier in the day, the NBA announced it was putting a hold on their season. The NHL, MLB, and other sports soon followed. That CONCACAF Champions League match in Harrison turned out to be the last sporting event with live crowds in the Big Apple for nearly a year.

NYCFC-Tigres highlights from the visiting fans' perspective.

I remember vividly leaving the packed lower bowl at RBA (10,200 in attendance), and getting on the PATH train after the match, feeling uneasiness seep in — us NYCFC faithful staring at each other, quietly, some wearing masks, some without, not knowing when we would see our Pigeons play again.

We knew we had just gotten this match in under the gun, as government powers were closing all public venues down in the face of COVID-19, a new virus that turned the world's economy upside-down in a cloud of uncertainty and fear.

All that time, sitting on the train, you're wondering what surfaces you can safely touch. Wondering, is the mask I'm wearing enough protection? Wondering if just breathing in the shared train air would make me sick — at least, more ill than the New Jersey air around RBA normally makes us...

Getting off the PATH at the World Trade Center stop that night, I walked across a near-empty Oculus, with only a handful of cleaners in Hazmat suits, spraying down the benches and walls with disinfectant, and some National Guard troops on patrol. The lonely concourse reminded me of scenes from "28 Days Later."

Tigres fans in full hazmat suits attend the CONCACAF Champions League match vs NYCFC on March 11, 2020, as COVID uncertainty was all around. (Photo: Corey Clayton)

My boss in our midtown newsroom told us all as we left work that day to be sure to take along anything we needed to work from home, just in case. Laptop and notebooks in my backpack, I didn't know when I'd be back in that newsroom again in person — it turns out I never did go back after COVID-related layoffs later that year.

After that night, three long months of no sports ensued.

From @IsoJoeJR on Twitter, two days into the shutdown.

Baseball resumed in late July, the NBA and NHL finished their seasons behind closed doors, and the "MLS is Back" tournament started in Florida on July 8. New York City banned fans from venues until February of 2021 — and at first only allowed small, spaced-out events.

The 2020 season is pretty much an afterthought for NYCFC fans, after all the empty-venue matches with the TV graphics digitally covering up the seating.

But we had a good record as new manager Ronny Delia was finding his way in MLS, winning 12 of 23 MLS matches and a 1.7 PPG average. We played the rare Toronto FC home match in Hartford. And we got one of our largest Hudson River Derby victories that November.

And, of course, the season ended with one of the craziest playoff match penalty shootouts in MLS history down in Orlando to cap off the wild year...

So today, even as New York City FC slogs on, pointless after three matches, and the faithful start the murmuring for #CushingOut, be glad we have SOMETHING to cheer for, games to attend, and people at our side to cheer with.

Saturday might have been a disappointing loss, but at least it was a loss we could share in the comfort of 24,000 strangers.