New Yorkers rising up together to meet unprecedented challenges is in the fabric of this great city.
Through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen countless examples of the community-minded selflessness and resilience associated with New York City and we’ve been inspired by those who have raised a hand and stepped up to help their fellow citizens.
In this spirit, we are setting out to reflect what’s truly undeNYable about our city and the people who make up our extended NYCFC family, all doing whatever it takes today to be back together again tomorrow through the sport we love.
undeNYable is a series of weekly themed stories here on NYCFC.com, holding up members of the NYCFC family who’ve shown the meaning of "For The City", coming through for their fellow New Yorkers when it has mattered most.
In 2015, standup comics Alexis Guerreros and Christian Polanco combined their obsession with soccer and passion for comedy by starting a podcast known as “The Cooligans.”
Since, Alexis and Christian have gone on to establish a loyal fanbase and can be seen twice a week as the hosts of “The Cooligans” TV show on FuboTV. They’ve interviewed current and legendary soccer players from all over the world, as well as being hired for numerous high-profile events in the soccer space.
In 2020, they signed with New York City FC to host a pre-game show named “NYCFC at Home with The Cooligans”, presented by El Jimador and powered by Cisco WebEx, but there have been long journeys for both comedians to reach this point.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Alexis explains where it all started for him: “We knew we were all poor, but no one felt it. You know, like it was just one of those things where it was such a dope city that had so many different types of people, like I grew up in a neighborhood that was very much Dominican and Puerto Rican. A lot of Trinidadians, Brazilians, a lot of Portuguese, so soccer was also a big part of the community.”
Growing up and spending time with his cousins on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Guerreros saw comedy as a way to connect with people, “I kind of knew I was funny from the way I kind of got out of sticky situations growing up in a city like Newark.” Alexis explained, “Nobody wants to shoot the funny guy. Nobody wants the funny guy in their gang either. You know, you want him around, but no we really don’t exude toughness when a guy shows up cracking jokes… you know what I mean?”
“I kind of got away, like, I was able to be everybody’s friend because I was funny.”
Christian grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn with immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic and where soccer was rarely a part of the conversation.
From watching late night comedy television throughout his childhood, Polanco always had an interest in comedy. “I was always a really small skinny kid, and I’m like, I should not be intimidating anyone or fighting anyone or being in any issue because it will not go well for me. So, I was like, oh, let me develop a sense of humor and that sort of, you know, organically happened and by the time I was in high school I started thinking about the way people construct jokes.”
After finishing college, and working in IT, Christian took a stand-up comedy class and that was it. “Once I did my first show, I was like, I’m going to do this forever, that feeling of not just hearing laughter, but orchestrating it was, I mean you don’t feel more powerful. It’s just so surreal. You say something and then a wave of laughter hits you, and you’re like, man, this is intoxicating.”
It wasn’t until Christian began playing video games, like the FIFA series, that soccer caught his attention. “Like maybe in 2000, probably, like ’99-2000 that’s when I was like: ‘oh, I love this game,’ and then I’m liked learning about all the players and Zidane and Henry and all that stuff. So, once that game came into my life, that triggered a passion for the sport.” In the early 2000s, the connection to the sport grew as Polanco’s older brother, a professional handball player, would bring Christian soccer jerseys from the countries he visited.
After years of enjoying the sport from afar, an opportunity to engage with the beautiful game more intimately wasn’t far away.
Before NYCFC even got its name, Alexis had “NY 2” on his Twitter profile and considered himself a fan before the club signed a player or a coach. “I had been wanting to find a way to help build the sport of soccer in the US especially in New York City,” adding, “I always had this in my head, like if the city gets a team, I’m going to support it. So, off the rip when the team was announced, I was ready to go. I was like the 200thperson to get a season ticket and still have the season ticket. I refuse to let go of it. Like I can’t wait to get back to the games and watch them. I’ve been a fan of NYCFC since it started.”
Before the duo were The Cooligans, each had their own podcast where they would make guest appearances and play FIFA together afterwards. It’s here when the topic of NYCFC was brought to Christian’s attention by Alexis. “I did not know anything about it,” Christian said, “I knew he was a soccer fan, but he didn’t know how much of a soccer fan I was. So, when NYCFC started, Alexis said ‘hey, I’m thinking of getting season tickets, and there were like super affordable.”
Ever since then the two began spending more time together joking about soccer which is where The Cooligans began, Section 238, in the stands of Yankee Stadium.
“I think the reason why I was so passionate [was because] I had already had the idea to start a podcast,” Alexis explained, “So, once we got together and started riffing, I realized this is the guy who should have been doing the podcast. We were just joking in Section 238, and I was like, no, there’s people around us. I remember one game, someone’s like: ‘yo, come stand next to these guys they’re really funny.’ As soon as I heard that, I was like, this is the guy.”
When New York City became an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo was unsure what would happen to the first season of their TV show. “You know, when we decided to do the show remotely from our homes, it was kind of Christian and I saying, like, we don’t want to go on hiatus. Everyone thought it was going to be two weeks and then we go back and said, no, I don’t want to do a hiatus.” Alexis explained, “So, [the network] was like fine, we’ll do the TV show. We’ll just do it from webcams, and that was it, that was the beginning of that. We’ve gotten incredible emails, tweets, messages, and DMs from fans saying like, dude, this has been really rough… thank you for doing the show.”
When MLS resumed in the Orlando MLS is Back bubble, NYCFC approached The Cooligans and struck a deal for the new pre-game preview show hosted by Alexis and Christian. For the pair, along with the TV show, it was a big moment of validation, bringing everything full circle from 2015 to 2020.
Christian explains: “The thing I'm most proud of is we found a space where people are supportive of what we're doing.
“I don't take peoples’ love of soccer for granted. I know that people are not watching or listening to our show solely for the ha ha's, you know? They watch or listen because they're passionate about the sport, and they want to hear a funny line of thinking regarding it.
“We literally were strangers in this American soccer space and people are like, alright ya'll are cool. Like, I'll listen to you, whether it's you're making a joke or caring about like our soccer opinion. We thought Orlando was gonna win the MLS is Back Tournament and then we got a bunch of tweets like, well, you were wrong. But for me, the fact that they care enough to tell us that we were wrong means something.”
Alexis explains: “Validation is funny, there's never one thing like as a comic, you have like one club, or one weekend or one thing you want to get past, that you want to do, that tells you like, that's what I wanted to do from the beginning. Right?
“It's like getting picked for your boyhood club, you know, like, honestly, like, I'm never going to be a soccer player. Look at me, you know, I mean, if so you need like EMTs chasing me, a guy with a stretcher, two women holding IVs following me around the soccer field. I'm just not built for it. But I could do something at such a high level that the club I love wants to work with me. I mean, come on, you know, there starts a new chapter. That was validation. That was me getting the blue check, you know?”