Red Bulls take time for children

Soccer is a favorite sport for millions of kids around the world, but some, like the ones at The Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, are unable to take part in the game due to illness. So the next best thing to playing? Meeting two professional soccer players, of course.

Defender Jan Gunnar Solli and midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy were special guests of the Hackensack, NJ hospital on Tuesday, April 26, and were able to bring some joy to the young patients.

“The kids we met who were sick…you could see there were a lot of kids that were happy we were there,” said Solli. “It’s always so nice to just do something to light up their day.”

Taking a break from their rigorous training schedule in preparation for the team’s match against Sporting Kansas City, the two visited many wings of the hospital, including Oncology, General Pediatrics, Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“Just going around and seeing sick kids in the hospital, I think a lot of the kids don’t have that many visitors and a lot of them like soccer,” said Ballouchy. “To come in and have a chat with them and see the smile on their faces is awesome.”

The two players were able to visit numerous children through their stay, including 10-month-old Delaney, who welcomed them with a big smile and waves. Solli said that, as a professional athlete who relies on his body, it’s an overwhelming experience to meet such young fans who do not have the same luxury.

“It just reminds you to take nothing for granted and to learn how to appreciate life and live each day as if it was your last,” he said.

Ballouchy and Solli also got a big welcome when they visited Nicklaus, 16, and Andrew, 11, who happen to be huge fans of the club. Andrew even had a Red Bulls jersey in his room that the teammates got a chance to sign.

“The kids were awesome. I think it’s so nice to be able to do something with them,” Solli said. “There were a lot of supporters. There was one guy who had his own Red Bulls jersey that Mehdi and I got the chance to sign. It was really special.”

One particular fan, Ryan, age 6, even got the chance to engage the two in competition as they played a foosball game in one of the hospital’s wings.

“Ryan asked us if we wanted to play foosball, which was really great. Seeing him up and about and really enjoying himself truly brought a smile to everybody’s face, and luckily Ryan and I beat up on Jan pretty good.”

Ballouchy said that the opportunities to get involved in the community are one of the best parts about being a member of the Red Bulls.

“It’s such a humbling experience,” he continued. “For me, this is my favorite thing to do as far as appearances in the community. I don’t think you can replicate seeing a smile on kids’ faces and it’s a joy for me to do.”