Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

World Cup Memories with Philippines’ head coach Thomas Dooley

This will appear on the Saturday, June 7, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

World Cup Memories with Philippines’ head coach Thomas Dooley
by rick olivares

“It was 20 years ago today,
the USA showed them they could play,
they’ve been going in and out of style
but they guaranteed to raise a smile
so may I introduce to you
the act you’ve known all these years…
the USA Men’s National Team.”
- adapted from an old Liverpool folk song

It is that time every four years when Thomas Dooley feels that old competitive fire in him stoked from an ember to a near blast furnace. Such is the way of old warriors who competed on football’s biggest stage, the World Cup. They watch the game. They punch the air and holler when there’s a spectacular goal. The groan with every botched pass, shot and save. It is heaven. Or the closest thing to one.

And if he could go back in time and suit up one more time…. “That would be something, wouldn’t it?” said Dooley with his mind no doubt racing back to a different time when he and his teammates were on top of the world.

Literally and figuratively.

In a game that would affect two nations, ninety-three thousand people packed the sunbaked Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for the 1994 World Cup match between the United States and Colombia on the 22nd of June.

In their previous match, the US drew with Switzerland, 1-1, while Colombia, picked by many to win the World Cup, shockingly lost to Romania, 3-1. Colombia, which had become a power in the previous two years, badly needed a win and everyone predicted them to crush the upstart Americans.

Yet in one of the biggest upsets the game has ever seen, the US defeated Colombia, 2-1, thanks in part to an own goal by the unlucky Andres Escobar. The ultimate ramifications of that win or loss, depending on which side one was, would not be felt 10 days later when Escobar was murdered in Medellin, Colombia; punishment for his part in the country’s early ouster.

The United States in the meantime celebrated. Soccer had finally arrived in North America.

“After two matches, we had four points,” recalled Dooley of the momentous win. “We were on a high and we had a chance. We dared to believe.”

The Americans lost to Romania in their final group match. Had they drawn with the Eastern Europeans, they would have faced a Diego Maradona-less Argentina squad in the next round. Instead, they were felled by eventual World Cup winners, Brazil, 1-0. But even in defeat, they felt that they stood up to the Brazilians.

“We lost two important players in John Harkes and Tab Ramos,” noted Dooley of that match against the side that eventually won the World Cup. “They lost Leandro to a red card but they remained superior to us. They maintained possession and didn’t give us much chances. With a little luck, we might have gone on to the next round where we would have faced an Argentina side that was without Diego Maradona. Who knows what the result could be?”

Even in defeat, such was the effect of that World Cup for the United States that Major League Soccer was formed and kicked off two years after with 10 squads competing for the inaugural MLS Cup.

When asked if it was a difficult decision to play for the United States national team as opposed to his native Germany, Dooley was swift and unequivocal in his reply, “Not at all.”

Dooley, who is half-American and half-German had three opportunities to suit up for Die Nationalmannschaft but each time an injury kept him from playing.

“I came close three times to play for the German National Team,” he recounted. “I was in terrific shape and was playing great. Three times the same thing happened and three times, I got injured. I said if I have one or two more good games I’d be happy just to be a part of the camp. In one game we played, I tore a ligament in my right ankle. The next time I had a chance, I tore my ligament in my left ankle. Then in 1991, Germany went on a trip to Argentina and Mexico where they brought 35 players. And the German media said, “Thomas it’s your last chance.” This was after we (Kaiserslautern) beat Bayern Munich, 4-1, and it was my best game ever. I was 30 years old and if I didn’t make it this time then it’s over because I was too old. Two days later, in a friendly, someone hit me in the chest with his knee and I broke four ribs. One rib punctured my lung. So I was very upset and negative.”

Somewhat despondent over his inability to play for the national team and in the sports’ biggest stage that is the World Cup, an opportunity presented itself six months later. During a match, an American federation official was in the stands watching when she spotted Dooley.

“Dooley -- that’s not a German name,” fished the official.

My agent at that time said, “No, his father’s American. But he is German too.”

“Maybe he could play for the US?”

"So when they asked me, I said, 'Of course.' Now I could play for a country I have always admired. I have never met my father and have never had any relationship with America and my only exposure was through movies and books. Incredibly, I couldn’t speak any English then. Now overnight, I had a chance to play for a country I admired.”

Dooley grew up in one of the smallest states in Germany that was quite close to the French border. During one of the many wars waged between the two countries, that state was won and lost by both France and Germany. A referendum was eventually held and its citizens decided to stay with Germany. “Because of that history, the first language I learned was French,” told Dooley of his being multi-lingual.

“I grew up in a country where football is everything,” related Dooley. “Everything was focused on the Bundesliga and the national team. Even when I was playing, no one was watching what was going on beyond our borders. No one was watching our neighboring countries to see how they play. Not even England for all the success of the Premier League. And there was certainly no news about football in America where there was no league. The game thrived in colleges but there was nothing we could read or hear about.”

The eventual rebirth of the American national team in 1994 saw foreign-based players join the team as well as those of dual citizenship. MLS opened shop to 10 teams in 1996 (today there are 19 teams spread across North America).

Dooley moved to the United States where he first played for the Columbus Crew before ending his 21-year football career with the New York Metrostars in 2000.

In between, he captained the US in the 1998 World Cup in France.

Ten years after he hung up his boots, Dooley, with 81 caps for the US and with seven goals to his name, was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

How does he feel about being a part of a pioneering group of national players that played in one of the best World Cups ever, who help bring the game to the collective American consciousness and was a part of the early years of MLS?

And just as he answered that question by that US Soccer official all those long years ago about playing for the US, Dooley, was quick to answer: “Playing in the World Cup is the highest achievement for any player. The whole experience is just amazing. Nowadays, when I see the players by the stadium and walk by the field, I wish I could still play. It’s just amazing to see all the new stadiums. I think of when I played and how it is something that the players should understand how much work it takes to get there. All the hard work, seasons and sacrifices you make to get there.”

“At that time I wasn’t thinking that I am one of the part that is starting football here. I just wanted to do my job that was to help the team win and make the fans happy. You know, go out and play a 110% and be successful. You always have a goal and never forget the steps to get there. At that time, I was just trying to do my best.”

“In the end, when I got into the Hall of Fame, and they asked me the same question about how it feels to be a pioneer.”

“And this was my answer and it remains the same, ‘It is the highest achievement you can ever get as an individual player. Being in a Hall of Fame in your country, it means you have done something in your life. Not just for one year but years. And you were a part of change.”

“If you think about your legacy then you will not get the job done. That means you are doing it for the wrong reason. It is only later on where you can look back and say, ‘That was cool.’ And you know, it is cool.”


Additional reading:

At Coffee Bean with Coach Thomas!

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea that Coach Dooley didn't have much of a relationship with his American father, or that he barely spoke English then. It's amazing how the opportunity to play for a country helps foster a love for it. I suppose this is why Coach Dooley enjoys such a healthy, nurturing relationship with our PH team. He understands that being Filipino is more than a matter of language, place or even culture. We often love things we don't quite understand. Fortunately, love, much like passion, dedication and joy, speaks in a language everyone can understand. I hope Coach Dooley remains as patient with our country as we nurture our love for the game as he seems to be with our younger players. He seems bent on developing our younger players and giving them opportunities to grow by actually playing them.

    Great article as usual Rick! Looking forward to part 2!