Brad Friedel is still blazing a trail for every American with dreams
Years ago, before Major League Soccer, before the 1990 World Cup, before
Any hopes of a career in soccer seemed about as realistic as our hopes of becoming the guitarist for Whitesnake or dating the French exchange student from
Which is what makes
I still remember playing against Friedel in some tournament somewhere in Ohio back when we were both teenagers. He was big and quick then, too, and my memory can still conjure up one save in particular. One of my teammates on my Michigan-based club team, Vardar, reached the end line on the right side and cut a cross back toward the penalty spot. A late-arriving midfielder, perhaps the silky smooth
That save has stuck with me ever since. It was an early hint of Friedel's talent, though none of us back then had any idea what a special talent it was. We didn't know it was the kind that could compete at the highest levels in Europe. We played mostly in a vacuum: no FSC, no
Somehow Friedel, and a few others, never seemed to buy that, though. At the 1992 Olympics, he was the starter on a U.S. team that included
It didn't always go smoothly. He bounced around for a few years, back and forth between Europe and the States, but finally in 2000, he landed at Blackburn Rovers and never looked back.
Actually, that's not true. He did look back. He looked back at his own development as a youth player in Bay Village, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and realized that there could be a better way to nurture talent, especially now that American players are no longer taboo in Europe (or as taboo).
"The system is broken in the U.S.," Friedel said in an interview in October. "Not least because you actually have to pay to play. Some kids are paying as much as $5,000 a year just to play for a decent club team."
To Friedel's way of thinking -- and it makes more sense than ever in today's economic climate -- if money is a deciding factor, good players who can't afford the price are going to fade away or slip through the cracks. Which is why he created Brad Friedel's Premier Soccer Academies (PSA), a unique soccer-training residency program and $11 million facility located in Lorain, Ohio. It's designed to help talented players rise to the top, free of charge.
Initially, PSA was meant to be very international in scope, bringing in promising young players from Mexico, South America and Africa, along with those from the U.S. Last week, Friedel announced that PSA would focus more on local players from Northeast Ohio, and that it had entered into a partnership with the Cleveland Alliance Soccer Association. I'm sure economics played a role in the decision to stay more local, but its consequences for local players could be the silver lining.
"We need to get back to focusing on the talent within our community, Ohio and our region," Friedel said in a PSA statement. "I have always stated that talent is talent. By providing opportunities like this, you are giving players hope to move to the next level in the game."
There it is: hope, buzzword of the zeitgeist in '08. I shake my head and smile when I think of the hopes of today's rising generation: Whereas we hoped to play college soccer, they seriously hope to play in the Champions League.
"Maybe someday they will then be in a position to pay it forward themselves and help others," Friedel said. "This cycle has to start somewhere and I want to have it start with me and start now."
Brad, let me tell you: You started it a long time ago.