"Hey! Hey you! Get away from that line!"
The tall guy on the grounds crew was hot, literally and figuratively. It was more than 90 degrees on Saturday in Washington D.C., and in the scorching late afternoon sun, the crew at RFK Stadium was working hard touching up the white lines on the soccer pitch following the ninth annual MLS All-Star Game. They were halfway around the field, when this little dude emerged, walking close to the freshly painted sideline.
"Hey, I told you, stay away from there, dammit!" yelled the grounds crew guy, to whom this was not a game. (His language was actually more colorful, but this is a family Web site and all.)
"You need to chill out, dude," the walker responded as he rounded the corner of the field and crossed in front of the man menacingly wielding a paint gun. Perhaps realizing he was giving up about 6 inches to the crew member, the walker paused briefly and then veered clear.
"What are you going to do about it? That's right, just keep on going. Get on outta here!" exclaimed the painter, before turning his attention back to the end line.
The guy being cursed at? Only the player some believe is the best in Major League Soccer, San Jose forward Landon Donovan.
Think about that for a second: Donovan has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and sat with Regis and Letterman. He'd just played 90 exciting minutes, yet he was still being hassled by the help. Imagine Shaquille O'Neal being screamed at by an usher in L.A. after the NBA All-Star Game, or a security guard shooing Manny Ramirez off the field after the baseball All-Star Game.
Donovan's anonymity on Saturday was partly a function of his stature, as he stands 5-foot-9 and was traveling posseless. (To contrast, I once saw LeBron James with a 10-member posse, and that was after a road game.) Landon, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, was bling-free and was lugging his own bag over his shoulder. He looked, for all the world, like a clubhouse attendant running an errand.
Then again, 10 years ago, I would have had a tough time picking any U.S. soccer player out of a lineup. It wasn't until my friend Todd proselytized me about six years ago that I got turned on to the beautiful game. Since then, I've been hooked.
Still, to many Americans, soccer remains a mystery, the occasional odd story from around the world like this or this. Even those of us that are fans will admit that MLS is still a minor league.
At some point during the MLS All-Star Game, my man Ben started a discussion in the press box about what would have to occur for something from the game to make the front page of Sunday's New York Post. I immediately stated that it would have to be something bad, some sort of horrible tragedy like a riot in the stands or a player dying on the field. The only positive thing that would warrant a cover would be Freddy Adu scoring 100 goals in the game with the final score being something like 102-1. Sure enough, even though the MetroStars' Amado Guevara scored two goals and won the MVP, the game didn't even make the cover of the sports section.
Was this disappointing? No. We members of the soccer nation acknowledge that respect from the mass media won't come easily, and it's probably not coming anytime soon. And that's fine. I understand that media coverage is generally dictated by money. ESPN spends big money for the rights to baseball and football, so it endlessly promotes those events. MLS barters for its airtime, so the MLS Game of the Week gets basically zero love or promotion.
For now, the Internet serves as the soccer nation's intranet, connecting those of us inclined enough to chase down scores or endlessly debate on bigsoccer.com.
Adu's entry into professional soccer gave the sport a momentary buzz and bump in America, but he's still only 15 years old and has scored two goals in his MLS career. "You can see that he already absolutely holds his own at this level, and I think that's incredible," Donovan noted after the game. One day he may develop into a world-class player but it's going to take time.
According to the Soccer Industry Council of America, there are more than 17 million Americans playing soccer. So many kids play that the "soccer mom" has developed into a household phrase. Soon enough, those kids may be able to read America's first cool soccer magazine. MLS has been around for almost a decade, and everyone associated with the league believes it's stronger than ever. And with nearly every immigrant that comes to the U.S., we gain another citizen that comes from a place where soccer is the most popular sport.
Again, though, it will take time. I got back from Washington around 11:00 p.m., and had a message from my mom on the phone:
"Hey, I knew you were going to the, um, soccer game today, so I tried to watch some of it. You were at the one where the guy missed the shot and then took his shirt off, right? That was wild! Anyway, talk to you later."
Actually, mom, I wasn't at that game. She'd somehow watched the Manchester United/AC Milan exhibition game at Giants Stadium, which ended with ManU goalie (and New Jersey native) Tim Howard hitting the post during an extended penalty-kick round and Milan taking the win.
Hey, at least she tried. Give her time, give ESPN time, give the papers time. Right now, that's all soccer has. And of that, at least, soccer has plenty.
"A burger-eating moron."
-- Greg Maddux, on how other baseball players probably view him.
This is another one that's started to take over my life. I'm supposed to be sitting here writing about soccer, but I can't stop trying to get to the first save point in on level five.
Reason number...well, the only reason I need not to go base jumping: You might land on your head.
Growing up in the South, I came up (and out) on Krispy Kremes, but this may be going too far.
If you're trying to get the ultimate buzz from a beverage, everyone knows that McDonald's new Ricky Williams parfait is the way to go.
(By the way, if Ricky isn't on the cover of next month's High Times magazine, I'm canceling Scorecard Daily's subscription.)
While news of Ricky's drug-masking escapades probably raised eyebrows at the NFL, perhaps they should focus their attention here, at the makers of Ricky's favorite cocktail, the Ohio-based company Spectrum Labs. Its line of drug-masking agents, Urine Luck, would make for a great T-shirt.
I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more notice: Former UNC and journeyman NBA point guard Shammond Williams has been granted citizenship in the Republic of Georgia, and he will join their national team through 2007. Who wants to bet that he thought he'd playing in the ATL?
The Cowboys are holding their training camp in Oxnard, Calif., where their star logo was adopted by a local gang 20 years ago and outlawed in the city. Wearing the logo can result in a $1,000 fine or even jail time. I'm guessing Jerry Jones personally fines every fan that shows up to watch practice.
SPORTSCENTER GOES OLD SCHOOL -- I'm actually looking forward to watching SportsCenter next Sunday night, even if Chris Berman doesn't watch it. The network goes old school for a week starting Sunday, with the first big show hosted by Dan Patrick and Craig Kilborn, who is finally resurfacing after leaving ESPN far too long ago. Let's all hope they work a Dick Trickle reference into the show.
HE GAVE THIS COLUMN HIS FULL ENDORSEMENT -- We still need another player to focus on in our weekly running item, since no one has picked up Fred McGriff off the waiver wire. I got a few suggestions last week, but I'm hoping I'll get more this week when they remember to put the mailbag link in my column. Send 'em on!