I had had a reputation for poking fun at soccer. You know the standard American criticisms: "How can it be a sport if you can't use your hands?" "It's just poor man's football." "An insurmountable lead of 1-0." You've heard them all, I'm sure.
In the late 1960s, I had was exposed to soccer by attending Boston Beacons matches at Fenway Park. We were poor, the projects were near the park, the tickets were free. It was a good Summer night out. Somewhere there is a picture of me in a Boston Beacons t-shirt and I want to find it!
Well, I became an Arsenal supporter while living in London and when I returned to New York I had to scramble to find broadcasts and web subscriptions and magazines. But, eventually I was all set-up with my regular fix of English footy.
It wasn't enough! I Googled "professional soccer usa" and found MLSnet.com, which led me to my local Major League Soccer team: The MetroStars. I called the front office and purchased two season tickets. Thus began my love affair with American soccer.
The MetroStars were perfect for me. They have never won the championship, they climb to the top of the table, then slip out of contention at the last possible moment, and then are eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. What more could I ask for in a home team?!?!? Have you seen or read nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch"?
One of the fringe benefits of being a MetroMember, as season-ticket holders are called, is pre-sale access to tickets for all international matches held at Giants Stadium. I have had front row seats to watch Mexico, Peru, Manchester United, Juventus, and AC Milan; and I've had fantastic seats to see many others. It's a great fringe benefit! (Soon I will write about this year's free bonus match that will make me the envy of most of my footy fanatic mates.)
Back to my Metros! We had a spectacular goalkeeper, Tim Howard. He was the best in the league. Phenomenal. He was nearly unbeatable. He was a joy to watch. He was public about living with Tourette's Syndrome, which made him even more amazing, admirable and adorable. He was an athlete extrodinaire and a true professional. He made amazing saves and played agressively.
He was part of an infamous double-switch when Metros coach Bob Bradley used a litte-known and now-defunct MLS rule that allowed a team to make three regular substitutions PLUS one goalkeeper substitution. After all three player subsitutions had been made, the game was still even. Bradley had Howard take a defenders position, putting the defender in goal. Then a player who usually plays as a forward was subsituted as goalkeeper and a few minutes later Howard returned to goal and the new player took up his position at forward! It was extremely unorthodox, but not illegal, and the Metros won the game minutes later!
Howard always played so well that he caught the eye of some European clubs, including the richest, most famous sports club in the world: the hated Manchester United (referred to forthwith as ManUre), of the English Premier League.
I hate ManUre! I lived in London, so why would I ever support a team from Manchester? That's like living in New York and supporting a team from Pittsburgh! Nonsense! Tim Howard was invited to tryout for ManUre and that is a dream come true for any soccer player, but moreso for an American soccer player.
Without hesitation, ManUre made an offer, and my star goalkeeper was off to play for the team I hate most. I was angry, I sad for the MetroStars, but I was and still am thrilled for Howard. He has become quite famous around the world and though his success with ManUre has been mixed, he is still considered a top-flight international goalkeeper. Not bad for a guy from New Jersey!
I miss Timmy, but I wish him all the success in the world and I look forward to him being sold by ManUre to a club more deserving of his talents.
Howard is so famous that he was the subject of a 60 Minutes report back in January titled "Shutting Out Tourette's Syndrome" and he is now the international face of the battle against the condition.
See the 60 Minutes report here.
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by Nick Hornby