Van Nistelrooy surprises N.C. amateur women's teamPosted: Wednesday July 30, 2003 6:22 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The two men pulled up to the indoor soccer center in Asheville, N.C., in the early evening, looking to stretch out and play.
Manager Bob Somerville was about to close up for the night.
"I was kind of annoyed, to tell you the truth," he said.
Little did he know that one of the men was a world famous soccer player, Manchester United star Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the top scorer in England's Premier League.
The men had just finished a long drive on a rainy day, so Somerville couldn't say no. Still, when they started to play, Somerville got angrier.
"The first ball he hit hit the lights, and I yelled at him," he said. "I thought, 'This guy stinks.'"
Van Nistelrooy is among the most acclaimed athletes in Europe, the idol of boys and girls dreaming of soccer stardom. Fans stand in line for hours just to meet him, and teams have paid millions to have him on their fields.
But now, he was just an anonymous guy. By the end of the night, he was in a seven-on-seven pickup game with an amateur women's team. To Americans, it's sort of like Alex Rodriguez walking onto a field in rural Japan and talking his way into a sandlot matchup.
"He was very coy. He wouldn't tell us who he was," Somerville said Tuesday. "He'd bring the ball out of the air in a magnificent way, and he'd say, 'Who could do that other than Ruud?'"
Somerville wasn't convinced it really was the star until he called the local Holiday Inn and found out that a "Van Nistelrooy" was registered.
Somerville also is public relations director of the Asheville Splash, a women's club in the Atlantic Division of the amateur W-League. The Splash were practicing nearby, and Somerville called coach Trei Morrison to get the team to come over to the SunCom Indoor Soccer Center.
"It was pretty much unanimous that we wanted to meet him," said Missy Verdoliva, a Splash player from Oswego, N.Y. "We all hopped in our cars with our gear still on."
And when they got there on June 17, they saw it really was Van Nistelrooy, who won England's Golden Boot award last year by scoring 25 goals in the Premier League and 44 overall, giving him 80 goals in 94 games during two seasons with Manchester United.
He was on vacation with Arnold Bruggink, a former teammate on PSV Eindhoven, driving to North Carolina from Charlottesville, Va., on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.
"At first, he was signing autographs and taking pictures," Verdoliva said. "He was very friendly and personable."
Then one of the Splash had an idea.
"They asked me if I wanted to play with them," Van Nistelrooy recalled Tuesday, back in the United States as part of his team's preseason tour, which continues Thursday against Italian champion Juventus at Giants Stadium. "I said, 'No problem.'"
And so he found himself in a game with the Splash players.
"The level was very good. It was great fun," Van Nistelrooy said.
The women had the time of their soccer lives.
"We were all in awe," said Verdoliva, a 5-foot-2 midfielder who also has played for Oswego State and the W-League's Rochester Ravens. "I think I assisted on one of his goals. It was phenomenal."