Dooley traverses a field in the same sure and graceful way that he crosses cultural boundaries. He is 6'1" and 168 pounds, narrow-hipped and high-waisted, his long stride swallowing up turf in huge gulps. His game face never changes: From the first minute to the 90th, whether dashing headlong to the opposing goalmouth or executing a precision scissor tackle after a 10-yard sprint, his aspect remains serene, almost beatific.
"He sometimes seems to me like an angel on the field," says former U.S. defender Desmond Armstrong. "But Thomas has a mean streak, too. He knows how to clip somebody, how to push off when he leaps, how to get to the end of the ball."
During the U.S.'s respectable showing in the 1993 U.S. Cup, Dooley banged in three goals, one in a 2-0 shocker over England and a pair in a 4-3 loss to Germany. He finished off the '93 season with Kaiserslautern and then signed a contract last June to play full-time for his father's land so that he might lead the U.S. into the World Cup. The German magazine Kicker proclaimed, HOLLYWOOD: TOM DOOLEY UND SEIN AMERIKANISCHER TRAUM (...and his American dream).
So far, Dooley has relished his time in the U.S. After practices on the road, Dooley will grab one of the team's cars and disappear until dinnertime, absorbed by sights he has long imagined. " America is so big," he says. "It takes more than one lifetime to see." Says U.S. defender-midfielder Paul Caligiuri, "Everything with him is like a 33-year-old boy seeing Disneyland for the first time."
In his hotel room before games Dooley will put on a dark visor that has red lights blinking in front of his eyeballs, drop in a CD and listen to birds twitter and waves crash and a soft voice tell him, "You are free, you are confident, enjoy the feeling you have right now." Snapshots he has taken of Corvettes are taped to the inside of his locker, high-performance images to dream on before he heads out to practice.
And though Dooley has deserted the cutthroat competition in Germany, it is the professional approach he learned there over the course of a decade that is so valuable to the U.S. Many of his teammates in Mission Viejo—average age: 26.2—study everything about him, from how he laces his shoes to his prescient first touch on the field. Dooley is their imprimatur of international credibility, the staunch veteran who forsook the Bundesliga to train with them.
But the U.S. team has struggled in 1994, losing to lowly Iceland while tuning up for the World Cup. The defense has been prone to egregious breakdowns, and U.S. goals have been sighted about as often as homicidal bees. But by the U.S.'s June 18 opener against Switzerland in Detroit, a half dozen Americans who play professionally abroad will have joined the Mission Viejo crew, providing the U.S. with an ample pool of potential scorers. So Milutinovic is now pondering what to do with the multifaceted Dooley: Deploy him in the midfield, where he could patrol more territory and bolster the offense with his well-timed runs, or use him at sweeper, where he could serve as the last line of defense while kick-starting the attack with his pinpoint long passes?
Dooley prefers to line up at sweeper—"It is a nice game to play," he says—but he is happy to do whatever it takes to advance the cause of soccer in the U.S. This is where he will settle, play and coach when the Cup is over, and he wants to make sure his first touch with the American public is a positive one. He has visions of the U.S.'s advancing from the initial 24 teams to the second round of 16. "In soccer everything is possible," Dooley says. "We have to believe this. No, not just believe. Know it is true."