- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"It was basically a boredom thing," says Tabatznik, now the national team administrator, trying to explain the lapse in form. "Our kids, suburban kids, have so much more to do at home than some of the lads they're playing. They get homesick fast. Their attention span is limited." Todd was no exception. During the two weeks in Trinidad, Tabatznik recalls, "he wanted to go out and eat, rap with the girls. Hell, you can understand it. He was 16. He has a car of his own at home. And there he was in a guest house, sharing a room with three other kids and having nothing to do."
Tabatznik and his colleagues solved the problem the American way. The team moved into more comfortable quarters at the Hilton in Port of Spain, where the boys enjoyed a big Thanksgiving dinner. They went on to beat Cuba 1-0, then two days later took Trinidad in the return game, 1-0. The trip to Scotland became a reality.
The Trinidad tournament confirmed that U.S teenagers can now excel against international soccer competition. But that lapse in morale was worrisome. It reflected the large differences in background between American team members and many of their counterparts. The Dutch pick up their best young soccer players kicking cans around the Rotterdam waterfront. Brazil breeds hers in the tin-roofed favelas of S�o Paulo. But in the U.S. they emerge in $80 training shoes from $250,000 houses with boats in the backyards—from places like Todd's hometown of Columbia, roughly halfway along Interstate 95 on the Baltimore- Washington, D.C., corridor. In 1986 the median household income in Columbia was $43,684, among the nation's highest.
And if wearing the orange of Holland or the banana yellow of Brazil is the dream of soccer-playing kids in those nations, it is club, not country, that carries the greater weight for Americans. On this wet Memorial Day weekend, for instance, with a vital international test impending, it is surprising to see Todd playing his heart out against the Toms River ( N.J.) Knights on a lumpy, limb-threatening field.
The chance of an injury doesn't seem to have occurred to him, though. "This means a lot to me," Todd says after Howard Courage wins 3-1, and the point about risking injury is put to him. "This is my home ground!" The pride is in many ways justified. Here, arguably, is the heartland of U.S. soccer. Three members of the national team heading to Scotland are from Howard County. Six, in all, come from suburban Maryland and Virginia.
Yet Todd has more on his mind than local pride. Ask him, casually, what players in the world he admires, and he answers immediately, positively, " John Barnes!"—the fine leftwinger from Jamaica who plays for Liverpool and England, one of the few blacks who have made it to the top rank of European soccer. And that's a clue to a different sort of pride. Soccer in the U.S. is commonly regarded as a white sport. But Todd is one of three black players on the national team, along with Brian Bates from Virginia and Richard Wisdom from Long Island. Haskins and Bates are the backbone of the U.S. defense.
Todd, you quickly learn, takes a sly pleasure in being black and affluent and living in Columbia with a mother who's an educator, and a father, Gus, who works for the National Labor Relations Board in D.C. "If you let him," Tabatznik warned earlier, "he'll try to kid you with a lot of 'Yo, man' and all that inner-city stuff."
In fact, Todd doesn't. He speaks thoughtfully and is a good student at Howard High. His bedroom is not unlike that of any other middle-class American teenager, except that the pennants on the wall do not celebrate the Hoyas or the Redskins, but the Glasgow Rangers of Scotland and Bayern Munich of West Germany. He talks with some seriousness about how much it moved him to see the national pride displayed by teams from other countries at a tournament in Israel in December. The U.S. team did well there against strong European competition, taking fourth place overall, but Todd thought there was something lacking. "We needed more pride," he says. "Pride in our country. Like, if the Poles or the Irish lose, they go home as failures. Everybody knows. If we lose, no big deal. We go home. Who cares?"
His brow furrows. "In Israel," he says, "we were all invited to this big party on New Year's Eve. All the other countries' teams were there. The players had their arms around one another, they were singing their team songs. We just sat there. We didn't have a song."
Todd points out that they have a song now, an adaptation of a standard team song in Europe—featuring the refrain "We shall not be moved"—and they have confidence from their international success. "We've come together," he says. "We've got a real good chance in Scotland."