I love the game of soccer. Played a lot of it as a kid (not well), have coached a lot of it as an adult. And, for a pretty long spell at ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com (from 1998 through the 2006 World Cup in Germany) wrote quite a bit about it.
Shortly after Germany, however, something changed. First of all, my brother Bob (older by six years, believe it or not, and known to his family as "Rob") became coach of the U.S. national team. While I never felt real conflicts covering American soccer while Bob was coaching in Major League Soccer -- the Chicago Fire, the MetroStars and Chivas USA -- when he became coach of the national team, I just felt there was no way I could cover the American game without sticking my nose in places where there'd be a clear conflict of interest. That only got more complicated when Bob's son Michael earned a spot on the team and became every American soccer fan's favorite debate-starter (that's a nice way of putting it).
Now, I've been fairly ripped in e-mails through the years for "favoring" Bob's teams in MLS. I always found it comical because I really went out of my way to not write anything about the Fire, MetroStars and Chivas USA. And when I did, I usually couched it, saying, "of course, when it comes to this team, I'm not 100-percent unbiased." Look, I root for Bob's teams. He's my brother and it's more important for me to be a good brother than a tough reporter. Plus, it's not like I've earned my living for the past 20 years as a soccer writer. I was at Sports Illustrated and covering the Yankees for the Daily News -- that ain't the bush leagues -- while Bob was plying his trade at Princeton.
Covering socccer was just something I enjoyed. Especially when it meant getting to travel to Milan to interiew Ronaldo in 1998. Getting to go to Liverpool for a story on 18-year old Michael Owen after the '98 World Cup. Writing about Manchester United's historic treble in 1999, covering the U.S. in their lead-up to the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea (a World Cup I did not cover in person, by the way, because of baseball commitments). Writing about Landon Donovan and soccer in Brazil before the 2006 World Cup. And of course, getting to work in Germany, blogging daily and writing for The Mag, while stationed in Hamburg with the U.S.
Would I enjoy going back to covering American soccer on a regular basis? Sure, but knowing how hard my brother and nephew have worked to get where they've gotten, and knowing there's no way in hell I could watch them coach and play without 100-percent of my emotion tied up in it, I'm not sure how I can pull that one off. On Wednesday night in Columbus, in what was probably the biggest game of Bob and Michael's respective careers (until the next qualifier at least), I spent the night in the fetal position (exaggeration), with my face buried in a pillow (not so much an exaggeration) while chugging Maalox every 15 minutes. When the game was over, I allowed myself a few happy phone calls, a little on-line time to see who among my friends had messaged or emailed me, and then I started thinking like a damned coach. Next game...
Still, for what it's worth and to whomever may care, I'm contemplating a return in some form soon to covering American soccer...we shall see where that notion leads me.