The Real Me
Las Vegas Lights FC
“Dad, you finally get to be the real you.”
That’s my daughter. She’s 19 and says she wants to work in medicine. She’s interested in child oncology. She was also a heck of a player, and had chances to go play collegiately, but decided to pursue her other more pressing passion: helping people.
I said, “What do you mean honey?”
She paused. And then very articulately, in a way that makes a dad proud, said “Let’s be honest, you want to be a coach. This is where your heart is. This is what you’ve always wanted to do, dad.”
I thought that was pretty cool. A wonderful thing for a daughter to say.
And she’s right.
For a long time, I’ve tried to force the coaching aspect of my life. I tried to make it fit in with everything else I had going on, but it never really became my life. Does that make sense?
You see I had these great jobs with Fox and ESPN that brought with them front row seats to some of the greatest soccer events on the planet. World Cups, Women’s World Cups, Champions League, Bundesliga classics… I got to see all of them. It was amazing. But at the end of the day, I realized that just wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
I want to be a coach. But to do it, I have to give it everything.
It took me a long time to realize that… to realize where my heart truly is.
I want to tell you a quick story.
I’ve told this story before, but it’s something I remember so vividly. It’s played a big role in my life.
In 1993, I was the first American player to play in the German Bundesliga. It was Tag Team and Jurassic Park, and I was young and brash, and scoring goals for fun. I think I got five in the first six games.
Anyways, early that season I missed a chance near the end of a game. It ended in a draw, but it felt a lot more like two points lost than a point earned.
In the locker room after the game, I was taking off my cleats and noticed a small hole in my right sock. I turned to my teammate next to me and made a joke about the hole being the reason I had missed the chance.
Whap! Blood everywhere.
A veteran teammate of mine – I’ll leave his name out of it – had apparently heard the joke and had thrown his shoe at me from across the room. The stud caught me above the eye. Ended up needing five stitches.
I screamed at him, “What the hell did you do that for?!”
He didn’t flinch and looked at me dead in the eye.
“It’s not funny when you miss!”
He kept going in…
“Look around the room, Eric! We all lost money today because of you. Do you think that’s funny?
“Not anymore,” I said.
I went to the athletic trainer to get stitched up. While he was working on my eye, the trainer told me -- very sternly, as I recall -- that I needed to go apologize.
“Me?! Why the hell should I apologize to him? He’s the one who threw a shoe at me!”
The trainer just said, “Because he’s right, Eric. It’s not funny. And when you apologize, make sure you look him in the eye. Whatever you do, don’t break eye contact.”
So, I got my stitches and ran out to the bus where my teammate was about to get on, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Look, I’m really sorry, I know it's not funny and….”
Something briefly caught my eye and I looked away. But I remembered what the trainer said and quickly re-connected.
“… and I want you to know it’s not going to happen again.”
My teammate put his arm around me, smiled, and said, “I accept your apology, but next time you have to keep eye contact, okay? Don’t look away.”
This may seem like a small thing to you. A forgettable moment in a long career. But for me, as a young player, that day taught me a lot about what it means to be a pro. It was humbling.
Because here’s the truth: If you want to make it to the highest level, there’s no “Hey nice try, you’ll get ‘em next time.” There’s just success, and failure, and accountability.
I tell my guys all the time, being a professional soccer player is the greatest job in the world, so don’t cheat yourself out of it. I say that because even in looking at my own experiences, and my own career, it all looks great on paper, and don't get me wrong, there were some really amazing moments – but if I’m being honest with you, I think I had more downs than I had ups.
There’s a lot of that stuff that I look back on now and hold myself accountable for. Times where I could have been a better pro, or I could have worked harder. There’s a lot of things that I could’ve done better. And now as a coach, I want to try and be a positive influence on some of the players who still have their whole careers ahead of them. It’s not that I know what they’re going through, I don’t it want to sound like that. Because the times have changed since I was getting shoes thrown at me in German locker rooms. But I do know that I can help. And not just to be better soccer players, but better men. I can help them be who they want to be. People who are comfortable in their own skin, with a solid sense of self and unafraid to express themselves.
Soccer can teach you those things. It’s why I love this game so much. I love it. I really do.
And I want to give back to it.
I also want to give back to this city.
People think they know Las Vegas, right? But they don’t. There’s so much about it that people don’t understand.
People think Vegas is the strip and the casinos and gambling and the nightlife, but this city has been my home for a long time. And let me tell you something… I’m not here to gamble. I’m here for the friendly neighborhoods, and good schools, and the diversity, and community barbeques, and the dear friends.
People who live here, those who truly know this city, they don’t play on the strip… they play in the parks.
And that’s why I’m so happy about this opportunity. Because to be the head coach of the Las Vegas Lights feels like a homecoming. It feels like something special.
A chance, like my daughter said, to be the real me.
To do what I love.
See you soon.