Saturday, December 03, 2011

Man without a country

One of the most enduring memories I will ever have of professional soccer is the "Sunflower Goal"Timbers midfielder Ryan Pore scored the only goal in the final home match in the minor league/lower division history of the club, a lovely 83rd-minute header that brought down the the curtain on the old club and the old pitch in a haze of smoke and sunflowers.Pore was well-liked here, and was one of the first five players signed by the MLS Timbers for the past season. A friend of mine met him at the new Timbers' kit release back in December 2011; she said he was ecstatic about his future and excited about the coming season and his return to the top flight.And then it all went wrong.

Pore never found his feet with the MLS club. His game has always depended on timing, speed, and craft. And he found that the MLS defenders were big enough to horse him out of his timing but were just as quick. And he was never crafty enough.

In his eight matches with the Timbers he was clearly over his head. He never scored. He never really ever threatened to score. And for a player whose game was about scoring, well...

So after a spell in the reserves he was loaned to the Montreal club, playing for the bulk of the 2011 season back in the same second-division league he'd just left. He seems to have done well when he played, scoring seven goals in eleven matches.But not well enough.

When the Timbers announced their signings for 2012 Pore was not on the roster. His option year was declined. And then Montreal declined as well.

In less than a year Ryan Pore went from top league starter happy and excited about his future to reserve team player to out on loan to a minor league club to unemployed.

In the Lesser Depression unemployment is no surprise. And certainly Pore has had more glory and made more money than many other Americans collecting unemployment today. And he is still eligible for the re-entry draft and another club might yet pick him up.But when you hear me say that soccer is a cruel game, or when I reflect about how it speaks to our lives outside the touchlines, in this way it is no different than sport writ small. Sports, like soldiering, is a country for young men, and women. They risk their bodies in hopes of a rich return, and because of the way we value that risk - regardless of the actual worth of the act, or the goods and evils of that valuation - when they succeed they are richly rewarded.

But the side we don't like to talk or think about is the dark side, the penalty for failure, the stark reality of a 28-year-old man without a job, without a club or country to trade his skills for pay. He and his wife have no promise of tomorrow or safety today.

Somewhere the smoke and the singing of the Sunflower Goal will always be loud and fresh, and the sudden eruption of the last-minute victory in the last match of the last year of the promotion season will be ever green. And in that land I will always remember Julie's account of Pore's happiness with happiness of my own, and his success on the playing field with friendly fondness.But I'll bet that Ryan and Ashley Pore don't feel that way tonight.


Don Francisco said...

It's a very cruel game. I'm not sure if it is worse that he has been dumped by his team at the age of 28 than the majority who don't even get out the team reserves, their sreams shattered as they barely scrape into their 20's.

My in-laws are particularl football mad - father in law almost played for Leeds Utd, his brother did play for Blackburn Rovers. My brother in law was part of the Bradford City youth squad (City were then in the Premier League). It was the early 00's, and like almost all other clubs City decided to dump their entire youth development team & players so to give them more money to buy in players.

So my brother in law found himself suddenly without a club, not fromany fault of his own. He tried to get into another club but he was competing with hundreds, thousands of other lads the same age, in the same circumstances. And for many aspiring players, football is pretty much the only thing they are interested in, and now they are having to find day jobs. No different from the rest of us who aren't blessed with the talent to kick a ball, but after a number of years of hard work, promises and dreams, it's still a tough lesson.

FDChief said...

DF: I'm not sure what would be worse; to get real life hammered into your forehead quickly, like your brother-in-law, or, like my guy Pore, to come oh-so-close and THEN get the bad news.

What makes this story sort of Greek-tragedy to me is that I sort of saw this coming. For the past two seasons this guy's had the same tale; he usually scored a ton in the early going and then the goals got harder and harder to find as other sides sussed out his game. By the end of the season he was scoring most of his goals on PKs (he was the team's dedicated penalty-taker and did well as such).

Plus he's on the smallish side and not really adept with the ball. He's no Inesta or Messi, he's a winger with a nice first step and a nose for the ball, but that's all. I had a bad feeling when he was signed that he would find life on the other side of the big First Division backs not nearly as fun as he might have hoped, and he did.

And I have to confess; my dream as an adult was to play 'keeper...not professionally, but at a higher level than I did. But age, and my bad legs, taught me the same lesson that Bradford City taught your relative and Portland/Montreal brought Ryan Pore.

And uyou're right - for all of us, it's never an easy lesson.

FDChief said...

Upon further review...

I think Pore gets the worse deal.

I think I'd rather get it over with when I was still a broth of a boy, still single, able to go get blind drunk, cuss, weep, and then get on with learning a trade.

Here's a man entering into middle age who has been sustained since his youth with hopes, often bolstered by the success of playing in the top flight, of having a long career in professional sport...and past the age and station in life where changing direction is fairly straightforward logistically, if hard to take emotionally.

And now - if nobody picks him up tomorrow - he's looking at trying to figure out how he and his wife are going to make a living.

That's harsh.

I love the game, I love watching these young men - and women - play out the drama on the pitch, writing these wonderful stories with their bodies. But every so often I'm reminded that sport, like war, is recklessly wasteful of those young bodies and young lives, and that for every veteran that retires covered with glory and wealth there are hundreds, probably thousands, that are left with a handful of muscle aches and the memories of what might have been.

And when that might-have-been was so, oh-so-close?


Don Francisco said...

I think you are probably right that Pore has the raw deal. My brother in law took a number of years after football to find himself in a job he liked, but at least he is set now, and before he got married/had kids.

Maybe it's the way the Scottish and English leagues have gone, but I must admit the romance for me has dimmed a wee bit.

You fancied being a keeper too - funny coincidence! I used to play in goals right through school though I wasn't that good at it really, a couple of incidents made me lose some of my nerve. One involved a mild concussion when I saved a penalty but took the ball full in the face on the rebound.

Lisa said...

You would be a splendid sportswriter (IMHO, that is where some of our best newspaper writing can be found, due to the passionate and informed stance of a good writer.)

Anonymous said...

Could be worse. Could be a(n American-style) football success with a concussion-scrambled brain.

Agree with you Lisa on Sports Writers. Usually, I find them to be very literate and adept at finding metaphor, simile, and allegory.


FDChief said...

DF: There must be something wrong with me but the more I got hammered the more aggro I got. Took a boot right in the face once - had the ball in my hands, on the ground, and their striker ran up and booted it. Rebroke my nose, blood all over hell. Then they had the balls to start shouting that I should be off the pitch because of the bleeding!

I ran off, shoved two huge twists of paper into my nostrils, returned to play and proceeded to stuff them for the last 30 minutes. We held them to a draw - they were really an upper-division recreation league team that was sandbagging down in our level to win matches - and they were effing furious. I was as proud as if I'd kept a clean sheet.

Broke my pinky (four screws), jammed numerous fingers, all sorts of knee and leg injuries. I loved it, still do. I'd be playing in the over-50's league if my legs hadn't gone completely out from under me; I can barely shuffle from one side of the 6-yard box to the other now.

Oh - and my poor guy didn't get picked up. His top-flight days are done, then, unless he gets freakishly lucky and some MLS team comes looking for midfield help later in the season.

So I'll bet he's wishing now that he'd have kept up his plumbing license...

FDChief said...

Lisa: Ta :)

Basil: Good point. Though in our football the selection process is usually done in the big colleges. By the time guys are drafted into the professionals they pretty much know that they'll play somewhere.

But the thing with "gridiron" as our British cousins call it is the different level of physical danger. A career-ending injury is ALWAYS one play away for those guys. The monstrous size of the NFL players, the speed of the game, and the ferocious collisions make for a truly lethal combination.

I honestly don't know if I would have the guts to play NFL football, concussions and everything else...yike!

Anonymous said...

Some places your unemployed footballer could go besides plumbing, and if he still loved his brand of sport, private coaching, recreation depts. of states or communities, public or private education. Soccer is growing, at least around where I am.

But then again, plumbing's a good business.


Don Francisco said...

That's a pretty gruesome injury list! I had a few staved fingers but nothing worse than the concussion. I remember being unable to stop crying for something like 6 hours! And they wonder why I didn't make the first 11.

FDChief said...

basil: I suspect he might just try that. Dunno if he has the skills for coaching, tho - a lot of strikers aren't really good "students of the game". But looks like he might have to start working on the coaching vita.

DF: That was the one injury I avoided, and I'm glad I did; nasty business.

Mind you, I was mad in other ways and my team knew better than to trust me unsupervised. Someone always took my goal kicks for me to ensure they flew off the right direction and not just where I thought they'd look nicer...

Lisa said...

That is a very painful scene you recount, Chief. My father was a hockey goalie before the new masks, and had his nose broken thrice.

Times like those convince me I could not possibly be a male -- I do not have that killer instinct :(

FDChief said...

Lisa: You do have the "killer instinct" that matters - and your writing suggests you understand quite well how to use it to attack or defend to secure what you believe is right - but like a sensible woman you choose not to risk your health and beauty getting hammered by knuckleheads over some silly game.

I find that those of us with a Y chromosome are often less sensible.

Lisa said...

That's very kind of you to say.

I love men all the more for their audacity.