Despite the deep nipple-freeze cold and New York subway system being up to its old holiday tricks, I made it to Red Bull Arena on time (the wife would be so proud) for yesterday’s Major League Soccer Media Day.
I hadn’t been to previous Media Days so all I knew was what MLS Communications Coordinator, Susan Marschall, had emailed — that the journalists roundtable interviews would take place in a 4th floor suite and that for 15 mins apiece, the following players would swing by to chat: Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Diego Fagundez, Tim Cahill, Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Mike Magee, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Thierry Henry.
Suffice to say, I was supremely stoked about the gig.
Upon walking into the suite I immediately recognized a good deal of the journalists — Ives Galarcep, Graham Parker, Brian Strauss, Kyle McCarthy, Leander Schaerlaeckens, among others.
Around 10am the players started coming in. With my I-Phone ‘Voice Notes’ down for the count, I typed furiously during most of their chats. On others, I took a break and just listened.
My top impression from listening to this group is that they all come off as being extremely well educated. As an American, this trait swells me with pride. Look, we’re (probably) not going to win the World Cup. But based on our intelligence alone, beautiful things can happen in Brazil (as they have in many a past WC).
It’s also worth noting that the players are all genuinely pumped at the direction MLS is heading — Miami, Orlando City, everything that went down in Toronto this past offseason — they’re really juiced about it. How the heck could you not be? The league is so blatantly on the up and everyone knows it.
In general, I found the players to be a bunch of classy dudes. Well-spoken. Funny. Respectful. Dudes.
Below are some more specific takeaways from each of the 14 players who attended the roundtable:
Michael Bradley: Bradley has spent the last eight years playing in four of the top leagues in Europe and now, The General is set to unleash havoc on MLS.
Landon Donovan: Hugely impressed by Donovan’s general good nature and mastery of the Spanish language but was disappointed that I couldn’t ask whether he would retire from the Stars & Strips after Brazil was out the door (national team questions were deemed ‘off-limits’).
Diego Fagundez: Love this kid, who told me he’s gonna nutmeg Cristiano Ronaldo when they meet on the pitch — dude has ‘USMNT’ written all over him!!!
Tim Cahill: I’m convinced Cahill (one of my Everton heroes) will be one of two things when he retires — an Army general or a top, top soccer manager.
Clarence Goodson: Dude is tall, skinny and managed to stump the entire room when he asked what Maryland Terrapins were drafted into MLS they year he graduated college.
Brad Evans: Despite the hideous camo pants, Evans’ stock to be the starting US right-back in Brazil sky-rocketed in my book for one reason that rarely gets mention — dude has big time leadership skills.
Omar Gonzalez: Another incredibly sharp thinker, I look forward to the day when Gonzalez doesn’t merely “think” he can be the leader at center-back but knows it, demands it and will tear up anyone who comes near it.
Matt Besler: Under-rated in every possible way Besler has huge breakout potential in Brazil, topping my list as the US player most likely to be in-demand by European clubs come July.
Mike Magee: In not-so-many words Magee admitted that his explosion in 2013 was largely due to finally getting out of the shadow of players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
Eddie Johnson: Noting what a “blessing and an honor” it is “to be a part of a team that’s had so much history,” it’s hard not to root for Johnson to succeed at DC United.
Graham Zusi: Appropriately described by someone inside the suite as ‘the guy you want your sister to marry,’ Zusi comes off as one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet.
Maurice Edu: After candidly describing his plight at Stoke City — let’s just say the man was done wrong by Mark Hughes, among others — Edu earned a soft spot in my heart and is a guy I’m gunning for to make the roster in Brazil.
Kyle Beckerman: The former Miami Fusion player couldn’t hide that he was “really excited” for David Beckham’s new franchise, noting “I don’t know if the guy has made a bad move in his life.”
Thierry Henry: Henry gets a good deal of schtick for his temperament but I came away from my first time meeting the French legend with nothing but good things to say – upon entering the room he shook every journalist’s hand, pulled his chair in close and gave a Wengerian-esque take on everything from MLS to US Soccer to Arsenal.