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MLS, European vet Warshaw’s memoir is an exposed nerve

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It’s a well-worn literary cliche to praise a book for taking the reader “behind the scenes” of something normally cloaked in secrecy or treated like an exclusive club.

Yet what former professional soccer player Bobby Warshaw does in “When The Dream Became Reality” cuts to the very core of such usually overblown acclaim. Warshaw taps his typing fingers into his guts to push out every bit of a soccer and human journey, beautiful and ugly, that started in Pennsylvania and headed to California, Brazil, Dallas, Norway, Sweden, and Israel.

For those who’ve watched “Rise and Shine,” the documentary of Jay DeMerit’s post-graduate decision to go from the University of Illinois at Chicago to knocking on doors of professional clubs around England, consider that. Now skip the part about Premier League glory and cover the rest of the story in brutal self-analysis and uncommon truth-telling about the risings and failings of an athlete who believes deeply in his teams (often at the probable expense of his future).

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To open up like that is a challenge around friends (or a psychiatrist). Warshaw does it for the world.

“The fact that it hasn’t ruined my life yet is a plus,” Warshaw told PST.

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It helps that Warshaw’s personality lends itself to honesty. Self-confidence gives way to self-deprecation at times, but the former U.S. U-17 midfielder’s growth from Stanford to FC Dallas to Europe and back is laced with vitriol, humor, and a willingness to meet the reader’s life head-on.

So for every entertaining story detailing a foul that led him to five lost teeth and the same number of root canals, or a knock-down drag-out fight with his MLS manager about loyalty and player selection, there’s a bared and raw player questioning whether he’s made the right move. And he goes after his own experience with a savage comb, telling stories about his competitive streak many would swerve to avoid like jagged glass in the middle of the road.

“The theme of the book is we all have taken risks in your life,” Warshaw said. “I’ve done it enough that I’m conditioned that if I’m not scared out of my mind, I’m not doing something right.”

And that’s not to say writing with such candor was easy. Warshaw admits that at least one of his editors, MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle, was sent a draft not for word work but to make sure the book wouldn’t shove his career into a wood chipper.

“I was so scared the whole time,” he admits. “Sick to my stomach on a daily basis, minor panic attacks. I’m not a religious dude, I’m not very faithful, but I had this one general idea that I feel these things and I’m scared to death to put them out there but everyone else feels them too. Trust that these are universal feelings. We all feel them and we never talk about them enough and it might do some good for the world. I had that little seed of faith in the back of my mind.”

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Personally, from a reader’s standpoint, I can tell you I went from, “I’d like to read what about that guy on Twitter’s career” to “Wow, I’m glad I read about that guy on Twitter’s career and I tore through the thing.” It’s not necessarily just for the love of soccer, but for the connections on a personal level. In some ways “When The Dream Became Reality” feels like a study in the sociology of soccer, and the way American personalities function within it. Moreover, it carries lessons for those who are passionate in whatever chosen field.

Given his willingness to speak his mind, Warshaw will likely spend a good long time in the American soccer world should he want to continue in media, coaching, or something else. For a better taste of his personality, here are his thoughts as PST quizzed him on his journey and the state of American soccer.

PST: You’ve starred in college, been a first round MLS SuperDraft pick on a roster, barnstormed onto the consciousness of Sweden’s top clubs as a surprise forward, dealt with promotion and relegation battles, and then came back to American soccer’s second-tier. What are the things you learned about players who “make it” versus those that don’t?

Bobby Warshaw: “I’ll give you three different things. One: some people are just really freaking good. We like to think it takes some passion or some drive but some people don’t work hard and just…. Fabian Castillo, right? Not a great teammate, but he was just really freaking good at soccer, and really fast. Some people are just born with something.

“Two: there are some guys who just by sheer force, and I was one of them, they work hard enough to get good. It’s repetitions. If you pass me a ball 10,000 times, I’m going to get decent enough at trapping it. They just stay after it every single day. They had no business being a professional except they just worked harder.

“The third part is having a coach who believed in you. You can make a World Best XI of guys who never saw the light of day just because they had a single coach. I think about this with Pulisic a lot. We think he’s great but there’s no chance that Christian Pulisic is the best 18-year-old to ever come out of this country. He’s just the only one who had a coach who played him at 18.”

(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

PST: So as someone who played at one of the best schools in the country, repped the U-17 national team out of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and raved about the facilities at FC Dallas, what’s your take on player development here?

BW: “The first moral decision is what is our end game? Do we care about winning a World Cup that much that we’re willing to rob 2,000 kids a year of their high school life? Wouldn’t we all want to go back and live high school and college? And here we are taking these kids out of school and sticking them in random academies. For what? What’s our end game? To win a World Cup, which we’re probably not going to do anyway? We have a really important moral decision. Do we really want to get rid of college soccer? We’re making a huge sacrifice for something I’m not sure we will get or is worth it anyway.

“The flip side is probably the best thing that every happened to American soccer and that’s the mechanization of youth development. One thing America does really well is build machine-like enterprises. The second that Brazilians and Italians got off the streets and started playing in Academies means all of a sudden this is an industry we can compete in. Maybe everyone else having the same urge is what really helps us.”

PST: We love college soccer, but also because of the potential for atmosphere that might not come from playing a U-18 game for an academy. Do you really think the future for NCAA soccer is in jeopardy?

BW: “I’m gonna steal a line from Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn. College soccer should be the best reserve league in the world. Who’s got more money to put into something than Stanford, Maryland, Indiana, and UCLA? Why don’t we harness that and make it a real league and make it like USL, where it’s an academy for everyone 18-22?”

PST: You comment in the book about waking your sixth grade teammates up from a sleepover to have an early morning training session, so work ethic clearly wasn’t an issue for you. But what was it like when you went from Stanford student to “This is my profession” at FC Dallas?

BW: “I’m not sure I ever saw it as a profession. I knew logically that it was a profession and things happen that say it was clearly a business. For me personally it was never a profession which I think is why I always struggled so much with it. The people that accepted it was a business, I think fared much better and survived much longer. The second you get out of thinking this is living the dream, or having some wonderful passion, is what helps people survive a lot longer.

“I don’t think I made that many logical decisions about it. I’m probably going to dislike myself one way or the other, and I know I’ll dislike myself more the other way. I wish I could say I had some super logical way I thought about it, but you do what you think is right. It didn’t always work out that way, but I made the decision and went for it.”

PST: At what point did you think about those decisions making for a good book?

BW: “You read about my ex-girlfriend in the book. We’re sitting in DC last February at Politics and Prose, and I’m grabbing a book and Sarah’s there and I’m like, ‘This would be so cool to have a book.’ Then I came back from Israel and my dad made the comment, ‘Why don’t you take five months and travel the world and make this book?’ Fast forward to April, I’m in Harrisburg, practice is over at 1 o’clock, I opened my notebook in a coffee shop and I just started doing it. All of the sudden I had 10 chapters. Those were the 1, 2, 3 steps that really got the ball rolling.”

“I didn’t mean to write a real book. It was a collection of essays, the Israel story, the Brazil story, these funny things, and then the relationship chapter, the sexuality chapter, and a chapter on racism that got cut. Just basically these things I don’t feel professional players talk about honestly enough.

“Like I’m leaving professional soccer now and this is everything I have in my soul, here you go.

And then all of the sudden George Quraishi at Howler said I think we can do more, write a real story of journey and exploration and human growth and character. I said I didn’t think I have that in me but I’ll try. It grew, which was really scary because at first this book wasn’t me.”

PST: And putting it out yourself?

BW: “I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I was tired of working with managers, agents, and bosses. What can they do that I can’t? It would be nice to be in a Barnes and Noble but I didn’t write it to make money. I wrote it to tell a story. I always thought it would be cool to have a small business. Hopefully you got the theme from the book is that I’m a guy who says just go for it.”

Learn more about his book here.

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

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According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

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The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

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The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.