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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.”

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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.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

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The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

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It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE