The Cheap Seats: Riding the sub way
for their lives, really. I mean, I wasn't fast when I was 25. Today, after spending the last seven years typing on computers and learning how to drink whiskey, I'm slower than Jim Curtin.
But there I was, warming up with the Revs' reserves, trying to decipher assistant coach Paul Mariner's accent. I thanked my lucky stars it wasn't Steve Nicol barking out the orders -- I don't speak Scottish.
The only reason I was there at all was because the Revs were down quite a few players through injury and international duty. And, let's face it, it's better for the Revs to bring in an ex-pro like me than some unknown schmo from Springfield whose youth coach swears he's "the real deal." At least the coaches know I can make a 10-yard pass to my own team.
Well, usually I can. My first touch in the warmup keep-away was straight to the other side. Not a good start to the day. Not the best way to ingratiate myself with the whippersnappers like Jamie Holmes and Luke Vercollone who have no clue that I actually played in MLS at one time.
Fortunately, Joe Franchino was there to make me feel welcome -- by pinging a ball at me from about six yards away. "Welcome back, you old coot," his pass seemed to say.
So, much to the relief of all the players, I started on the bench. Just like the old days. Ah, at least I was there.
What a great day to be on a soccer field! The sun was shining, the sky was blue. Despite the heat and humidity, the players on both sides were buzzing all over the place. That was the first slap of reality: The game was a lot faster than I remember it being. These guys were quick, strong, devoted. They pushed and shoved and jostled for every little scrap. They screamed at the refs, growled at their opponents, and urged on their teammates. The ball moved like pinball, and the tackles were hard and accompanied by demolition-derby noises.
From the sidelines, it was great to watch. And a little intimidating for a 32-year-old who would like to keep his ankles -- and ego -- intact.
Back when I first joined the league, players 12-20 on each squad were a ragtag bunch of dreamers who didn't really bring much to the table. Skill seemed optional. Talent was rare. We were mainly stop-gap measures, tough worker ants that the coaches would use exclusively in emergencies.
But that's all changed. Now, players 12-20, most of them 20-year-old go-getters, are legitimate players and they're getting legitimate competition on a regular basis with this reserve division. Heck, Rip Van Preki played the second half for K.C. on Sunday -- and he's no one's reserve.
Don't get me wrong, the reserve division has its problems. Kinks, really, such as player eligibility issues and spotty scheduling. But this is its first year, and those will be worked out. Once they are, this reserve division should do as much to improve the level of MLS as MLS has done to improve the level of the U.S. national team.
On the day, the Revs dominated the game from the opening whistle. We -- oh, yeah, it's "we" when we're about to score -- took the lead in the 10th minute on a volley from Connolly Edozien. Felix Brillant made it 2-0 in the 37th minute on a brilliant (ha!) give-and-go with Bojan Zoric, who finally finished a chance of his own in the 57th minute.
Finally, in the 70th minute with a 3-0 lead, coaches Nicol and Mariner decided it was safe to throw "the old coot" in.
Eleven minutes after I took my place in the center of the defense, we scored again. Or, more correctly, Edozien scored again, but I like to think I had a hand in this very important goal. After all, I did yell "Shoot!" just as Edozien was collecting the ball in the box with no one around him. I'm pretty sure there was some telekinesis going on there.
Alas, I did have a hand in a goal before it was all said and done. In the 90th minute the 'Zards' Martin Hutton -- their third-string 'keeper, for heaven's sake! -- got the best of me in the box after a corner kick scrum. He slipped a back pass to Ryan Raybould, who then crossed it to Pat McGinnis at the far post. A tap-in header made it 4-1.
And I was left standing there under the blue sky with every defender's worst feeling. "Ah," I said to myself, "there goes my comeback."
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.