MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our third annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with the first-ever MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Mark Dodd.
Where He Was Then
Big men with big names manned the nets in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer – guys like Tony Meola, Brad Friedel and Jorge Campos. But the man at the top of the list, above all those well-known names, was Mark Dodd.
At 30 years old and in the prime of his career, the Dallas native excelled for his hometown Burn, earning the league’s first Goalkeeper of the Year honor in 1996. Dodd shut out D.C. United in Dallas’ 1997 US Open Cup final triumph, still the franchise’s only trophy, and started 108 MLS matches for the Burn before injury ended his career after four MLS seasons.
Where He Is Now
Now 47, Dodd has transitioned from a defender of his goal to a defender of the human body. Working from his north Dallas office, he’s an entrepreneur with a successful and growing business called isoBLOX.
A concept he developed in 2004, isoBLOX is a series of interconnected shock plates linking with a living hinge that allows those plates to flex in both directions, dispersing impact across several connector pieces and hinges.
In non-technical talk, it’s a material that absorbs and disperses shock with applications in many different walks of life, from sporting equipment to industrial use. IsoBLOX has been licensed to various major brands for shin guards, lacrosse gear, baseball protection and dozens of other uses. Umpires at the 2012 MLB All-Star Game wore chest protectors with the technology in them and it’s even been recently used in headrests on airline seats.
“I think my experience in soccer as an athlete understanding motion, movement and impact, really understanding what an athlete’s needs are, that’s been absolutely huge in basically lending me credibility with these major brands and helping them design their products as well,” Dodd explains.
While it may seem like an awkward transition from professional goalkeeper to mechanical engineer to entrepreneur, Dodd says it was an idea he’d been kicking around for quite some time. Upon returning from a few years of traveling after his pro career wrapped, he not only developed the material, but patented it and created the business.
“As a player, I endorsed a lot of products over the years,” said Dodd. “So I always had a product-oriented mind and I was familiar with how things worked while tinkering to improve those things.”
That didn’t necessarily make for a perfect transition from the pitch into the lab and boardroom – especially for a guy who was in control of nearly everything during 11 professional seasons in a goal.
“I think honestly the biggest challenge I’ve had is trying to keep up with all the different uses [for the product] and applications and trying to sort of rein myself in and say, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t do everything.’”
In many ways, Dodd couldn’t do everything in his playing days either. His name doesn’t immediately come to mind when you start listing off impact ‘keepers over the 17-year history of MLS. But as current Colorado Rapids assistant coach and former Burn head coach Dave Dir says, Dodd “would have been one of the best in MLS history.” And that makes historians of the league wonder what could’ve been if he were born just born a decade later.
Friedel and Kasey Keller were just at the beginnings of their trailblazing careers in the mid-1990s and Europe had not quite opened its eyes to the talents of American goalkeeper. Without a fully professional domestic league until his 30th birthday, Dodd had just a few years to ply his trade at a top level before having to call it a day.
“I look around and think, that would’ve been nice,” he says when asked if he wishes he had been able to stick around longer in MLS as the league matured. “But it’s OK at the same time. ... I can honestly say, with the exception of injuries as I got older, I was just as passionate in my 11th season as my first.”
Though work and family commitments consume most of his time these days, Dodd, who remains close friends with Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis and former Chivas USA boss Robin Fraser, still follows the league very closely. On any given match day, you can find him out at FC Dallas Stadium and, starting this year, he says he will be doing some color commentary on RSL and Colorado Rapids broadcasts.
“When you look at a lot of the teams and the new teams, it’s fantastic and that is really exciting to see,” says Dodd. “It’s amazing, the players are so much more fit and it’s much more of a professional job as opposed to a six-month deal.”
While Dodd says he has no regrets and is happy to have played a role in the growth of American soccer, dating all the way back to the beginning of his pro career in the humble indoor league, he does have one small point of jealousy.
“Certainly not just the facilities,” he says, adding with a laugh, “but seeing some of the salaries these days as well.”
What They Said
“The league had started in 1996 and I was either watching Tony Meola with the United States or Brad Friedel because he was a fellow [UCLA] Bruin, but once I had the opportunity to see Mark, I was impressed right away. He was really poised and obviously he understood the game very well. He always seemed very thoughtful about it, whether he was analyzing angles or stretching when the ball was at the other end of the field. He was trying to make sure he was prepared and I always had a ton of respect for that.”
-– Kevin Hartman, former FC Dallas goalkeeper