Monday, December 1, 2008

HWC 2008: Weblog # 2, Los Angeles

Jeff Werner is the co-director and editor of Kicking IT, the Ted Leonsis film which aired on ESPN this fall. Like director of the film, Susan Koch, Jeff and his wife Elyse, remain passionate about and personally involved in the causes they document well after the life of the movie is finished; so much so that Jeff and Elyse hosted our entire entourage of 16 players, coaches, and one embedded writer from Harper’s Magazine in their Sherman Oaks home, just 20 minutes from downtown LA. This photo is of breakfast in their home. Coach Sara and the team take over the kitchen.

The experience of staying in the Werner home provided just what we wanted for our training camp: a close-knit family feeling. In fact, 13 of the players and coaches slept shoulder to shoulder on the floor in the living room. Some slept on cots that Jovenes, Inc., our LA street soccer partner, provided.

I talk often about the power of our program to build social skills necessary in the work place, and with relating to larger society in general. Well, I am not so sure Street Soccer USA can take full credit this year’s sweet talkers. I am hoping they can turn on the charm with the referees to the degree they have with our hosts all week in LA.

Tad Christie is most gifted with the gab of all. A former bull rider before having his face kicked, Tad has been around. In fact, he has been on his own since the age of 12. The first period of stability in his life was a 10 year marriage. It was also his last period of stability. Once divorced Tad fell into a deep depression, turned to alcohol and the drugs of his youth. He has spent the last five year’s homeless, mostly outdoors. Reclusive a year ago, Tad is now the most likely to reach out and tease you. When our hostess asked him at the breakfast table where he was from, Tad launched into a his personal history which ended with the words, “ so they think I am most likely Charlies Manson’s son, which explain some the urges I feel late at night.”

“Well, that is really a . . .surprising story,” our hostess commented nervously before we all cracked the silence with boisterous laughter. The more nervous Tad jokes, the faster the jokes come. By the end of our LA adventure Tad felt so well liked that he even shared a comfortable silence with the group in the van on the way to the airport. If you know Tad at all, you realize what singular achievement this is.

As much as Tad’s humor and good nature has won over his teammates, and as much as we all eagerly await in whose jacket pocket Tad’s false teeth are going to show up next, I think Tad’s obvious dedication to training has been the real key factor in winning the respect of his teammates.

During our first team training session we ran up Fryerman trail. It’s a steep quarter mile up the Hollywood hillside before it continues to climb another half mile before culminating in a level trail along the spine of the hills with impressive vistas to either side.

At 37 Tad is one of the older members of the squad. His wiry build belies his fitness. As we charged up the hillside in a run designed to see who had been following our recommend fitness schedule, tad led from the beginning, and finished the training run together with Diego and Cornelius of Santa Rosa, California ahead of the pack.

Equally if not more impressive is Tad’s advancement on the ball since June. He scavenged four goals against our scrimmage opponents at the Soccer Arena Soccerplex in Orange on Wednesday, tying Cornelius for top scorer. Unlikely to start, Tad could provide a big lift for the team off the bench.

In our team meeting we asked everyone what this team was all about. Tad said that the organizers saw something in him that he failed to see in himself. He continued, “This team is about the good in all of us and we can’t ever lose site of that.

. . .

If Tad will provide the team with goals off the bench, Cornelius will be key to scoring goals for us as a started. He and his coach from the San Francisco area, Julius Ujeh, joined us at the MLS Cup where we were guests of the league. We watched Columbus Crew play a disciplined game to beat the New York Red Bulls. While Tad’s transformation was not obvious, Cornelius’s announced itself at the MLS Cup. His physique was hardened. He was quiet, but spoke with confidence. Gone was the chubbiness and self doubt that lingered I June in DC. In our first scrimmage against youth from the Disney Goals program in Anaheim, Cornelius stood out as our biggest hope for Homeless World Cup success.

Please link here to read about Cornelius’s amazing life turn around. At nationally recognized youth player, Cornelius was recruited nationally and accepted a scholarship to Howard in DC. He never made it to campus. Cornelius got involved in gangs and drugs. He ended up addicted and homeless for three years. When coach Julius showed up at the Rescue Mission talking about soccer, Cornelius’s heart soared. At first Julius did not belief all of Corey’s talk, but Corey proved it on the field. When Cornelius got permission from his probation officer to travel abroad, the judge turned to the other folks in custody and said, “I want you to take a good look at this young man. He is an example to all of you, of what you can do if you make a decision to improve your life.”

1 comment:

Hansell said...

Team USA,
thanks for letting me join you at the MLS Cup. It was truly a pleasure to meet each and every one of you and I am inspired by your work ethic and obvious achievements to-date. Just getting to Melbourne is no small feat and know that many of us back home are proud to have you as US ambassadors for this year's HWC. My best wishes to you all and may you come back victorious both on the pitch and in your hearts!! GO USA!!!