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More Important than Soccer

Soccer….Meet Kelley

While my soccer career was in full mode, my personal life was also picking up for the better.  For years, parents of some of my players were always setting me up with their friends or a sister, i.e.. a player’s aunt.  I had plenty of memorable dates and some others easily forgotten. I remember taking one of the player’s aunt to the revolving restaurant at top of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A. While waiting for our table at the bar, I somehow managed to spill my Long Island Iced Tea all over my lap.  I was embarrassed of course, but even more so when the next day at our game, one of my players, the nephew of my date yells out to all his teammates players, “So coach, I heard last night you spilled your drink all over your balls!”.

Fortunately, my life was about to change for the better.  Michael Winfield was on my very first soccer team.  I eventually coached him for 5 years, and became good friends with his parents, Linda and Gino. In 1995, Linda tried to set me up with a teacher friend of hers, Kelley O’Driscoll. Due to training session, tournaments, and other soccer-related events, it took us forever to meet.   Kelley graduated from UCLA and loves UCLA football.  The closest we got to meet was at a UCLA tailgate party, but for probably another stupid soccer reason, I had to bail out at the last minute. At the time, both Kelley and I, both somewhat shy, thought it would be best if we met in a group setting. After a few failed attempts and the UCLA debacle, I asked Linda for Kelley’s phone number and asked Kelley out the next weekend.  

Our first date was a pretty normal although a bit of a marathon.  I must admit that I was enthralled when I first met Kelley as she was stunning. We had dinner at the Market City Cafe in Burbank.  I made sure to have our table near the bubbling fountain for a bit of atmosphere. All seemed well as we talked about all sorts of topic.  For the second part of our date, I wanted to see Kelley’s competitive athletic side, so we headed over to Castle Park for a wicked game of miniature golf.

As my Nissan 240 SX with its “SOCCRFN” license plate pulled into the parking lot, a big teenager ran over to my car, jumped on the hood, stuck his head in my sunroof, and to Kelley’s and my own surprise, he yells “Hey Coooooooooach, whaaaaat’s uuuuuuup!!”  It was quite funny, completely unplanned, and I quickly had to explain who the heck this kid was, and why he was jumping on my car. Although Kelley was told I coached soccer, she did not quite know the obsession I had for this sport that most Americans could give a hoot about. I spoke very little about soccer at dinner, as I felt if I showed my true colors, I would scare her off. But I had to come clean, and slowly introduced Kelley to my warped world of soccer. Because, we had such a good time, we decide to continue our date and see a late movie.  We ended up seeing the movie “Seven”.  We did not know what it was about, but I suggested it because Brad Pitt was in it, and I thought that would put Kelley in a romantic mood.  We quickly found out it was an extremely dark and violent movie about a psychotic killer murdering those who commit the seven deadly sins. I also found out that Kelley hates those kind of movies.

As much as I tried to push soccer to the side, it never went away and Kelley was now along for the ride.

In January 1996, soon after we had been dating, I introduced Kelley to her first pro soccer game, a US national team game against El Salvador on a cold rainy night at Anaheim Stadium.  I don’t remember the game except that Marcelo Balboa scored. I just remember rain, and one other little event that Kelley won’t let me forget.

After the game, Kelley and I were walking out and we saw Marcelo Balboa finishing up an interview in the stands and was heading back to the field. Being star-struck, I told Kelley to wait a second and took off,  jumping over a barrier to ask for an autograph, which Balboa surprisingly gave me despite me being a full grown adult. I walked back to Kelley happy with my newly acquired autograph only to see Kelley with a mixed look of shock, confusion, and disgust all at the same time. You can imagine we had an interesting drive home.

Crashing the LA Galaxy’s First Get-Together

A few months after our first date, before the first ever Galaxy game in 1996, Kelley actually got to meet the LA Galaxy players at a team dinner before most people even knew the team existed. I happened to know one of the Galaxy’s season ticket account reps and he invited me to an upcoming team dinner at Domenico’s, a local pizza place in Pasadena I often dined at. I was thrilled and he said it was ok to bring a guest which, of course, was Kelley.

You have to understand that in 1996, nobody knew who these players were and there was no security to keep them safe.  It was not like today where every player’s movement is recorded on social media.  Although very reluctant,  Kelley came with me to the dinner, and we arrived as the team was starting to find their way downstairs to the private basement eating area. I told the staff I was with the LA Galaxy party and they let me and Kelley in, no questions asked.  We inconspicuously sat at the end the long table set up for the team and their own guests. Since this was truly the first team the team had ever eaten together, they did not know that we were not part of the Galaxy staff. Others sat down and all of a sudden we were sitting next to defenders Dan Calichman and Robin Fraser eating pizza and drinking beer.  We just said we were invited by the season ticket staff and nobody else asked us why we were there.

I asked them questions about where they were from, their soccer careers, what they thought about MLS, and what their expectations were about the team. What was funny is they  were new to this too. They were pioneers and really had no idea what was going to happen when the first game kicked off in a few weeks. I asked if Jorge Campos, the one international star, was going to be at the dinner and they said they didn’t think so as he had still not arrived in Los Angeles to meet the team. You could tell Dan and Robin were just as excited to meet the flamboyant goalkeeper as I was.  It was pretty cool to know that Kelley and I were at the first   team dinner that the LA Galaxy ever had. Who else can say that! 

Once the season began, I dragged Kelley to a number of Galaxy games with me. Although a hard-core UCLA football fan, she eventually began to know the players and could even explain the offside rule better than the average soccer fans. I started coaching rec soccer again and told all the highs and lows of my strategies, and she nodded lovingly as I rambled on about one of my players great plays. I even first met Kelley’s mom at a Galaxy game.

“How Much Soccer is TOO Much Soccer?”

Story coming soon