As a sporting nation we crave all things sports related. We want constant, up to the minute updates on our mobile devices and want to know through social media what our athletic heroes are thinking at any given moment. We need apps on our phones and the ability to watch dozens of games at the same time via sources like NFL All-Access.
That said, an interesting, and maybe unexpected, desire has also arisen and that is the craving for all things retro. Fans want retro jerseys, hats, and other memorabilia. They wax poetic about about now-defunct teams and even leagues as well as stars from the past. So in that climate it should not be surprising that the St. Louis Ambush would welcome one of their largest crowds of the season when they hosted their annual “Alumni Night” versus the Kansas City Comets last Saturday at Family Arena.
Forget for a moment that this is a vastly important game with playoff implications for both clubs. Erase from your minds that this is the first such important game for the Ambush this late in the season since their rebirth. What fans will be talking about and what will bring more of them to the Family Arena than usual is the the desire to see and meet the Legends. To forget today and the problems of today, to escape for an evening and watch their heroes of the past take the field (albeit with much more effort and at a slower pace) one more time. In some small way it offers the players and fans alike an opportunity, even if only momentarily, to cheat time and return to their sports “Happy Place”.
What makes an alumni event in indoor soccer so compelling is that it is sure to include players who played under the banner of different leagues, spanning from the original MISL to today’s MASL, players who played under single or multi-point scoring, players who played during greatly varying degrees of the sport’s popularity.
The pregame alumni festivities allow for plenty of good-natured ribbing. For example, I joked with several tables of players during the autograph session that the transfer fees to sign the talent sitting at a particular table would be astronomical in today’s market. Any suggestions that a player looks fit enough to still be playing is quickly dismissed with laughter and a self deprecating retort. I subtly suggested to former Ambush keeper Greg Crook that in such a game he may be well positioned to claim an Alumni Game MVP trophy, a notion he quickly dismissed.
If you are a fan of US Soccer, and especially if you are from St. Louis, it is impossible to put into words how much of a sense of awe you feel seeing US Soccer royalty like Al Trost and Pat McBride sitting at a table side by side. Having the opportunity to talk to each of them and tell them how attending their camps as a youth player shaped you as a player and sowed the seeds for your lifelong passion for the game is priceless. Also seeing the glint in their eyes as you share with them shows why they are the Legends they are — because they care and are moved by same.
The Alumni Game got off to a somber note when just prior to kickoff the announcement was made that former St . Louis Storm and USMNT star Fernando Clavijo had unexpectedly passed. In a class move by the Ambush organization a moment of silence was observed.
A wise man once observed, “that the irony of experience is that often times once you have it you are too darn old to use it!” As you watched these veterans play it was obvious that their minds still processed the game at a very high level but it was their knees and various other joints that were less committed. Dan O’Keefe proved age has not robbed him of his knack for scoring as he got things started with an early goal. Another great moment occurred when Lindsay Kennedy-Eversmeyer showed her playmaking skills are still alive and well with a slick pass to set up a goal. Kevin Groark delighted the fans with a long range goal from beyond the yellow line. It was hard not to smile watching the brothers Moser, Mark and Kirk, play together as they probably did thousand of times as boys in North County. Jeff Cacciatore still has more energy than the Energizer Bunny and I doubt Daryl Doran will ever look like he can’t still be suiting up for some team in the MASL. Note to any and all teams that may be looking for a boost going into the playoffs Elvir Kafedzic looked as nimble on the ball as ever and while he did not claim the MVP trophy, Greg Crook looked as solid as ever in the nets.
There is nothing more simple and beautiful than throwing a ball out onto a field and watching the joy that kicking that ball brings to a child. For one night these Legends reminded us that no matter the age the game of soccer brings us together and is simple and beautiful.