PUT ME IN, COACH

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PUT ME IN, COACH

It has come to my attention that I should be a member of the United States soccer team.

Though I have never participated in an official soccer game, one in which men in black shorts blow whistles, I have experienced a wide range of activities that are all in some manner connected to this excellent sport.

For instance:

Have I ever raced about while jerking a T-shirt over my head?

Yes, every morning when I'm late for work.

Have I ever kicked and screamed?

Yes, every morning when I get to work.

Soccer, of course, is much more than celebrating. It's about possessing certain characteristics. I own three key ones, a fact that surely qualifies me to wear a U.S. jersey, extra large, please.



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I have the name


Having a single name stamps you as an individual of some importance. Think, for instance, of Madonna, Sting or God.

Some of the best soccer players are known by just one name. Think of Ronaldo, Ricardinho or Ricky Ricardo. Think, too, of the immortal Pele from Switzerland.

Seven trillion people on earth are named Smith. Thus, I would simply be Toby.

That mine is a short name is ideal because it will save space, which newspapers are always trying to do, though I can never understand why.

Consider, for example, the following sports-section headline, with my terse first name added, and notice how much easier it is to read:



Last moment Toby tally

garners German tumble



Or this headline:



Toby draws first blood

in U.S. slaughter of Argentina



My lone name is perfect because it fits so well in headlines that deal with soccer-related stories:



Toby, 2 starlets score on grass



Or this:



Hey, where's the fire at, Toby?

Cops clock star's Ferrari at 150 per





When I receive an injury that costs the U.S. team a defeat, newsprint brevity will surely reign:



Toby mugged!



When I dump the U.S. team to sign a big professional soccer contract, it will be simple for copy editors to write this headline:



Toby inks $37.5m pact



And when I am trampled during a soccer riot, newspapers everywhere will require only three words:



World regrets Toby


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I have coached


A few years ago I signed up to guide the Tornado, a group of fifth grade boys and girls competing in a YMCA soccer league in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our stadium was the indoor gymnasium of the Hoover Middle School.

That one season spent pacing the gym floor provided me with pointed lessons in how to establish a commanding presence, make tactical decisions and remember to always carry Tylenol 2.

Coaching games on Saturday mornings (I never felt the Tornado needed to practice during the week) gave me a wealth of know-how in tuning out unruly spectators, particularly overcaffeinated mothers and fathers wearing sweatpants.

Additionally, being in the Hoover gym regularly steeled me to handle the toughest of soccer venues. Most Saturday mornings in the Hoover gym I had to find my way into and out of the boys bathroom in the dark. This was a lot tougher than it sounds: The boys room light switch was placed around two winding, pitch-black corners and the school janitor never bothered to turn on the restroom lights when he unlocked the gym.

Because Tornado games were played indoors, the rules were quite involved. To make matters worse, I must have been stumbling through the boys room the morning those rules were announced. But competing with little knowledge of the regulations gave me with a high regard for creative strategy. Tornado players liked to kick the ball off the gym's low ceiling, and I urged them to do so at all times. When several parents shouted in anger about this strategy, I am happy to say I was able to tune them out.

My game plan, which I know will aid me well as a player for the United States, was to station one Tornado, usually a hefty kid called "BK," nicknamed for his fondness for a certain fast-food franchise, in front of a netted device belonging to the opposing team. Just stand there like a statue the entire game and do nothing, I told BK. Wait for a stray ball and then tap it into that net device. Placing BK where I did proved that I had the ability to think on my feet, which of course is far, far harder than thinking on your head.


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I have seen the film


Soccer movies show up on television now and then, and whenever that happens I always watch them because I know doing so will benefit me enormously in the culture of the sport.

One of those movies is 1981's "Victory," which stars Sylvester Stallone, who is incarcerated in a Nazi prison camp during World War II. Stallone is great, as always, and so is Pele, who also stars in this realistic movie. Can you imagine a P.O.W. soccer team with both Rocky and Switzerland's immortal Pele? Wow! Look out, World Cup!

My favorite soccer movie, though, is "Ladybugs," which came out in 1992. I have seen "Ladybugs" about 10 times, and each time I do I learn something new about this wonderful game and the raw emotions it delivers.

"Ladybugs" stars Sir John Gielgud, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Judi Dench. No, wait, that's another soccer movie.

"Ladybugs" stars Rodney Dangerfield as Chester Lee, the coach of a girls team called the Ladybugs. As everybody knows, Rodney Dangerfield is a flat-out better actor than Sir Laurence Olivier ever will be.

The Ladybugs are sponsored by the company where Dangerfield has worked for about 100 years and where he has never gotten a raise. When he complains about this injustice, his boss, who is the owner of the company, makes him coach the company-sponsored soccer team. What happens next is unbelievably hilarious and I don't want to spoil it by saying too much more.

I will say that there's some complicated stuff in the movie about a boy dressing up as a girl and playing for the Ladybugs. Even when I see this movie again, I always find that part of "Ladybugs" very difficult to follow. There just seems to be way too much symbolism. But that really doesn't matter, for this is a terrific story, from start to finish. And for someone like me who is interested in soaking up everything he can about soccer, the movie answers several significant questions.

For example:

Question to Dangerfield: "You know anything about soccer?"

Answer by Dangerfield: "I know that I got a lot of balls."

My question to the people who made this stunning piece of work: When the heck are you guys gonna come out with "Ladybugs II"?





With an appropriate name, fine coaching qualifications and an appreciation of soccer cinema, I know the U.S. team would love to have me in uniform. All I've got to do now is find out where I sign up.

by Toby Smith

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