U.S. Players Hope Cup Holds the Ticket to a Pro Career
Although they don’t have signs around their necks, the message conveyed by the U.S. soccer team is clear: sign me.
There is no national professional outdoor soccer league in the United States, and players believe the only way they can make a living in soccer and improve is by going abroad.
“This tournament could possibly determine the next four years of my life,” goalkeeper Tony Meola said.
Meola said his agent, Alan Herman, has been talking with Benfica of Lisbon for the past three weeks.
“My agent is reluctant to tell me (all) the names of the clubs he’s spoken with, to relieve some of the pressure,” Meola said. “I’m anxious, but I think I’m better off that I don’t know.”
Meola and midfielder Tab Ramos are considered to be the most skilled American players.
“I want to stay in Europe after the cup,” said Ramos, who was born in Uruguay. “I guess I’ll go home for a couple weeks, then come back for preseason camp with a team. Right now I’m talking to a team in Holland and that’s what I could end up with. But I’d love to go to Spain or Italy.”
Last season, forward Peter Vermes played for FC Volendam of the Dutch first division and forward Chris Sullivan played for Raba ETO of the Hungarian first division. Hugo Perez, out of action since breaking a leg in March, plays for Red Star ’93 of the French second division.
Sullivan has been talking with two first-division clubs in Belgium. Vermes hasn’t signed to return to Volendam but may go back. In any event, he intends to remain in Europe.
“I think it professionalized me,” Vermes said of his European experience, which began two seasons ago with Raba ETO.
“You see soccer all the time in Europe, on TV, in the paper,” he said. “I think it’s made me more comfortable in big matches because every week there’s a match that’s important.”
U.S. Coach Bob Gansler knows his players are thinking about the future. He discussed it with them, apparently a reminder that the team should concentrate on the present first. But he understands signing with European clubs is on the players’ minds.
“I’d be surprised if it weren’t,” he said. “Just about every player in this tournament sees this as a potential situation to be seen and to improve their possibilities in the future.”