There was a time in the late 90′s that the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California was THE gathering spot for US Men’s National Teams. From the Full Team underneath Steve Sampson, to the US U-23′s under Clive Charles and down to the US U-20′s under Sigi Schmid, those 4+ fields just east of San Diego saw some of the best players in the country lace up their boots and put through their paces within their respective age groups.
And there were some incredible stories that happened within those fences, most of which would publicly never see the light of day. But this next story has been re-told over and over at bars around the United States by those that were inside a single meeting room just feet from one of the fields at ARCO.
If They Only Knew :: ‘You Ain’t Going To Manchester United…..’
See, back in the early summer of 1999, our US U-23 was in the final stages of preparation for the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers the following April in Hershey, Pennsylvania and we knew we had less than a calendar year until the Olympics kicked off in Sydney the following summer of 2000.
Back then our team was still a mix of MLS Pros (plus Johnny O’Brien at Ajax) and College players who hadn’t left yet to join the league….. And because of that, our ability to get together to continue to develop as a ‘team’ and understand the philosophy being taught meant that we’d sometimes come together on a Monday to Thursday (to stay away from MLS games on the weekend) every other month or so. And in this particular case, we met up in Chula Vista to take on a local PDL team to get a game together.
Clive was the first to roll out a 4 – 4 – 2 with a Diamond Formation in the midfield and since we’d been together as a core group since a January camp back in 1998, we’d pretty much mastered it. And to Clive’s credit, we’d gotten to the point where we could go up against ANY formation and be able to make the adjustments by ourselves on the field by immediately.
But this game…. this particular game against the San Diego Flash, we played like shit. We ended up winning the game 1 – 0, but holy crap we were pretty bad during that 90 minutes.
Clive knew it. We knew it and we knew we were about to get our asses handed to us in that little room just feet away from the field….. But none of us knew that in the next 30 minutes or so that we’d be in for maybe THE greatest bollocking we’d EVER get.
As soon as we were done shaking the hands of the other team, Clive told us to ‘get in the room’. He was fuming.
Clive had been pissed at us before (not too often, mainly for not playing up to our own standards), but there was something was different this time.
What none of us knew (and how could we) was that Clive had set up a trip of a lifetime for a young American player, a four game trip to Manchester in a couple of weeks and it’d already been cleared with our respective clubs / schools.
But none of us knew that the moment the door closed behind the last player.
He crushed us. I mean, he got after us in a way that we’d never seen before. We deserved it for that performance a few minutes earlier.
And then he dropped the bomb, ‘I’m taking a team to play at Manchester United, Liverpool, Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday……’
Silence. I remember glancing over at guys like Chad McCarty, Benny Olsen and Josh Wolff and all had their eyes on the floor. And this is the moment where this story turned EPIC.
It’s important to remember that back then, this group of players (who would go on to finish 4th in the 2000 Olympics, the ONLY US team to make it out of their respective Group Stage at the Olympics) was pretty much half Pro / half College athlete.
Clive then repeated what he said. ‘I’m taking a team to play at Manchester United. What are you going to do between now and the moment I name the team I’m taking to Manchester?’ Then he looked around and the 20 or so guys in that room almost started pissing their pants…. ‘Please. Don’t. Ask. Me.’ was the look on everyone’s face.
Clive looked at Lazo Alavanja, who at the time was still in school at Indiana.
‘Lazo, what the fuck are you going to do between now and the time I name a team that’s going to play at Manchester United?’
What Clive wanted to hear was the guys that were in College were going to head out and train with their local MLS clubs to keep their fitness / sharpness up…
(Keep in mind, none of us knew this trip to Manchester was on the cards…..)
Lazo :: ‘Um, I have to go to summer school…’
Clive :: ‘Well then Lazo, you ain’t going to Manchester United!’
The look on Lazo’s face……
When I tell you that the immediate moments after Clive said that were the quietest I’ve EVER seen a room full of guys…… Silence. It was like a death sentence had been handed down. And Clive was just getting started.
He looked over at Matt Chulis and said, ‘Matty, I ain’t even gonna fucking worry about you… You’ll run through a wall to be fit. You’re going to Manchester United’…..
Chulinho (his nickname for being a right back and thinking he was Brazilian by way of Brazil) kind of smiled, but not really and then just put his head back down.
Clive then turned to a kid named Scott Bower…. You know that one kid that’s on a team and he just finds a way to say something that gets himself in trouble?!?! This was Scotty Bower. We knew it was coming. He knew it was coming. And we all instantly got excited to see exactly how bad Scotty was going to make this for himself.
None of us (including Clive) could have known what was about to happen.
Clive :: ‘Scotty, what are you going to do to go to Manchester United?’
Scotty :: ‘Well Clive, I’m gonna go back and train with my U-23 State Team in Florida……’
At this point half of us have pulled of jerseys up to our noses to cover the smiles that were overcoming us……. We couldn’t help it. It didn’t matter what came out of his mouth… It was going to get him in trouble.
Clive :: ‘Hold on… Hold on… Scotty, you’re already on the US U-23 team, why the fuck would you be training with your U-23 State Team?!?!?’
Eyes. Wide. Open. All of us. This moment was happening.
Scotty :: ‘Um, I’m not sure…. But I’m also gonna run 2 miles on the treadmill every day…….’
This is where the entire room was transfixed on Scotty…. None of us could believe what was happening before our eyes…. We wanted to stop him….. But we didn’t want to stop him…. We had to see what happened next.
Clive :: ’2 miles on a treadmill?!?!?! That’s what fat girls with jelly doughnuts do!’
And that was the moment where every single player almost fell out of their chairs. Poor Scotty…… Dude was bright red.
Clive :: ‘You ain’t going to Manchester United……’
And with that, Clive walked out of the room followed by his assistants John Ellinger and Peter Mellor.
No one said a word for a few seconds….. And then Scotty looked up at me and asked ‘Do you really think I’m not going to Manchester United?’ and that’s when every single one of us burst out laughing…….
Every player in the room (with the exception of Lazo who DID have to go to summer school to stay eligible for Indiana the next year) went over to England…. And we ended up winning every game, including 2 – 0 wins against Manchester United and Liverpool Reserve teams on their respective individual training fields.