Monday, July 5, 2010

Catching Up With Perry Van Der Beck, Part I

Perry Van Der Beck made history with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1978 as the first high school soccer player ever drafted by a North American Soccer League team. The talented midfielder stood out as an amateur by winning two high school state championships and representing the United States in international competition at every level, including the Olympic team. Van Der Beck enjoyed a 19-year playing career, nine of which came as a member of the Rowdies. Today, Van Der Beck serves as the Technical Directory and Director of Player Development for the Rowdies in the USSF Division 2 soccer league. Van Der Beck recently took time out to chat about everything and anything related to his life’s passion: soccer. The following is the first in a two part interview with Van Der Beck.

Q. How thrilling was it to be 18 and already in the pros?

A. I was very excited. I lived in St. Louis, and at that time, I had a mentor who was playing for NASL team called the St. Louis Stars. My dream, my life, my passion was soccer. So that's something I wanted to do. I had colleges chasing me, so I had to make a decision.
What inspired me was the league said we'll pay for your college education, we'll set money aside. So it wasn't a matter of me not getting my education, but I wanted to get to the big leagues as soon as I could. That's just the way it was with my life, it's all I talked about. Kicking a soccer ball, going outside and doing things with it was not a chore. There were kids in my neighborhood, teammates of mine who had the same mentality.

Once I got down here, you're right, I was 18 years old. It wasn't that I was going to start or how much I was going to play. It was just being in that atmosphere.

My first contract was actually an amateur contract because I was still eligible to play for the 1980 Olympic team. I got paid about $50 a week to play soccer. Then I got “x” amount of dollars to be director of Camp Kikinthagrass. I couldn't get paid more than $50 because I wanted to qualify for the Olympics. The Rowdies provided me a car, an apartment, so they made it up to me in other ways.

Q. So you really knew that you wanted to go pro and not spend time playing college soccer?

A. I had a situation where I was already involved with the Olympic team since high school. I had been discovered at an early age. I'd played international soccer and seen that lifestyle. Soccer is the global sport. I was an impressionable young player and I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Q. How did that experience prepare you for the pro game?

A. It had a lot to do with it. In fact, I remember playing when I was 16 or 17 years old in the Youth World Cup. I represented the United States in a tournament in Honduras. I'd played in some games to qualify for the Olympics, played in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Suriname. When the United States qualifies, they qualify in the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) region. I've played almost every country in the region, but I've never been to Panama.

To represent your country at the highest level is just a step up. If you look back, in my ten years with the national team I only got 23 caps because we didn't play as often as they do now.

Q. What were your feelings about the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, considering that you were slated to be the captain of that team?

A. It was very tough to accept. Here was an opportunity to represent my country at the highest level of play in another part of the world, which back in 1980, we really didn't know a lot about the Soviet Union. So, one, what an experience, and two, it's the sport I love and now I get to play against other cultures in other parts of the world. I was looking forward to it. In fact, it took a lot of time and effort, a lot of sacrifices.

We played against Mexico in a friendly, beat them 4-0 in Los Angeles. They changed their whole team. They became a professional team. So we went down to play in Leon, Mexico, against their professionals and we lost 2-1. So now, the return leg is in New York. We were going to play before the Cosmos game. Their passports said that they were professional players. Guess what? FIFA says, "You're out, the U.S. is in." So we qualify. I think it was us and Costa Rica, but now you've got the boycott.

For the sport of soccer, you know, I don't care what Jimmy Carter says or does, it was hard for me to comprehend. He was punishing us? But, I look at the other athletes in track and field, volleyball, swimming. They don't have professional leagues. They’ve got to wait four more years before they can compete with the rest of the world. I got to go back to Tampa to play for my team. So, was I upset? Yeah, but you know what? I was able to live with it because I had something to fall back on. Now, that's me being selfish, but I'm being honest.

It was one of those things where we played in Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and in those countries, it's not friendly. It's a hostile situation every time you go. I'm not going to say that at any time I felt my life was threatened, but you know what, it is a hard way to compete. So you go down there, you've done the business, you've qualified, and now, guess what? You're not going.

They gave us all medals, and I've got some awards. Gosh, I have to tell you, it's the highest congressional award any civilian can get (the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to the 1980 US Olympic Team). So we got honored for it, but
did we get to actually play? No. So, as your career goes on you look back at those things. As a coach you want to impress upon these players that you don't know what is going to happen in your career. Okay? You score a goal here, next day you break your leg. You just don't know.

Q. As an aside, what do you think about Tampa's chances of becoming a host city for the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022?

A. The politics are working right now. If you watched the World Cup, you saw Bill Clinton sitting next to FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Sepp Blatter is the most powerful guy in soccer, and you've got the former President of the United States sitting next to him. As far as I know, the decision has been made -- I might be wrong -- for 2018. I think Bill Clinton came out and said the reason we lost out to Brazil in 2014 is because we never got our act together. There's no doubt in my mind that we had the most successful World Cup ever in 1994, and that we can do it again in 2018. Just give us the opportunity. The talk in South Africa is about the seats that were missing. There were 10,000 no-shows at a game. I’m sorry, but that wouldn't happen here in the United States.

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