A Soccer Fan
Marc is the host of SoccerTalk USA, but who is he? You can find out more by listening to the premiere episode of SoccerTalk USA where Marc reveals a little of his soccer background. If that's not enough, you can also visit his personal website to uncover more about this busy guy. In the meantime, here's a "brief" biography.
Marc was born in the United States (in Illinois) in 1967, but moved to Senegal, West Africa, when he was just three years old. His mother was a missionary. Marc's father died in a car accident when Marc was a baby so it was just him and his mother. Senegal is a country colonized by the French, so Marc learned French and soccer. Later he lived in France and Belgium and played soccer there as well.
Unfortunately, Marc never really played "organized" soccer; his games were always schoolyard games or street soccer. A rock or a hat or shrub might define the goal mouth, and often he had to make do with whatever could be called a ball, from an old tennis ball to even a tin can. Marc didn't really care: if he could kick it, it was a game. He played on asphalt, sand, and dirt; grass is pretty rare near the Sahara desert. Marc played all positions, from goalkeeper to forward (sometimes in the same game), but was most enthusiastic about scoring. Marc would do anything to score.
It's probably worth mentioning that Marc was a tiny lad (at age 12 he weighed a mere 48 pounds), but he made up for his lack of size with quickness, drive, and efficiency. He always played with guys bigger than him and frequently beat them, at least in soccer, where size doesn't matter (not so the case for basketball, which Marc abhors with a passion and feels ought to be banned as a skill-less, height-biased sport).
Marc's first experience at organized soccer was horrible; in 8th grade he was in the States and played on his junior high school team. This was in Oregon and the weather -- cold and wet -- was a shock to Marc, used to 100+ degrees. They played on grass (slick with rain), wore foreign cleats and shin guards and uniforms, and unlike when playing with friends, these opponents were out to break your legs. All the coach cared about was winning. His own son was on the team and not a practice went by without his son ending up in tears as his dad publicly berated him in front of everyone. The coach's idea of motivation was to insult you; this had the opposite effect on Marc. Marc only remembers playing in one game, for about twenty minutes, and he was starting to get a little comfortable but that was toward the end of the season and the end of Marc's organized soccer career. In that one game he did get a one-on-one with the 'keeper but was so nervous about what the coach would say if he missed that he choked and shot it right at the goalie.
Needless to say, this negative experience left a bitter taste in Marc's mouth, and it would be a decade before he'd discover soccer in a positive light. Worse, this experience tainted Marc's already dim view of professional sports. He'd grown up without a father to take him to baseball games or watch football on TV, and after living overseas without exposure to U.S. media, he found the whole American sports scene to be so complicated and bewildering that he avoided it at all costs. In fact, he prided himself on his ignorance! (The classic conversational stopper was when someone mentioned a professional baseball team and Marc would say something like "I'm not really into American football.") In high school, as the editor of the school paper, Marc even wrote a scathing editorial about the stupidity of professional sports.
Then in 1990 Marc discovered televised soccer when a few games of the World Cup were broadcast in the U.S.A. Marc was vaguely intrigued because the U.S. had qualified (for the first time in 50 years), but he was still more interested in playing soccer than watching it. However, he really got into it, enjoying Tony Meola's heroic goal-keeping efforts against the Italians in Rome.
Four years later and the World Cup was in the U.S.A. Despite living the Bay Area where several games were played, Marc had never been to a stadium in his life and was intimidated: it never even occurred to him to go to a game! Instead he watched the tournament on TV and really got into it, so much that he watched many games that were broadcast only in Spanish.
The 1994 World Cup was a huge success and Marc had heard rumors of an American soccer league that would be forming based on the good publicity generated by the event and he was excited. By now he'd gotten used to watching soccer on TV and was definitely interested in an American league. But nothing matured. Then in mid-1997, Marc turned on a local independent TV station and was surprised to find a soccer game being broadcast. The team was the San Jose Clash and they were part of something called Major League Soccer. Ah! Marc was delighted, and even more excited when he discovered that his 1994 hero and favorite player Eric Wynalda was on this local team. He began to seek out this new event and caught games whenever they were televised. Imagine Marc's surprise when he found that this invisible league had been around the whole previous year and Marc had never had an inkling! (Remember, Marc studiously avoids sports broadcasts and sports papers, which was apparently the only way MLS was publicized that first year.) To this day, Marc curses the inept media that caused him to miss the entire 1996 season of MLS.
Marc's education in professional sports was a slow one. For several years he followed MLS as best he could, but back then only a few games were televised and of course he still refused to watch sports newscasts or read the sports section of a newspaper. Still, the scattered MLS games intrigued him, and he watched a number of very impressive matches (including the 1997 MLS Cup). Then in February 1998 his cable provider added a new channel called Fox Sports World. This was a revelation. Suddenly Marc was exposed to weekly doses of high-quality European soccer. Legendary names that he'd only heard once every four years during World Cups were suddenly commonplace and Marc was astonished. Though he knew soccer was the world's number one sport, he had never been exposed to it on the professional level; though he vaguely was aware that leagues existed all over the world, he had no idea they were similar in structure to the professional American sports he despised. For him, soccer was always an art form, like music or dance or creative writing, and it seemed above the crudities of dollars and cents.
Marc quickly became a soccer fan. Some of those first teams he met made deep impressions. That was the year that Kaiserslautern went from promoted club to league champion: Marc learned about promotion and relegation, the points system, and more. He discovered the passion of the Argentinian league, the serious professionalism of the Italian league (home of the 1-0 win), and the celebrity of David Beckham and Manchester United. The next year, 1999, was the first full year of international soccer for Marc and it hooked him for life. That was the year Man U won the treble, with Marc cheering all the way from the Pacific coast.
After experiencing "real" soccer via Fox Sports World, Major League Soccer, with its quirky shootout tie-breaker and other weird rules, lost some of its luster. It probably didn't help that the local team, the San Jose Earthquakes, were consistently among the worst in the league. Marc still watched the games once the international season ended, and as he learned about the players, he gradually became a fan. Of course Marc's soccer experience at this point was always via television; he'd never seen a game in person. But the MLS broadcasts kept intimating that to really support the team and the league you needed to attend in person. The idea made Marc nervous; he's never liked crowds and going to the stadium seemed like a tremendous hassle. But finally, in August 2000, he got up his courage and went to a San Jose game. Admittedly, a part of the appeal of this game was this was the only appearance of Senegalese striker "Big Mama" Mamadou Diallo in San Jose and Marc resolved that he couldn't miss a chance at seeing him in person (and yes, Marc did talk to him and get his autograph).
This event changed Marc considerably. Not only did he get up close and personal with soccer players he'd only seen on TV, but he got to see the game from a completely different perspective. Televised games only follow the ball but half of what happens in a soccer game is what's happening elsewhere on the field: how players are moving into position, dragging defenders with them, making themselves open, anticipating plays, etc. Watching a game in person you're free to look at whatever you want. You get a different view of the game. Sure, you miss the close-ups of tackles and replays, but the event feels much more real and less staged. Marc also discovered the best thing about watching a game in person: the atmosphere. Those crowds Marc was intimated by turned out to be the best thing about the game as cheering fans make the game so much more exciting.
Marc went to several more games in the year 2000, and despite San Jose finishing as the absolute worst team in the league, Marc was a true fan and didn't mind. In fact, he resolved to attend every game he could the next year. He was still too intimidated to buy season tickets, but he did go to every home game in 2001. That happened to be the year the Earthquakes rebuilt the team bringing in a new coach (Frank Yallop), Jeff Agoos from D.C. United, and a kid named Landon Donovan, and suddenly the Quakes were contenders. As though in a dream, Marc followed the Quakes all the way to MLS Cup 2001. He was one of the hundreds who crowded into the Britannia Arms bar to watch the Quakes beat Miami in the third playoff series and win in golden goal overtime against the hated L.A. Galaxy in the final. Marc even got to meet Landon and other Earthquakes at the year-end celebration put on by the local supporters club, Club Quake. Marc was beginning to understand what being sports fan is all about.
After a disappointing blow-out in the 2002 season, the Quakes were back in 2003 leading the Western Conference in their best season ever. But in the playoffs, things went grim. A late season poor run of form had the Quakes struggling to score goals. A trip to Los Angeles in the first playoff leg ended with the Quakes in a 2-0 hole and an upward struggle. Things got even worse for the 14,000+ at Spartan Stadium as they watched the Quakes quickly give up two goals in twenty minutes. Suddenly it looked like 2002 all over again: the conference-leading Quakes were to be knocked out by a mediocre L.A. team that hadn't won a road game all season.
Marc then witnessed the most amazing thing he's seen in his entire life. He watched a team come together, with anger and determination, to do the impossible. Through sheer force of will this team of mostly non-stars rallied to score five unanswered goals to defeat the L.A. Galaxy 5-2 (5-4 on aggregate) and advance to the Conference Semifinals. The atmosphere in that small stadium in San Jose was unbelievable. Whereas normally Marc is reserved and quiet, and like most typical San Jose fans cheered only at good plays or goals, he was on his feet screaming the entire second half and into overtime. The whole stadium -- every person -- was on their feet screaming. As fans, they were fed up with losing and especially irritated at the idea of losing to rival L.A. You could feel the surge of energy pour from the crowd and onto the field, and every shout was like a blow to the Galaxy players who slumped a little more, stunned at the remarkable reversal happening before their disbelieving eyes, and every shout was strength and energy to the Earthquakes players, who stood taller, grew grittier, and felt destiny was in their feet.
That amazing comeback, called by many the best soccer match played on American soil, certainly was according to Marc. It was a profound experience that changed his life. Whereas before he'd thought of soccer and sports as entertainment, mere amusement, that game showed him that sports embody so much more. It's about competition, true, but sports heroes -- a term Marc used to deride as absurd -- are heroes because they are willing to go that extra distance, take that extra step, risk pain and injury, to do whatever it takes to win. A heroic sports effort inspires us, reminds us that we can do more, be better, that obstacles can be overcome, that the impossible often isn't. If ever Marc runs into a tough situation in life, he can look back (or rewatch) that comeback victory and be inspired and determined. That's an amazing gift.
Through that game Marc also learned the role of the fan. The fan inspires, encourages, comforts and consoles, and gives strength to the players. No longer does Marc sit quietly and watch a soccer game. Whether it's on TV or in person, he's on his feet, shouting, cursing the idiot referee, praising good plays, grumbling over missed chances. Marc lost his voice in that second half against L.A. but he continued to shout hoarsely until the deafening climax. A week later his voice was gone again when San Jose defeated K.C. in the Semifinal. And at MLS Cup 2003, in Los Angeles, Marc's voice was gone before the game even started!
These events cemented Marc as a soccer fan, as a San Jose Earthquakes fan, and as an MLS fan. Though Marc still admires (and follows) the soccer leagues in other countries, there's something special about having soccer in your own backyard. The quality level of MLS may not match that of other leagues, the individual players may not be world superstars, and the U.S. public and media may ignore the game as insignificant or unimportant, but Marc knows there's beauty in the local sport that can't be matched by other countries. It's an exciting time to be an American soccer fan. Though there are many miles to go, the sport is growing, youth are producing, the league is succeeding, and even the media is starting to turn around (slightly). We've gone from 1990 where only a handful of games were broadcast in the U.S. and only some of those in English to 2006, where all 64 games will be in English and in high definition!
Marc can't wait.