Thursday, October 12, 2006

OBT: More Myernick

Via the US National Team Players Association

Connolly: A Class Act
By Marc Connolly, USSoccerPlayers (October 10, 2006)

You'd stand there watching the US National Team train for 45 minutes and never notice for one instant that a 50-year-old was involved in the exercise. But you did know that Mooch was out there.

And how could you not? With the bald head, the perfectly-kept mustache and the chiseled physique, Glenn Myernick was someone you couldn't miss. More often than not, he was smiling, too.

Mooch could still strike a driven ball 40 yards across the field. He could still run with the 20-year-olds. And, if you were on the opposing team, he was still a player that you did not want to see going in for a tackle if you had the ball, just like he was at the University of Hartwick when he was a Hermann Trophy winner and later in the NASL.

The joke amongst the regular group of writers covering the National Team was how Mooch would be able to give Bruce Arena a good 30-35 minutes if he needed him. As a player. That's how fit he was. And that held true right until his heart attack last Thursday and tragic passing on Monday morning.

Of all the coaches involved in Major League Soccer and with the various US National Teams over the past decade, there's no one I called more often on the phone than Mooch. Sometimes it was before a game when I needed direction on an article I was working on. Sometimes it was afterwards, when trying to wrestle with the words Arena had put forth after a match. Many times, it was when I was in a bind and needed an answer.

Every single time Mooch was there. And though he probably felt like turning off his ringer when he saw my digits come up at times or hang up when he heard what I was calling about, he never did.

Throughout the entire weekend, I kept remembering the words of University of Connecticut head coach Ray Reid when speaking of Myernick at the Soccer Champions Clinic he runs at Mohegan Sun each March. Last year, when an unforeseen delay forced Mooch to miss his flight to New York City from Germany, where he remained with the US side after 1-0 victory in a friendly against Poland, the night before he was presenting at the clinic, he should have just called to cancel. But instead, Mooch took two connecting flights, the last of which was a red-eye, sprinted to his rental car at LaGuardia Airport and then drove as fast as he could the two-plus hours to Uncasville, Conn., to make it on time. This was after spending the night on a plane with little or no sleep after an eventful week in Germany with the team.

Could he have called Coach Reid the night before and told him he couldn't make it back to the U.S., never mind to a small, hard-to-reach town in Connecticut? Surely. Could he have made his trip a bit easier and had his scheduled time to speak to an audience full of youth coaches and administrators pushed back? Of course.

But, as Reid told the audience when introducing his longtime friend, "Glenn Myernick is someone who has never forgotten where he came from."

Indeed.

Mooch never big-timed anyone before, and he certainly wasn't going to do it then.

The last time I sat and talked to Mooch, he spoke about some of the other duties he took on as Arena's assistant. He said it wasn't always easy, as it was his job to inform the players who were not selected by the coaching staff to dress for each National Team match. He also spoke of all the time he spends away from his family on the road, especially going into a World Cup. Often times, it was hardly glamorous work, as it consisted of a myriad of plains, trains and automobiles in locations that are far from comfortable.

Of course, Mooch had a whole roster of tales from his travels, which he would share from time to time. One of my favorite stories took place before the 2002 World Cup when, as Mooch put it, he was following the Portuguese National Team around everywhere they went. In February of that year, Mooch traveled over to Barcelona to watch Spain take on Portugal at Nou Camp Stadium. At the time, Luis Figo was the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, not to mention the man the U.S. coaching staff feared the most when looking ahead to their matchup later that June in the World Cup.

While Mooch was leaving the stadium, he stopped at a souvenir stand and purchased a Figo jersey for his son, Travis. Since his flight was only a few hours later, he kept the jersey flung over his shoulder rather than stuffed away in his luggage. As luck would have it, Mooch was standing in line waiting for his plane when Figo just happened to stand behind him. Knowing that the Real Madrid striker didn't know who he was, Mooch asked him to autograph the jersey he had just bought. Figo obliged.

Little did Figo know at the time that the man he saw carrying his jersey and looking like some random American tourist happened to be a member of the US coaching staff, and the one whose game-plan helped knock off his heavily-favored Portuguese side only four months later in South Korea.

When telling the story, Mooch's eyes lit up and he smiled wide with delight.

That, right there, is exactly how I will always remember him.

Marc Connolly is the managing editor for USSoccerPlayers.com. He can be reached at: editor@usnstpa.com

In lieu of flowers fans can make a donation to one of two charitable funds set up in Glenn Myernick's honor. Donors should make checks payable to either the Mooch Myernick Fund in care of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, or to the Colorado Rapids Community Care Foundation, referencing the Mooch Myernick Memorial Fund.

U.S. Soccer Foundation
Attn: Mooch Myernick Fund
1050 17th St., NW, Suite 210
Washington, DC 20036

Colorado Rapids Community Relations Dept.
Attn: Mooch Myernick Memorial Fund
1000 Chopper Circle
Denver, CO 80204

'The finest soccer person'
Death of national assistant coach Glenn Myernick, 51, is a shock to many
By Mark Zeigler, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER, October 11, 2006

Shannon MacMillan recently took part in the U.S. State Department's sports envoy program that sends top coaches and players to foreign countries for a series of clinics and meetings. MacMillan, an Olympic and World Cup champion, was assigned to South Africa with Glenn “Mooch” Myernick, the lead assistant coach under Bruce Arena at the last two men's World Cups.

They spent the better part of a week together in Johannesburg and Cape Town, rushing from one event to another, from formal lunches with officials on the 2010 World Cup organizing committee to afternoon clinics on dirt fields with children playing in bare feet. Late each night, they retreated to the hotel restaurant and had dinner together.

MacMillan says Myernick talked at length about his desire to succeed the deposed Arena as national coach, how he was his own man and not just an Arena disciple with the same coaching techniques and ideas, how his extensive (and unrivaled) experience at all levels of American soccer offered something no foreign coach could, how no one might understand the quirks of the game in this country better than he.

MacMillan was sold.

She returned to San Diego and was working Monday when her roommate called, asking if the name of the coach she had gone to South Africa with was “Mooch” because his name was in the news. MacMillan got excited.

“I thought my roommate was going to tell me he had been named national coach,” MacMillan said.

No, MacMillan's roommate told her solemnly, Mooch was dead.

The shock pulsed through MacMillan's body just as it did through the rest of the American soccer community this week, both from the cause of death (a massive heart attack in as fit a 51-year-old as you'll find) to the aching realization of what it means for the sport in this country.

Myernick had just finished a jog at his home in suburban Denver Thursday and was talking to a neighbor when the heart attack struck. His wife, Nancy, is a nurse and administered CPR until paramedics arrived. But he went into a coma and never came out, succumbing Monday morning with his wife and two children at his side. (His brother, Robert, lives in San Diego.)

“He was an unbelievable husband and father, and the finest soccer person I've ever come across in this country,” Arena said in a statement. “He was an amazing resource for soccer in this country. He will be sorely missed.”

Myernick won the Hermann Trophy – collegiate soccer's highest honor – at Hartwick College in upstate New York in 1976, as a defender, no less. A year later, he led his team to the NCAA title and was a No. 1 draft pick of the Dallas Tornado of the now-defunct North American Soccer League. He would play eight seasons in the NASL while being a regular on the U.S. national team, captaining it in 1978.

He coached the men's under-17 and under-23 national teams, and he was an assistant for the under-20s and 1996 Olympic team. Most recently, he was Arena's chief assistant for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. He took over an 11-21 Colorado Rapids team in Major League Soccer in 1997; the Rapids went to the championship game in his first season.

“It didn't matter if it was coaching the U.S. national team at a World Cup or talking to a group of coaches or just working with kids,” said Rene Miramontes, his assistant coach with the Rapids for four seasons. “If it needed to be done, he did it. He was that committed to the game.”

Miramontes had spent nearly his entire life in the San Diego area, attending San Diego High and San Diego State and currently living in Spring Valley while serving as U.S. Soccer's director of coaching for its western region.

Miramontes has moved out of state once. To Denver, to work with Myernick.

“I was working for the federation at the time, which was a pretty safe job,” Miramontes said, “and I was living in San Diego with two little kids and my wife. Someone once asked me: If it had been anyone else, would you have moved? The answer is no. And if Mooch had moved somewhere else after the Rapids, I probably would have gone with him, too.

“I learned so much from him, on and off the field.”

Former San Diego Sockers player and coach Brian Quinn first met Myernick in 1995, when he was getting his national “A” coaching license and Myernick was one of the instructors. He remembers telling a close friend after the weeklong clinic that Myernick was “one of the sharpest guys in soccer I have ever met.”

But something else about Myernick always stuck with Quinn, as it did for most people who crossed his path: his biting sense of humor. The final portion of the licensing test was oral questions, and the other instructor asked Quinn what sort of food would be a solid source of protein for an athlete.

“Here we are, at the end of the session, after a written test and on-field tests, and I remember thinking, what kind of question is that?” Quinn said. “Then I look over at Mooch, and he's puckering up his lips and making a swimming motion with his arms, like a fish.”


First XI: One of the good guys
By Jeff Bradley / Special to MLSnet.com

Glenn 'Mooch' Myernick was always an approachable soccer coach.

As sportswriters, we're told so often to avoid clichés. But at a time like this, how can you not fall back on the line, "This puts things back into perspective."

In a week where MLS teams were battling for final playoff spots, where coaches in the league were fighting for their jobs and players are battling for a few extra bucks, Glenn "Mooch" Myernick lost his life. And suddenly, the games seemed so trivial.

And when I think of Mooch, and the many conversations we've had over the last 10 or 11 years, he'd laugh at me for taking a column in this direction. Because Mooch always had the game of soccer in its proper perspective. Coaching soccer, studying soccer, loving soccer, it was Mooch did. But, man, it was the furthest thing from who Mooch was.

If you wanted to get Mooch really animated, it was best to ask him about his daughter, Kelly, a ballerina. Or his son, Travis, who just graduated from Wingate University. At those times, it was clear to see, you were asking him about something that was really important to him. That's not to suggest that soccer wasn't important to Mooch, but I could always tell he was one of those rare pro sports guys who understood it was still a game. And no matter how good your game plan or tactics were. No matter how many hours you spent breaking down film and analyzing a team's strengths and weaknesses, when it came time to kick the ball, 90 minutes later, it would be a win, a loss or a tie.

And then there'd be another game.

One of the things I loathe about myself is that, at the age of 42, with a wife and two sons, I still get nervous when I have to approach a player or coach in a lockerroom, to ask a "tough question." Yeah, I still fear that a guy like Tony LaRussa or Bill Parcells or Bruce Arena (or even my brother, Bob Bradley) is going to jump me for asking a dumb question. Make me feel like an idiot in front of my peers. I've been a professional sportswriter since 1985, 21 years in the business, and I still get queasy in these situations. So many coaches tell us, sometimes without words, "Do not go there."

And then I think of this past World Cup, and how I walked on eggshells up to Mooch, to ask him what he learned while scouting the Czechs. I assured him this was just for my education, not for attribution, as I knew the sensitivity of the situation. I understood how important the work he had done really was, how it would be wrong to let the public know too much, because it was top-secret, under lock and key, all that stuff.

And Mooch looked at me like I was from Mars. It was like, "Jeff, you want to talk about the Czechs? Then let's talk about the Czechs. Why are you stumbling around here?"

And when we got down to talking, Mooch looked me in the eye and said, "They are a great team, one of the most talented teams in the world, and we've caught a bad break playing them first because a few of their stars are past their sell-by date. Guys like Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller may not have three games in them, but they surely have one."

I used this theme, un-attributed, as if I was the smart guy, every time I could. The funny thing, looking back, is I bet Mooch would've been fine if I'd put his name on it. Not because he turned out to be correct. Just because it was how he felt.

Mooch didn't put undue importance on his place in the world of soccer, that's for sure. But his colleagues would never sell him short. In so many of my interviews with Arena in the four years leading up to the 2006 World Cup, he'd talk about the genius of Mooch, how he had knowledge of the international game that no American could match. When discussing the victory over Portugal in 2002, Arena would always, 100 percent of the time, pass the credit onto the scouting report that Myernick had provided the team.

But when you sought out Mooch, he'd laugh, preferring to take the realistic approach. "It always looks good when you win, Jeff," he'd say. "And the same scouting report looks like garbage if we lose. That's just the way it goes."

Mooch's favorite scouting story came from the U.S. vs. South Korea match in 2002. In the hotel conference room, Arena was filling out the Korean lineup on a board, "And he was getting agitated," Mooch recalled. "He'd say, which Park is here and which Kim is there? And, finally, he just gives up and says to the team, 'They've got a bunch of Kims and Parks and they're fit as hell and you'd better be ready to fight like hell.'"

That was Mooch, not afraid to tell you the truth, or what he was thinking, straight-up. And not so impressed by himself that he wanted you to think his work was any big deal.

"You can put the word 'good' next to every noun with Mooch," my brother Bob said last night. "A good soccer guy. A good father. A good husband. A good man, plain and simple. You could talk soccer with him, get great insight, you could talk about life with him, get great advice, and you could also share a laugh with him. A real good laugh."

Things were always in perspective for Mooch. The soccer world will miss him dearly.

But not nearly as much as the real world.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at jbradleyespn2003@yahoo.com and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.

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