Nick Perera is bold about his ambitions. He wants to win. He wants to entertain. He wants to set scoring records. He wants to be the best.
But most importantly - he wants to raise the profile of the U.S. Beach Soccer National Team and the discipline itself.
At 6-3, he’s putting the sport and the team on his broad shoulders. Already the USA’s leading scorer in World Cup qualifying and with five goals in his lone FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup appearance in 2013, the team captain was recently re-elected to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Athletes’ Council.
“I wanted to involve myself in the Athletes’ Council because I felt that we need to give this beautiful game what it deserves,” Perera said. “I think this game deserves to be at a national level, international level, on television – everything.”
This is the abridged story of how a Spanish-born, Belgium-raised American became a NCAA College Cup champion, the Most Valuable Player of the Major Arena Soccer League and an international beach soccer star.
“I’m an extremely arrogant guy,” he admits. “But when it comes to my soccer and my willingness to learn, I’m extremely humble.”
That happens when the path to your destination is not a straight line.
Prudencio and Dione Perera met in Montpellier, France some 30 odd years ago. Dione was there on a college exchange program from her hometown of Los Angeles and Prudencio was finishing his doctorate from his much closer hometown of Madrid, Spain.
They started their family in Spain, where Nicolas was born. He was a little over a year old when they moved to Belgium after Prudencio got a job with the European Commission.
Nick was raised speaking both English and Spanish. Living in Belgium, he quickly also learned French and Dutch.
”My mom’s always had an affinity for languages, I think I picked that up from her,” he says of Dione, who is fluent in English, French and Spanish and worked as a simultaneous interpreter. “I’ve always enjoyed that- to be able to go to different places and be able to speak the language.”
He’s since become proficient in Italian and Portuguese, a result of his international travels and knack for learning.
Nick did not hit his growth spurt until his late teens. Like most kids who take to sports in Europe, he was drawn to soccer.
“It was always soccer,” he said. “My dad loved soccer. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I played another sport other than soccer.”
The family would often travel to Los Angeles for the winter holidays and spend every summer in Spain. There, he and his friends would play futsal on a neighborhood court for hours almost every day. In the afternoons, it was off to the beach – where they also would bring a ball to kick around.
Nick was the outgoing, active kid, but his younger brother, Lucas, was on the other end of the spectrum. Lucas is non-verbal autistic and extremely low-functioning. He lacks a sense of safety or security and doesn’t recognize danger, so he requires constant care.
“Every decision we’ve ever made as a family has been based on Lucas’s condition,” Nick said. “The primary reason for our move to the U.S. was that health care in the U.S. for special needs children was superior to Europe.”
While Lucas’ interpersonal communications are not necessarily warm, the family’s love and support for each other is always visible.
“You could tell things based on what he was doing and his body language,” Nick said. “He’s tough to read in some areas, but easy in others. He sees us and he lights up in his own way, but it’s very different. It’s hard to explain but it’s something that shapes every decision in your life - the way you see the world.”
In 2004, the Pereras moved to southern California. Nick was 18.
For someone as enthusiastic about his studies as he was about soccer, college was the perfect introduction to life in the USA.
Nick was set to attend the University of California-Santa Barbara, though since he was unknown, an athletic scholarship was not offered. Instead, he tried out for the soccer team that summer.
“I was cut after one week, because I couldn’t keep up with the level of physical demand of college soccer,” he admits. “Every part of my body was destroyed within five days. I don’t even think we touched the ball for the first four or five days.”
It was an awakening of sorts. Nick ended up playing club soccer that year and improved so much that he was able to walk on to the UCSB team the following spring. The minutes were tough to come by but he was adapting and improving.
The next year, seemingly out of nowhere, the Gauchos of UCSB won the 2006 NCAA College Cup as Perera scored the opener in a 2-1 win over UCLA.
“It was amazing,” Nick recalls. “We were a team with a lot of players who kind of fell through the cracks, who had a lot of grit and determination. We were unseeded, unranked and we went on to win the whole thing.”
Nick was offered a contract by Major League Soccer to leave college early and enter the league’s SuperDraft.
“My parents shot that down immediately,” Nick said. His family’s advice was to finish school, and deep down he knew that was the right decision.
He graduated in 2009 as an English major and walked in the summer before his senior season, which allowed him to take lighter classes and focus on soccer.
“I just wanted to have a well-balanced experience,” he said. “But as the season started progressing, I was way more invested in the athletic side. I kind of saw that there was an avenue for myself and soccer was what I always really loved. I just didn’t think I would ever live off of it. So it was something where I was kind of doing well and started thinking, ‘Maybe I could play at the next level.’”
“I wish I knew then what I know now… about soccer, professionalism, taking care of your body, because I think I could have had a good outdoor career had I known. I didn’t care about weights, or strength training… I just wanted to play.”
Nick was invited to the MLS College Combine, but admits that he did not make a noticeable impression. He went undrafted.
He went to preseason with Chivas USA that spring and was offered a developmental contract. Coming from an extremely studious family with real-world professions, it was not appealing.
He decided to give soccer in Spain a shot, joining Segunda B side Benidorm, although he was loaned out to a third division team. The reality of soccer abroad hit fast. The club stopped paying its players after four months and two months later Nick cut ties and moved back to Southern California.
“I thought my stock would have gone up since I played in Spain, but it was the opposite,” he said.
He had trials here and there with teams in various lower-level leagues, but they rarely presented realistic opportunities to be seen and were often filled with broken promises.
“Honestly I hated it,” he said of that time. “Outdoor was this massive disappointment.”
Back in the San Diego area, he found himself playing indoor soccer to pass the time and developed a real affinity for it – it served as a throwback to those summer days in Spain. An opportunity to join the San Diego Sockers soon popped up.
It was a legendary team in the community and hosted a veteran-heavy squad. One teammate – Aaron Susi – saw Nick’s potential and recommended him to Keith Tozer, head coach of U.S. Futsal and the Milwaukee Wave. Tozer brought Nick to a futsal camp and then offered him a contract with the Wave.
“The team was unbelievable and I learned so much,” Nick said. “I loved indoor – I felt that as a target attacking player, the smaller size of the game and roster, I was much more involved. Milwaukee was amazing. I learned every day with coach Tozer and our group of players was special.”
That first year indoors also saw his beach career get started. The San Diego Sockers entered a team in a local beach soccer tournament. One of the other teams was a USA selection that U.S. Beach National Team head coach Eddie Soto put together to observe some lesser-known players.
Perera and the Sockers won the tournament. Afterwards, Soto invited Nick to join the Beach Soccer National Team in Miami the following week for friendlies against Mexico, Brazil and Spain.
Nick scored his first two goals on sand against Mexico.
“Everything started coming together for me,” he said. “The small-sided game started presenting options for me. As Milwaukee and the beach thing happened, I closed the book on outdoor. It was over.”
Perera at the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup
Perera took Concacaf by storm in his first regional Beach Soccer Championship, scoring 11 goals in the 2013 tournament while leading the USA to the confederation title and a spot at the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti.
“When I watch tapes from 2013 and watch myself play now, there’s a big difference,” he notes. “The tools I have now are far more polished. In 2013 I was really hungry. I showed up with something really big to prove. And we did really well. It was amazing – the first time I tasted international success with the National Team and it opened this entire world to me.”
Nick scored five goals for the USA at the World Cup in Tahiti and offers to join European beach soccer leagues quickly followed.
“It doesn’t click until you’re done,” he said of the experience in Tahiti. “We talk with the guys about savoring these moments, because you never know how many you get. You never know when it will be the last time you get to put on a U.S. National Team jersey.”
Nick continued playing professional indoor soccer. This past year, not only did he become player/coach for the Tacoma Stars, he was also voted MASL MVP. He’s also the Director of Coaching for San Marcos Revolution, a youth club near San Diego.
“It’s tough. It’s a passion for playing,” he said. “In order to access the soccer side I have to take care of the business side. It comes at large cost, and when I have these large life decisions, the only people who I look to for advice are my wife and my parents. Their support is enormous to me.”
Nick and his wife, Michelle, have a four-year old daughter, Sofia, and a two-year-old son, Theo. They live in Carlsbad, Calif.
He’s also part of the 20-member U.S. Soccer Federation Athletes' Council, which seeks to improve communication between athletes and the Federation.
“The more involved I’ve become with U.S. Soccer on the Athletes’ Council, the more I care and the more I realize the privilege that we have,” Nick said. “It gives you a better sense of the scope of the Federation and lets you see how things are done.”
This past year Nick played against U.S. Men’s National Team legend Landon Donovan in the Major Arena Soccer League.
“I know that I’ll never go down in the record books for U.S. Soccer as someone like Landon Donovan will but within the game of beach soccer I have goals on what I want to accomplish and numbers for the Federation that I want to accomplish also,” he said.
He might not be on Donovan’s level, but he’s making a dent in his own discipline. He’s already the USA’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifying.
“Nick is someone who has committed himself to our sport, and he’s one of the best target forwards in the world right now,” said Soto. “His ability to play in different spots is a threat. He can build for us, shoot from distance or he can be a target and throw bikes. He’s a massive threat.”
And it’s not just homer talk. Josep Ponset is the Director of Competitions for Beach Soccer Worldwide, the Barcelona-based organizing body for international beach soccer competitions.
“Nick Perera is undeniably one of the most important players not only in Concacaf but also on the global stage,” Ponset said. “He’s one of the deadliest strikers in our sport, who combines great technique, strength and a deep knowledge of the game. Moreover, his bicycle kicks are some of the most dangerous and difficult to stop in the world.”
Nick understands the role he’s playing on the U.S. team and for the sport in general.
“I love the game,” Nick said. “But I also want to leave a footprint so that in 10 years, whatever I’m doing, this sport doesn't look anything like it does now. We can be the trailblazers of what it can be.”
Beach soccer fans worldwide have come to appreciate his thunderous bicycle kick goals. In 2016, a tally he scored against Russia was nominated for U.S. Soccer Goal of the Year.
“I’ve grown up thinking that sports are an avenue but sports are also entertainment – you have to entertain a crowd,” he said. “That’s been part of something I try to do, I try to put on a show. I want to show up on every field, and if someone asks a random fan ‘Who’s the best player?’ I want them to say me. I’m never satisfied, I’m really hungry and I think that’s led to some success.”
While he’s raised his personal profile, he won’t be satisfied until his team – the U.S. Beach Soccer National Team – earns the same respect.
“Teams in our region may look at us as a powerhouse but on the larger international stage people still don’t have the respect for us that I would like them to have,” he said. “Nobody takes you seriously unless you start beating teams. Little by little we’re carving away at it. We have a group of players who are extremely hungry to prove what we’re trying to do here, – not just to Concacaf, but to the whole world.”
When Jay Heaps was playing for the Miami Fusion and Tom Soehn for the Chicago Fire in the 2000 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, they could not have predicted they would be teaming up to prepare for the tournament in Birmingham, Alabama 19 years later.
Now, Heaps is president of the Birmingham Legion and Soehn the team’s head coach. And they are hoping their first-year team can continue their winning start in one of sport’s longest-running tournaments, after beating lively amateurs West Chester United Predators 4-1 in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup last week.
(Heaps was an Open Cup winner as a player before losing a Final as coach of the NE Revolution)
“We talk about the history of it,” Heaps said of the Open Cup. “You love the fact that if you win, you know you’ll be there forever.”
Heaps won the 2007 Cup as a starting defender for the New England Revolution (current Legion assistant coach Khano Smith played in midfield), a 3-2 decision over FC Dallas. As a coach, Heaps guided the Revolution to the 2016 finals, with Soehn as his top assistant, but this time, FC Dallas exacted revenge with a 4-2 win.
Winner as Player & Coach
Soehn can go Heaps one or two better, though, as he is among the few who have won the event as a player and coach: he was a member of title teams with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) in 1997 and the Fire in 2000, and guided D.C. United to the ’09 title.
“I mean, to be honest, Jay was quite the competitor, he was one of those guys you loved to beat,” Soehn recalled. “So, if you asked me if we would be working together I would have said ‘no chance’. But when you meet him off the field, he is a great guy. We formed a bond and we see the game through the same lens, what we liked in a team, what makes a team. We clicked from the get-go and we’ve worked together for quite some time.”
(Heaps & Soehn have put together a Legion team with a number of former MLS players)
Soehn’s history with the Open Cup dates to when his father, Joseph, born in Romania of German descent, competed for the Chicago Kickers. “When I was growing up, the Chicago area had unbelievable teams and I’d be watching great soccer on the weekends,” Soehn said. “I grew up playing for the Kickers and the soccer club was my home. Their clubhouse was full of trophies back in the day.”
Soehn was a starting defender for the Dallas Burn team that won the U.S. Open Cup the first year MLS teams entered the competition, taking a penalty shootout victory over D.C. United. “It was a big deal for us,” Soehn said. “We were a league-owned team and we played D.C. United in the final, and at that point they were a perennial champion. And to be able to beat them in the final, which was played after the MLS Cup, so it was kind of the final game of the year, it was really cool.”
In 2000, Soehn came on as an 86th-minute substitute in a 2-1 victory over the Fusion at Soldier Field in Chicago. Hristo Stoitchkov’s 44th-minute goal opened the scoring and an 88th-minute Tyrone Marshall own-goal gave the Fire a 2-0 advantage before Welton cut the deficit in the 90th minute. Heaps was at right-back and current Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando started for then-coach Ray Hudson’s Fusion.
Cup Ups & Downs
The next year, Heaps was part of a mid-season trade to the Revolution, who were on the way to early elimination from MLS playoff contention. But the Revs proved to be a Cup contender, defeating the Columbus Crew in the quarterfinals and D.C. United in the semifinals on the way to a title date with the Galaxy. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks caused MLS to cancel games, and by the time the playoffs concluded with the Galaxy as MLS Cup champions, it was late October. The Revolution had not played a meaningful game since late August, so they were plenty rested and hoped to catch the Galaxy off guard in the Open Cup final on Oct. 27, 2001. But the Revolution lacked sharpness in the second half, squandered the lead, and lost, 2-1, on Danny Califf’s 92nd-minute golden goal at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Calif.
By 2008, Soehn was coaching D.C. United, and he guided the Red & Black to a 2-1 win over the Charleston Battery in the Cup final at RFK Stadium. “There are different rewards when you’re playing,” Soehn said. “Obviously, you get the feeling of enjoyment because you’re on the field participating. As a coach, so much more work goes into it, you don’t realize it when you’re a player. I had been assistant coach in Chicago when we won it [in 2003] and it is a totally different reward for winning [as a coach].
(Heaps - standing, in white - in the 2007 Open Cup Final against FC Dallas)
“Bringing it up makes me reflect on it a little bit,” Soehn went on. “I’ve had really good experiences in the game, some you take for granted. But being with my peers and all the conversation, all the good times, I’m just thankful the game’s been really good to me.”
United’s ’08 campaign included a 3-1 Semifinal victory over a Revolution team that included Heaps. But Heaps was not in the lineup – he went out a winner, his final Open Cup match a 3-2 victory over FC Dallas in the 2007 final in Frisco, Texas.
“That was one of the strangest things because we had lost in that very stadium,” Heaps said of Revolution defeats in the 2005 and ’06 MLS Cup. “I had missed a penalty kick the year before and we were so close so many times. And with the U.S. Open Cup we got over the hump. We had lost two finals and there was no way we were going to lose this game.”
A Different Approach
Though the Legion leaders have plenty of experience in Cup play, they are approaching the competition differently this time. They started out as favorites, survived, and should now be considered underdogs on the road in the Third Round up against back-to-back and reigning USL Championship toppers Louisville City.
“This is the first time we are entering this early,” Heaps said. “So you’re playing different types of teams. This is a difficult time for us because of injuries and also loan players are going back to their clubs, plus we can’t cup-tie our loan guys. So, we’re a little thin.”
That's the end of a long road for spirited amateurs @WCUSCPredators, who bow out after losing 4-1 to pro side @bhmlegion in Alabama (Opoku added a late one). The winners move on to meet @USLChampionship champs @loucityfc in the Third Round.#USOC2019 🏆 pic.twitter.com/QGmbDyf6bn— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
Thick or thin, the Legion — mid-table in USL league play for most of the season, so far — have an opportunity to build some crucial support, momentum and excitement via the Open Cup. A good long Cup run can paper over a lot of cracks, and make history – even for a first-year club.
In any case, the Legion’s leaders are about to write another chapter in the long and storied history of the Open Cup. “It’s crazy,” Soehn said. “My father played in [the Open Cup] back then. A bunch of immigrants came over, some of them had played professional soccer in Germany, but there was nothing here so they played on amateur teams. I love to see what it’s turned into and it’s kept growing.”
[Lead Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe]Read more
CHICAGO (May 18, 2019) - U.S. Soccer confirmed Saturday that Tyler Boyd has been approved by FIFA for a change of association. Boyd is a dual citizen of New Zealand and the United States.
Because he represented the All Whites in official competition at the youth level, he was required to submit an application for a one-time switch. With his request granted, he can now only represent the United States at the international level.
- Follow him on Instagram @TylerBoyd7
Born in New Zealand, Boyd spent some of his formative years growing up in Santa Ynez, Calif., before returning to his birth country at age 10. Signed with Portuguese side Vitória Guimarães, the 24-year-old has spent 2019 on loan with Turkish Süper Lig club Ankaragücü where he has registered five goals and four assists across 13 matches.
He also previously played in friendlies for New Zealand’s senior national team.
Mike Anhaeuser’s been with the Charleston Battery for all 25 years of the club’s life – and he’s forgotten more about the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup than most will ever know. ussoccer.com had the pleasure of sitting down for an animated, all-encompassing chat with the last coach to lead a non-Major League Soccer (MLS) team to the tournament Final. Among the topics open for discussion were that glorious run of 2008 and why it was “amazing and great and disappointing”, what the Open Cup means in Charleston, why hunger matters and why he thinks the time is right for a winner to come from below the top-tier for the first time in 20 years.
Michael Anhaeuser: From back when I was playing [he was a midfielder with the club for three seasons before taking over as coach in 1999], from the beginning of the Charleston Battery 26 years ago in 1993, the Open Cup was something really high on the list. We wanted to compete for the title, not just make runs. It was our goal from the beginning to really go on and win it.
(Anhaeuser was intense in his playing days for the Battery after earning All-American honors at Indiana)
You can’t talk about the Battery and the Open Cup without talking about 2008, when you guys went all the way to the Final.
MA: That year showcased and enforced the Cup as something really important at the club. We put a lot of onus on winning it. We had Lazo Alavanja [a former collegiate star at Indiana University, like Anhaeuser], Osvaldo Alonso [who went on to become a ten-year MLS vet with Seattle Sounders], Ian Fuller [Minnesota United assistant coach], Marco Reda [Canada international] and Randy Patterson [of New York Red Bulls and Trinidad & Tobago]. We had experienced guys. We had about five or six guys in the team that just had that pure winning mentality. You can’t overestimate what that means. It didn’t matter who we played against, they had the quality to compete and to win on the day. But we had the quality back then too. Oh yes we did.
Is it harder these days for a non-MLS team to make a deep run in the Cup?
MA: It was easier back then because you were probably only going to have to get past two, or maybe three, MLS teams. But now it’s more like four or five. It keeps getting harder and harder. We try to keep it at the same level here at the Battery and strive for success. I play a lot of my starters in the early rounds; not everyone does that. In the old days, MLS teams didn’t want a home game, so we got to play a lot at home. But it’s not like that any more. It’s another edge lost; it makes it that much harder
Is it tough to find a balance between league play and Cup play with a USL Championship team?
MA: Is it hard to find a balance? Yeah, definitely. When you have a smaller roster like we do it’s not ever easy to find the balance [laughs]. You’ve got games coming at you all the time. Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. You’re burning all the time. It’s nice to get a break, but it doesn’t always come and you have to find the balance between using some young guys and really pushing, really leaning, on your experienced players. If you pick up an injury – which happens when you’re playing a lot of games – then you’re scrambling. Then you have to shuffle your pack and improvise.
(Anhaeuser's been with the Battery for 25 years - that's as long as there's been a Battery)
Was there much scrambling and shuffling in 2008?
MA: I was playing starters in the Cup from the beginning, putting a focus on it. I’d bring in new guys for the league games sometimes, rookies and guys without too much experience. You needed them, and you might lose some of those league games, but you have to prioritize in years like that. Those are special times and you have to recognize it. We had a lot of home games in 2008 [Just two of their six games were on the road that year]. That helps
With a goal in stoppage time @Chas_Battery takes the 2-1 victory over @GVLTriumph and will move on to face @Tormenta_FC or @NashvilleSC!⚽— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
2-1 CHS | Final | #USOC2019
📺 Highlights ⤵ pic.twitter.com/qmGKAqRCoX
Does succeeding in the Open Cup require a special intensity?
MA: I compare it to the NCAA [basketball] tournament. I think it’s like that in a lot of ways. It has the same feeling and the same intensity. It’s one-and-done. I’m a big fan of this. That format brings out something special. You need luck, sure, and a bit of quality on the day. We won many games on penalties in 2008. We beat Seattle in a shootout. You need all those things to fall into place, but it’s no different than Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA tournament a couple years ago. You have those guys people don’t know about and that’s important – you need those hungry guys trying to go higher.
(Charleston's run to the 2008 Open Cup Final was the last time a non-MLS team went that far)
Do your players today understand the meaning of those successes ten years ago?
MA: It’s helped us here that we’ve had success in the Cup. It gets in their belly. I can show them what it’s like and that it can be done. They know it when they’re here. But all of that just helps a little – what’s really important is that we have to go out there and win now. That’s what really matters. The past and the tradition, that just helps us a little before the opening whistle.
It’s obvious that the Open Cup has special meaning for you.
MA: It’s not just me. For our club, the Open Cup is huge. I say that before the first game to my guys, “If you win this, you’re playing an MLS team.” It’s the first statement I make and I make sure my players know what I’m saying. I believed it as a player and I believe it as a coach: all players want to play the best. That’s a given. And MLS aren’t just throwing out reserve teams in the Cup. It’s changing and evolving. The Open Cup has taken two steps forward. The prize money is up – it’s 300,000 now to the winner and that’s a bump. One more sponsor here or there and it could be huge in American sports.
You mentioned being hungry. How important is that in the Cup, as a team and as individuals?
MA: You won’t get anything out of that unless you're hungry. Having guys who are hungry to show what they can do and to take the next step is huge. You’re putting yourself in the shop window in a big way as a player. It makes a big difference if a coach sees you first-hand instead of on tape – a massive difference.
(A well of enthusiasm and soccer knowledge, Anhaeuser still gets involved in the nitty-gritty of training)
That’s what happened with Osvaldo Sanchez, who was so impressive with Charleston and ended up signing with Seattle after you beat them in 2008.
MA: Yeah, exactly. Our 2008 run was just the start for him and look what he’s gone on to achieve. We played in Seattle and we pushed them and beat them, and they signed him up just like that. You get seen in the Open Cup. It gives those guys a chance, so you have to be hungry because you don’t want to miss a chance.
The Battery has been around for 25 years – first in the USISL, then the USISL Pro League and now in the United Soccer League (USL). How has the club changed in those years?
MA: I treat the club the same way I did in my first year here. We were the Battery then and we’re the Battery now. We’re the same as we ever were as far as I’m concerned. We have the club and the history and things are expected of us here. People didn’t know us back then and then we had a little success and people wondered if we could carry it on. But now we have a lot of years behind us and we have a tradition.
How much of that tradition is connected to the Open Cup?
MA: A lot of it is connected to the Open Cup. It’s something special for us and for our players. Whether they’re rookies, or guys on loan from MLS, or our veterans. We’ve been there as a club. We have a chance to win it. I truly believe this and I try to pass it on every year. You have to believe it. You win and you move on. We have that always on our minds. Five games or something like that and you’re in the Final. Not in front of 4,000 people like it was in the past, but now you’re in front of 40,000 people maybe. That’s a big difference. We’re carrying on a tradition here and we don’t want to lose sight of that. We’re here and we’ve been here. But look what the Cup did for a club like FC Cincinnati in 2017 [the Ohio side went to the Semifinal and and are now a Major League Soccer franchise]. The same thing could happen for us. We want to be the best we can be as a club – and the Open Cup is an opportunity, every year, to win something.
(The Battery have been crowned league champs - USISL & USL - Four times, with Anhaeuser as player or coach)
In the Open Cup, you go from being favorites to underdogs in weeks. Which do you prefer to be?
MA: You try not to prepare the team differently no matter who you play. That’s what you try, anyway. But it’s difficult not to be aware of it when you’re playing an MLS team – when you’re up against a top-flight team you know it. You play in the first games against amateur teams and a few guys are getting their first starts. I’m nervous in those games when I put a new guy out there – because you’re expected to win. You lose, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s happened to us and, trust me, you don’t want it. It’s going to happen – it’s just the nature of the beast, but you want to do all you can to avoid it happening to you.
With the tradition, the preparation and the hunger right, do you think something like what happened in 2008 could happen again?
MA: We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but I do use that 2008 Final run as a motivation. We were a few bounces away from winning the Open Cup. We were in the Final at RFK against DC United – with all their tradition and talent – but we tied them up at 1-1. Then we went ahead, but the goal was called back for offside. It was only my third year as a head coach. It was a huge thing. We were right there.
(Anhaeuser in action in one of his animated team talks)
Is it the kind of thing you look back with disappointment or pride – or both?
MA: It was very disappointing to lose, because you build up an expectation when you make it that far. When you compete so well and go so far, you‘re not happy just to make it there – we were unhappy that we lost. But we were there for a reason. It was amazing and great and disappointing. It’s easy for me to pass this feeling on to the players now because I still have that feeling in my belly. I’d love to get Charleston back there for the players of today. They’d never forget it. People out there might forget that we made it to the Final – but we won’t forget. Not here at the Battery. What we did was what is amazing about the Cup – we were a lower division team and we had a chance to win it. This is a for-real opportunity. It just takes one or two upsets here or there and you’re a champion.