A monthly feature about a U.S. Men’s, Women’s or Youth National Team player who demands that bright, shining spotlight.
Buddle in Full Bloom
As a soccer player, being named after the sport’s most legendary figure could be seen as a bit of a burden or perhaps unnecessary pressure. But for Edson Buddle, who was named after three-time World Cup champion Pele (full name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento), it was simply an honor bestowed upon him from his father, Winston, who played professionally in Belgium, Cyprus and Greece and the U.S.
“I never really questioned him about it, ya know? I just kinda put two and two together,” said Buddle, who couldn’t help but notice all of his dad’s Pele videos around the house as a child and slowly started to figure it out. “I’m proud to be named after the great one, the king of soccer.”
In actuality, even the most educated soccer fans don’t make the first-name connection, which is fine with him. It’s saved him years of unfair comparisons and unoriginal nicknames. It helps that Buddle doesn’t resemble Pele physically, and the 22-year-old plays a much different style, preferring to dominate in the air rather than carving through the midfield on the dribble.
“Pele’s 5’7” and Brazilian. I’m 6’2” and American, so we’re pretty different,” said Buddle, using the tale of the tape to distance himself from his namesake. “I only get asked about the name from reporters or hard-core fans. The average person knows Pele as Pele, not as Edson.”
While he may not yet evoke thoughts of the Brazilian legend, the forward from Port Chester, N.Y., has come a long way in the last four years.
As a member of the U.S. Under-18 MNT, he was highly regarded coming out of high school, but was forced to pass up offers to play for Div. I college soccer powerhouses due to poor grades.
“I got letters from all kinds of schools, but I didn’t even open ‘em,” admitted Buddle, who instead followed a group of friends toState Fair Community College in Missouri. “I knew my grades weren’t where they needed to be to get into those schools, so I had no choice but to go to junior college and then work my way up.” And that he did. Although he was enrolled there for just the Fall semester, it was enough time to lead them to the junior college (NJCAA) national championship, in which he scored the game winner in sudden death overtime.
With that success, combined with a case of homesickness, he decided it was time for two things: to turn pro and to head back East. He was able to do both with the Long Island Rough Riders in 2000. Although he was the team’s youngest player at age 19, he led the Rough Riders in scoring with 11 goals and four assists and helped them claim the Northeast Division title.
A year later, still a teenager, he was again the team youngster. But this time, it was for the Columbus Crew. In his first MLS appearance on April 7, he became the youngest player in franchise history to not only play, but start. Just over a month later, on May 16, he became the youngest player to score for the Crew. He went on to score two more goals and add two assists to give him a respectable eight points in limited action across 17 games.
And so the pattern continued, with Edson needing just less than a year’s time to make a major impact, no matter which team or which level that he competed.
But as good as he was in his MLS rookie season, he didn’t fully blossom until his sophomore campaign in 2002. The 6’1” man-child exploded for nine goals and five assists to finish second in scoring for the Crew. In the month of August alone, he poured in four goals and added two assists to win MLS Player of the Month honors. He also provided a goal and assist to help Columbus come from behind to defeat Kansas City and earn a spot in the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which they later won as Buddle watched from the sideline with a broken foot.
Perhaps the breakout season had to do with the chance to chase down well-weighted passes from then rookie midfielder Kyle Martino, who Buddle grew up playing both against, in battles between the New York and Connecticut, and alongside, teaming for both the Huntington Boys Club of Long Island and a regional team.
Roommates and best friends now that they’re both full-time Columbus residents, they’ve become key components of a rejuvenated Crew attack.
“It’s great to have him around. He’s a good guy to hang out with. With him here, I didn’t have to worry as much about meeting new faces,” said Buddle, who was overjoyed when the Crew chose Martino in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft. “At the same time, it’s great to have a quality player like Kyle who gives you motivation on the field, too. Every day he’s working hard and I do, too. We motivate each other, I guess.”
While Martino routinely sets up Buddle heroics on the field, Buddle in turn does the cooking around the apartment, creating a relationship that breaks down to this for Martino: Give good passes, get good food.
The two are getting a chance to spend even more time together as part of both the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team (for whom Buddle notched two goals and two assists in four exhibitions in 2002) and more recently, for the full U.S. Men’s National Team. Martino, who earned his first full cap late last year, was there to welcome Buddle to his first full men’s camp.
“He told me that there’s definitely a faster pace and to be aware,” confessed Buddle, who came off the bench to play the final 11 minutes in a 2-0 win over Venezuela on March 29 in Seattle. “But he also told me just to play the same. (He told me to) play the way that got me there and I’ll be fine. I definitely had butterflies, though.”
When talk comes to impending events like the 2004 Olympics or the 2006 World Cup, the soft-spoken Buddle wisely resorts to modesty and safe clichés to mask thoughts of the near future.
“I just try to take it day by day. I’m pretty hard on myself when things aren’t going too well. I try to dig deep and push myself every day,” said Buddle, spoken like a consummate young pro. “I’m not trying to look at the big picture. I try to just focus on the small things. I can’t look too far down the road or I’ll get too excited.”
With Martino by his side both on and off the field, setting him up for goals on three different teams and eating his nightly kitchen offerings, Buddle’s future looks to be bright, bountiful and in bloom.
[Editor’s Note: Although he scored in the Crew’s season opener, Buddle suffered a strained hip flexor and will be out 2–3 weeks.]
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Looking Back at June 17, 2002)
2) In Threes (w/ WNT goalkeeper Siri Mullinix)
3) Music by Mastroeni (w/ MNT midfielder Pablo Mastroeni)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT forward Tiffeny Milbrett)
5) Mark That Calendar (MNT vs. Mexico – May 8)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ U-23 MNT forward Edson Buddle)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Who will win 2003 WUSA MVP?)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (USA-Mexico Trivia)
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