Saturday, December 3, 2011

Man without a country

One of the most enduring memories I will ever have of professional soccer is the "Sunflower Goal"Timbers midfielder Ryan Pore scored the only goal in the final home match in the minor league/lower division history of the club, a lovely 83rd-minute header that brought down the the curtain on the old club and the old pitch in a haze of smoke and sunflowers.Pore was well-liked here, and was one of the first five players signed by the MLS Timbers for the past season. A friend of mine met him at the new Timbers' kit release back in December 2011; she said he was ecstatic about his future and excited about the coming season and his return to the top flight.And then it all went wrong.

Pore never found his feet with the MLS club. His game has always depended on timing, speed, and craft. And he found that the MLS defenders were big enough to horse him out of his timing but were just as quick. And he was never crafty enough.

In his eight matches with the Timbers he was clearly over his head. He never scored. He never really ever threatened to score. And for a player whose game was about scoring, well...

So after a spell in the reserves he was loaned to the Montreal club, playing for the bulk of the 2011 season back in the same second-division league he'd just left. He seems to have done well when he played, scoring seven goals in eleven matches.But not well enough.

When the Timbers announced their signings for 2012 Pore was not on the roster. His option year was declined. And then Montreal declined as well.

In less than a year Ryan Pore went from top league starter happy and excited about his future to reserve team player to out on loan to a minor league club to unemployed.

In the Lesser Depression unemployment is no surprise. And certainly Pore has had more glory and made more money than many other Americans collecting unemployment today. And he is still eligible for the re-entry draft and another club might yet pick him up.But when you hear me say that soccer is a cruel game, or when I reflect about how it speaks to our lives outside the touchlines, in this way it is no different than sport writ small. Sports, like soldiering, is a country for young men, and women. They risk their bodies in hopes of a rich return, and because of the way we value that risk - regardless of the actual worth of the act, or the goods and evils of that valuation - when they succeed they are richly rewarded.

But the side we don't like to talk or think about is the dark side, the penalty for failure, the stark reality of a 28-year-old man without a job, without a club or country to trade his skills for pay. He and his wife have no promise of tomorrow or safety today.

Somewhere the smoke and the singing of the Sunflower Goal will always be loud and fresh, and the sudden eruption of the last-minute victory in the last match of the last year of the promotion season will be ever green. And in that land I will always remember Julie's account of Pore's happiness with happiness of my own, and his success on the playing field with friendly fondness.But I'll bet that Ryan and Ashley Pore don't feel that way tonight.

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