by Allison Andrews
Day 3 of the USL Annual Operations Meeting has only a few meetings in the morning, which I did not attend, but those are over by noon, and some people had already left the previous evening. Overall, the third day is mostly a day for socializing.
After the last of the morning meetings, activity moves to the beach, as another bright, sunny, and warm day greeted the attendees as they started to gather on the sand after lunch. Some of the USL staff were already out there, setting up small goals on the beach which I later found out they had built themselves that morning by cutting pieces of PVC pipe. They were setting up two small "fields" on the sand for the USL Sand Soccer tournament, each field being about 25 yards long and 15 yards wide.
Five teams of between 6 and 10 players each formed just by picking who was around you at the time for the six-a-side teams, and I ended up on a team with Timbers coach
Bobby Howe, Montreal coach Nick DeSantis and COO Nick Filippone, Minnesota GM Jim Froslid and others whose names I have forgotten, or did not know, and I found myself back in my old position as goalkeeper, and despite some initial doubts from some of them as I had to get used to the ball coming off the sand, I must have done pretty well (I will leave that judgment to my teammates) and we were 3-0-1 in our 4 games with 13 goals for while I let in 5. While I was a little banged up afterwards, with a black and blue big toe after botching a pass back which allowed the only goal in our 1-1 draw, and a bit of a sore wrist after misjudging a hard blast off the foot of Minnesota coach Buzz Lagos, everybody had a great time and afterwards, we all gathered for a barbecue under the shade on a deck just off the beach as everyone nursed their sore feet and calves. A wedding ceremony was just starting a few feet down the beach from where we were all sitting, so as the ceremony started a few dozen of us wandered out onto the beach, and we all watched until the bride finally arrived, in a gorgeous white gown and veil, and of course, like just about everyone else in the ceremony, bare feet.
Beach Soccer Action
Finally caught a picture of a nice Florida sunset
The hotel where the AOM was held, as seen from the beach
At the Big Ben Pub, taking in some non-USL Karaoke
Djorn Buchholz wows the crowd with Bon Jovi's "Wanted: Dead or Alive"
Jim Froslid and Bobby Howe with an energetic rendition of the Beatles' "Eight Days A Week"
A few hours later, I wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset, with the goals still set up on the beach, but most of the AOM attendees having headed back to their respective cities, the beach was pretty quiet and peaceful as I finally got the elusive sunset photos I have been promising all week.
Later that evening, after all "official" AOM activities were over, about a dozen of us gathered at a British pub about a mile down the beach to watch the MLS Semifinal between DC and New England. After the match, the pub started up the karaoke machine, and we were all honored with Minnesota Sales & Marketing Manager Djorn Buchholz singing "Wanted: Dead or Alive" and then later on, Jim Froslid and Bobby Howe teaming up for a stirring rendition of "Eight Days a Week". Since there was a West Ham United flag hanging on the wall right behind our table, the pub owner was impressed to find out Bobby had played for the Hammers, so of course Bobby provided him an autograph.
I left with Bobby and his wife about midnight. My legs were finally really feeling the effects of the sand soccer and I was sad that the AOM was coming to an end, but I'd had a great time on my first trip to the Tampa area.
I hope this won't be my last trip to the AOM because as I said a few days ago, there's nothing quite like immersing yourself in nothing but soccer, surrounded by nothing but soccer people.
I know some of you were hoping for some "breaking news" in my digest, but my intent was to try to document what it's like to be at the AOM, not to break any news as that's not my responsibility, but you won't have to wait long to hear news from the AOM as I was told there will be several press releases this coming week that will shed some light on what went on down in Clearwater Beach this week.
Five and a half months until the season starts..
I can't wait!