Rollersoccer at the MLS Cup '98
Rollersoccer Goalie
 '95 SF to S Cruz

 '96 SF to S Cruz

 Napa to Calistoga

 Dom Violence Skate

 '97 Swap Meet

 '98 Swap Meet

 '98 MLS

 Skating Yosemite

 Rollersoccer Goalie




On Friday, October 23, 1998, twelve members of the SkateBallers rollersoccer squad traveled to Pasadena, CA, to demonstrate the game at the Major League Soccer (MLS) 1998 Championships. We left San Francisco at rush hour and it took over two hours just to get out of the San Francisco Bay Area. But spirits were high as Brian Sarrazin, vice president of the Rollersoccer International Federation (RSIF) drove the rental van sometimes inch by inch up to the Altamont Pass. We all laughed at the player biographies assembled at the last moment. We snickered at one person whose Bio listed sex as a major interest, and we hassled Brian for writing a very optimistic Bio for himself, including phrases like:
"Brian is the epitome of balanced play ... his shots hit the goal more often than not."
Yea, hit the goal and bounce off! ;-) Well, at least he's willing to drive to and from LA.

We didn't really know what to expect. Zack Phillips, who invented Roller Soccer and is the RSIF president, told us that the MLS producers had allowed us in at the last moment and that we were to have a small "footprint." In other words, we were not to interfere with the event nor to make many demands. We were essentially on probation and our success this year would indicate whether we were invited back next year.

We pulled into the TravelLodge in Central Pasadena at about 1:30 am Saturday morning. Zack had left early Friday morning to meet with Rollersoccer Sponsor, Kappa, and to pick up the portable rink we'd use to play on Saturday. He greeted us with our room keys, wearing nothing but his undershorts and his bright green soccer ball hairdoo (which you can see if you click the hairdoo link to the left). We divided up into rooms and tried to get some sleep. It was a very warm night and we slept all night with the air conditioner on, at least in our room.

The next day we got up, groggy and a bit disorganized. The continental breakfast at the TravelLodge turned out to be a gallon of milk, a plastic dispenser of cheerios, some Orange colored juice, presumably originating from some kind of fruit, and coffee in a pot that looked like it had never been cleaned. Some people skated to a corner burger stand to buy breakfast, some braved the less-than-cheery O's, and some left hungry. We all piled into the van at about 8:45 am and headed for the Rose Bowl.

We arrived at about 9:00 am and started setting up. It took over an hour to set up the rink (really just a string of low, canvas-covered foam borders held together with velcro) and the goals (a cage made of 3/4 and 1/2 gavanized pipe and nylon netting held on by dowels and string). Rollersoccer pick-up games are played with traffic cones to mark the goals, so set-up time is about 20 seconds. After the set-up was complete, Brian mentioned how much of an improvement the dowel and string technology was than previous approaches. I guess goal technology is still evolving. ;-)

We set the rink up in Parking Lot B of the Rose Bowl. Perhaps ironically, this was the handicap parking lot and our rink nicely framed a dozen well-painted handicap markers. I scanned the team rosters and realized that the team opposing mine had Kwame Jeffers, Brian Sarrazin, Doug Goldfluss and Ezra Ekman, Alexandra Haines and Gabe Effertz. It was a very strong team wearing black shirts and blue shorts. I hoped the markers were not forshadowing the day.

My team, in blue shirts and orange shorts, proved to be very competitive and played with great intensity and focus despite the heat and the strong offense of the black and blue SkateBallers. We had Zack Phillips, Keeton Marcus, Kristen Wong, Andy Tao, Kim Allas, and myself, Howard Cohen.

We kept waiting for some kind of crowd to show up. Some people wanted to play anyway, others wanted to wait for people to arrive. So, half the people left to go get some food, water and snacks for the day while the remainder skated and waited in the increasing heat of the morning. Just casual skating left one sweating.

A few people noticed us, but the lot we were in was behind the exhibition area. The exhibits consisted of a number of booths with information, free givaways and concessions, plus a dozen or so soccer-related games. Most of these were kick-for-accuracy games. The entire area occupied a field adjacent the Rose Bowl. I think the organizers anticipated a much larger crowd than actually arrived. It seemed like fewer than 100 people were at the event at any given time. Alas, not only was there no advertising for our demonstration game, but people couldn't see it from the exhibition area either. Our original plan was to stop playing by noon -- precious little playing time for the effort and journey we undertook, but, we love the game.

We played anyway, because we'd come all this way to play and that's what we wanted to do, whether anyone saw or not. We played an intense game while one gentleman sat and watched. He was our entire audience. Few of us knew it but he was actually a reporter from a magazine called Bikini, which despite its name covers emerging and exotic activities. He had been skeptical at first but soon realized that Rollersoccer is an exciting, real sport with skilled players. The noon-day heat left us drenched in our shiny, new nylon Kappa uniforms.

While we were playing, a film crew from ESPN taped us for a while and then asked us to help them with an introduction to their Worldwide Soccer TV program. They had us skate around our rink and stop right in front of their cameras, then we all shouted:

WORLDWIDE SOCCER IS COMING UP NEXT!

Then we returned to our game and played hard until we were all exhausted. We took a long break while most of the SkateBallers went to the exhibition area to try to promote our game and attract some viewers. While they were there they learned that MLS player and 1994 World Cup star of the U.S. team, Alexi Lalas, would be giving a soccer clinic at 1:30 pm, just when we'd planned to play our next game. We realized that we wouldn't be able to attract any viewers during the clinic, and several of our players wanted to attend it, so the rest of us sat in the shade or practiced shots on goal.

When our players returned we were all ecstatic to learn that Alexi had said he would come over and play with us. Minutes later there he was, scruffy red beard and all. Ezra Ekman graciously let Alexi borrow all his equipment, and Alexi Lalas joined the already powerful black and blue SkateBallers.

Zack asked Alexi if he'd ever been on inline skates before. He said "No". He strapped them on and stumbled for a moment, then skated rather skillfully around behind the rink and back. "You've never skated before?" Someone asked. "Well, I've skated before -- I'm from Michigan, it's a law, you know." He replied, smiling. His ice skating experience was working well for him and he settled into inline skating almost immediately.

The we started playing, and Alexi showed amazing skill both in skating and in his ball handling. He made a number of remarkable passes and fakes. He scored three goals on me, despite my best efforts! He had several more excellent shots on goal but I was able to defend against those. Alexi played well with the black and blue -- they were very tough. My team had mostly smaller but extremely motivated players. We played a fierce defense against the black and blue onslaught starring Alexi Lalas and Kwame Jeffers, who was having an incredible day himself.

I think that Alexi wanted to try the game just to see what it was like, and that he was more than pleasantly surprised. I'd might have expected him to play for five or ten minutes and then to bow out. Actually, I didn't expect him to come out at all. But he played for more than half an hour and he really got into the game. It wasn't a situation where everyone was ga-ga over playing with a bona-fide soccer star; rather, it was much more like a pick-up game, where the game itself is what matters.

The whole time we played, a Goodyear Blimp circled above. We wondered if they were filming us. We were the only thing happening at the time in the area and they continued to circle during our entire game with Alexi. As soon as we stopped playing with him the blimp went elsewhere. We might never know if they actually knew we were playing with Alexi, but it was fun to think they were taping us.

The play was intense and Alexi knew we weren't playing as if he were a beginner. He knew we respected him as a soccer player and he showed us some great moves. Fortunately we captured the entire game on Zack's video camera. Playing with Alexi was certainly the high point of the trip for me and it was great to meet him and talk with him. I really felt some kind of connection with him and I was honored that he shook my hand and said he had a great time playing. I congratulated him on his excellent play, "Hey, you did great man! You scored three goals on me!"

"Yea, well, it was a slow day," he said, grinning.

He posed for a picture with us all and said it would be alright if Ezra posted the picture on the Rollersoccer Web site. He came off as just a guy, one of us, someone who you could have pizza and beer with. It was refreshing.

He waved and left us, then promptly got into a car and left. There was nothing else at the exhibition to keep him there.

Later that night we watched the video of the whole day's games and ooohed and ahhhed at the shots and passes, the fakes and breaks, Doug's awesome head shot strike from a throw-in and great saves by Ezra and I in opposite goals. It was great fun to watch the game with Alexi Lalas and see his moves and how well he played with his black and blue teammates. Keeton played his heart out against the black and blue and we all smiled when he confronted Alexi over a disputed charge of holding.

It had been a great day for the RSIF:

  • Bikini Magazine would be writing about our sport
  • We'd be appearing in the ESPN MLS '98 coverage
  • We played a game of Rollersoccer with a great American soccer star, Alexi Lalas.
Our day ended very upbeat, after a somewhat disappointing beginning.

The next day, Sunday, we all went out to breakfast and then attended the MLS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl. The attendance was about 61,000 and the Chicago Fire won 2 to 0 over DC United. MLS had given us all complimentary tickets to the game and they were good seats too. We all wished we could have played a Rollersoccer demonstration on Sunday. We knew people would have loved to have seen it. Maybe next year.

During our stay in Pasadena we were joined by a woman named Deva and her daughter Kalindi. Deva did a fantastic job taping most of our game footage and young Kalindi made a tough goalie during a practice game when some of the SkateBallers were checking out the clinic. We dropped Deva and Kalindi off at their house before we left LA. Then we began the long trip back to San Francisco. There was a lot of laughing and tickling, wrestling, and playing in the van. Kwame surprised everyone with a backward flip in his seat to avoid a tickling rampage by Alex and Kim, with the help of Keeton and Gabe. Kim paid the ultimate price in giggles when Kwame sought his revenge. We got home at about midnight, thanks to Brian's expert driving. All I can say is that Brian is one of the most tolerant drivers I've ever encountered. If I'd have been driving... I'd have been hoarse from shouting "Don't make me stop this van! That's it! I'm slowing down... I'm stopping!" over and over and over again.

It had been a great weekend adventure, one I'll remember for a long time. I wrote this while we drove back, while everything was fresh in my mind. I brought my camera, but I didn't take many pictures. I was just too busy playingand participating. This log is my verbograph of the weekend, which I'll read again when my memory fades. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Heres a few pictures worth.

Finally, on behalf of the SkateBallers, I want to thank Zack Phillips, Brian Sarrazin, RSIF, Kappa and Major League Soccer for making the trip possible. I can't wait until next year!



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