What's it been like to be an MLS All Star? A whirlwind, let me tell you!
6:01 pm: The final whistle blows at BC Place, and our fans are going wild as the Vancouver Whitecaps have just seen out a victory against the league leaders San Jose Earthquakes. It was a great win for us, not only because San Jose is the top team, but in the previous weeks we had seen our leads diminish in the final minutes of our games against Toronto FC and LA Galaxy to end in disappointing results. But not this time! We stayed organized and put in a solid performance to come through 2-1 winners.
7:30 pm: After 4pm games, I'll usually have dinner with friends or relax at home with my girlfriend, Ashleigh. But it's MLS All-Star week, and I have had the honor of being voted by the fans to represent the Whitecaps in the game against Chelsea in Philadelphia. I get home straight after the game and pack. I have a checklist that the MLS has sent me of things I need to bring – a white dress shirt for the welcome dinner, a Whitecaps polo shirt, and clothes I don't mind getting dirty for the MLS W.O.R.K.S playground build that some of us will be helping out with in Philadelphia. I also have to pack the rest of my Whitecaps gear because I'll be flying straight to Salt Lake City on Thursday to meet up with the team for our game against RSL on Friday.
9:30 pm: I arrive at the Fairmont hotel next to Vancouver airport and have a quick dinner with Ashleigh before I head in for my flight.
10:30 pm: I get into the airport lounge and meet up with three of the San Jose guys – Justin Morrow, Steve Beitashour and Chris Wondolowski – who have also been nominated to the All-Star team. It's pretty funny meeting up with these guys right after you go to battle with them, but they are all cool guys. We talk about the game and how our seasons have gone so far, before boarding the red-eye flight to Toronto.
6:40 am: We land in Toronto. Me and the rest of the guys try to hide our zombie faces and find our connecting gate to Philadelphia. We board hoping for more zombie sleep for the second leg, then we sit on the runway for an hour. These zombies are just about to start eating the air stewards, but the plane finally takes off.
10:20 am: We land in Philly and are greeted by a lovely MLS representative who takes us to a sweet blacked-out Chevy conversion van. It reminds me of my childhood road trips with its big bucket seats . . . minus the blacked out windows of course – remember, I'm from Wisconsin.
11:00am: We arrive at the team hotel, a swanky and eclectic abode called the Palomar. Feeling quite special, we go to our rooms for a quick nap before lunch.
12:30 pm: The rest of the team arrives back from their morning training session and we all meet for lunch. The All-Star coach, Ben Olsen, is there to greet us and we meet the rest of the guys. I don't know most of them, so it's pretty small talk at the table – but it's great to catch up with old U.S. teammates like Eddie Johnson and Kyle Beckerman.
(Fun fact: I actually played with Ben Olsen on the U.S. national team at the 2007 Copa America).
1-6 pm: We get some downtime at the hotel, so I do a few radio interviews on the phone and try to catch some sleep. I struggle to sleep too well, so I decide to catch up on some episodes of Breaking Bad.
7 pm: There's a team dinner, then it's straight to the MLS welcome party. Most of us show up in our desired button dress shirts, but Dwayne De Rosario shows up in a white t-shirt, and Aurilien Collin wears a three-piece suit. The style spectrum is complete. The party is full of MLS execs from all sorts of departments – from PR to the Big Don himself, commissioner Don Garber. Don officially welcomes everyone, which is followed by speeches from the senator of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Philly. There is some schmoozing going on for about another half hour, then the players are free to leave, so I go downstairs and get a lovely massage by the Philadelphia Union medical staff. It's free, and a great perk to my job. :)
10 pm: I hang out around the hotel with a few of the guys for a few hours.
12am: I try to get some beauty rest. It's only 9pm PT, and my body is telling me I should be finishing dinner and getting ready to relax and watch a movie, so sleep doesn't come too easily.
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9am: The team has breakfast together, then we head back to our rooms to put on training gear. I go to the physio room and get some elbows in my hips and groins, get my ankles taped, and then hop on the bus to training.
10:30 am: It's a light training session at PPL Park. We start with some fun games of 5-v-2, then into some possession games, before getting into some team shape to discuss our tactics for the game. The offensive guys do some shooting drills to finish. I just stretch and make fun of the goalies getting scored on.
12:30 pm: A minibus picks up myself and five other guys from the stadium and we head over to a small suburb of Philly where the MLS W.O.R.K.S foundation is putting up a soccer field and a playground for the underprivileged youth. There is a soccer clinic being put on by the Union for the kids and the playground is being built by an amazing group of volunteers from the neighborhood. We mingle around, kick the ball with kids, and turn a few screws in the playground build. It feels like it's 145 degrees outside, but it's incredibly enjoyable, and it's finished by Don Garber cutting the ribbon to open the playground and an autograph session.
4pm: I do some radio interviews and a sit-down with a few media outlets. They ask me about how it feels to be an All-Star, and how it ranks on my career accomplishments. I say it ranks right up there near the top. We talk about Chelsea and our tactics for how were going to try beat them.
6pm: My parents arrive, so I meet them at the family hotel and we go to a nice little Italian restaurant down the street for dinner. They always keep me informed on what's happening in my hometown or with my family. My cousin has just got married, so they were showing me pics from the wedding. My little nephew was killin' it on the dance floor!
10pm: I get back to the hotel and the tiredness from the last couple of days is finally starting to hit me. I watch an episode of Breaking Bad and get a much needed night of good sleep.
[Related: Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story]
10am: I have breakfast with some of the guys, then go and meet my parents for the morning, and we shop around the neighborhood trying to find some good deals. My mom and I are expert deal shoppers, so we find some sweet thrift store items and then brag to my dad about our purchases.
1:00pm: We have a team lunch. I am just finishing my fruit plate when the man himself, Sir David Beckham, arrives. He has been in London doing his ambassador duties for the Olympic Games. He is looking a bit tired, so I ask if he had got in last night. But he shakes his head with a wry smile and tells me he got in about an hour ago. We have a game that he will be starting in in, oh, seven hours.
2:30 pm: I take a little pre-game snooze to recharge the batteries.
5 pm: There's a team pre-match meal. Coach Olsen puts up the formation and some tactical info for our set pieces so guys can start to prepare – details like who will be the defensive markers, who will be in the wall on Chelsea's free kicks, and what runs each guy will make on our corners.
6:30 pm: We meet on the second floor and get escorted through the back of the hotel to the bus. Fans are outside screaming and trying to get a look at the superstars they admire. It's crazy to see the star power that the Henrys and Beckhams of the soccer world have. These guys are on a whole different level, and I respect them even more because of what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
7:30pm: We arrive at PPL Park, and there is already a great buzz. We get into the locker room and our jerseys are all laid out and hanging in our lockers. I get a quick chill inside, an excited feeling in my belly knowing that not only am I one of the players chosen to represent this league, but tonight I get to play alongside the best in our game as well. Taking that in was a great moment. Plus I even get to wear my No. 6 jersey. We go out for our warm up. I am ready!
8:50pm: The national anthem is sung, the handshakes are over, and MLS is ready to take on the Champions League winners.
It's a slow start, but in the 10th minute or so, they play a ball in over the top of our back line and I match the run of Romelu Lukaku, who takes the ball into our box in on our goal. I have one shot to go in for the tackle before he takes a strike. Thankfully I time it right and clean the ball away to safety. It's right in front of the Sons of Ben – the Philly supporters group – and they all go crazy. I like it when I can get a good tackle in early in the game – it settles my nerves and gives me confidence.
We get the first goal and the game opens up as the half goes on. My center back partner, Collin, goes down in around the 35th minute and it doesn't look good. He is taken off with a face injury and dizziness. I am only supposed to play the first half because of the Whitecaps game with RSL on Friday, but I could see in my coach's eyes as we walked off the field at halftime, tied 1-1, that things had changed.
I come into the locker room and ask the coach what we are going to do. He says that he doesn't want to change the CB pair and if I am willing to step up and play 90, that's what he would like. I agree and then start to refocus. It's crazy sometimes when you are mentally prepared for something that changes on the fly. You kind of have to draw a line under the first task and start again. I was still feeling fine, so I just had to convince myself that it was just 45 minutes more of hard work and concentration.
We battle hard and see the game out in style, with Eddie Johnson scoring the winner for MLS in stoppage time. We had beaten Chelsea and had taken a major step in the right direction for our league. The spotlight was on us and we performed. It was a total team effort and I was proud to be a part of it.
I visit with a few of the Chelsea guys afterwards. John Terry and I have captained against each other a fair few times, so we have a decent relationship. We talked about their tour, MLS, and how impressed he was with our team.
We then go and lift the winners trophy, with Chris Pontius winning the MVP award. The locker room is buzzing. I get my jersey signed by the team – it will definitely be on my wall someday.
Sir David has just enough time to sign my jersey – he is already packed and about to be on his way back to London for the Olympic Games opening ceremony. I don't know how he does it. He is beyond an ambassador for our sport. He is a true icon and deserves the upmost respect. I joke with him, saying that he must have some special drug that he gets from the MI5 or the government to aid in his recovery and give him the energy to keep going. He gives me that same wry smile and he's gone.
12:30am: Back at the hotel, I hang out with a few of the guys, trying to wind down from game. It's always hard for me to sleep after night games, even though I'm tired and sore. I finally get to sleep around 3am.
8:45 am: I'm down in the lobby to meet my parents, say goodbye, and give them some memorabilia to take home. They loved the festivities and I'm so glad they got to come and be a part of it. They deserve to enjoy all of these great occasions with me, considering I would never be here without the support they have given me my whole life.
9:30 am: I get to the airport to find out my flight to SLC has been cancelled and I'm now flying through NY in the afternoon.
1:45pm: I'm still in Philly! My flight has been delayed and I'm hoping to get there by 3pm to board my SLC flight. I got a knock on my calf in the game so I'm sitting in the airport with an ice bag around my elevated leg, trying to get the knot in my calf to calm down.
3:45pm: I'm finally in NY and make my flight to SLC. We board the plane and get ready for takeoff, only to stay on the runway for TWO MORE HOURS!
6:15pm: I'm sitting on the plane finishing this journal. There's another two hours of flight time to get to SLC. When I land, I'll go to meet the team at the hotel, see the medical team to check my calf, and hopefully get enough rest so I can do it all over again. The jury is still out on whether I will play against RSL, but the same mentality applies: if I can play, I'll play – and I'll give everything I have left.
Till next time, keep Rising and Shining...
- San Jose Earthquakes