Editor’s Note: Much is written about soccer from a host of different people covering the score, the games, the goals, the highlights, the transactions, the rumors, the playoffs, the rivalries and much more.
But cutting through all of that noise, what is it like from the perspective of the player?
In “The Soccer Life,” a periodic new series running throughout the 2017 MLS season, we talk with retired Portland Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury about what it’s like down on the pitch. Jewsbury enjoyed a 14-year professional career playing for both the then-Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) and Portland. He became just the 38th player in league history to play 300 games or more and one of just three players in league history to play 150 or more games with just two different clubs in the league. These are his first-person accounts of some of the memorable moments, events, games, traditions and more covering the soccer life.
In this latest post, Jewsbury talks about the long-standing history of players swapping jerseys and the added layer of continuing that tradition within the confines of a heated rivalry such as Portland-Seattle. Be sure to watch Heineken Rivalry Week Timbers-Sounders battle presented by Providence Health & Services on Sunday at 7:30pm PT on ESPN2 with a special pregame broadcast beginning at 7pm PT.
The thought of trading any type of workout gear with another individual right after they have been sweating in it for the last hour or two would seem like a joke to most. But in soccer, trading jerseys after the game is a tradition that has always been a part of our sport and is now starting to carry over into other sports as well.
But people always ask: How can you possibly want to trade jerseys with an opponent after competing against each other, fighting tooth and nail to win? Believe me, when you cross those lines and the opening whistle is blown, you will do anything and everything to make sure you end the game with the right result. But funny enough, when the final whistle is blown, you usually are able to put all that anger and competitiveness aside out of a mutual respect for that individual.
Most of the time, that respect is something that comes because you have a personal relationship with the person on the other end. Whether you are trading with a childhood friend, your college buddy, or a past teammate at the professional level, there is usually some sort of personal connection associated with this action. You see it all the time, the ref blows the whistle to end the game and guys are high fiving their opponents moments later. From the outside, this looks bizarre and quite honestly probably enrages some fans, especially the ones of the losing team.
What people don’t understand is that in our profession, general managers, coaches and players are held over the coals each and every week, as they should be, because this is a results-oriented business. When things aren’t going well, changes will occur and those changes mean that the relationships you have built with teammates can be instantly ended as teammates are traded to other places. The next time you meet, they may be representing a new club. And so as much as we hate to lose on the field, these connections don’t just fade because your friend is now wearing a different color.
The thing I love about this is that whenever I played my really good friends from other teams, the intensity and focus on those games are at an all-time high. For weeks prior to the game, you are giving each other a hard time and the buildup to those games are the best. I still remember in 2014, the Timbers were playing D.C. United and I was playing against good friend Davy Arnaud–a past roommate while both of us were with Kansas City and a groomsman in my wedding. We scored less than a minute into the game and I patted him on the back with a smile as I jogged by when we went back to line up for the ensuing kickoff. Funny enough, 20 minutes later he scored to tie it up. I will never forget not wanting to look him in the eye because of the crap I was going to get from him. Let it be known that we did go on to win 3-2 and he and I traded jerseys post-match. But this is just one instance where those games against your closest friends become the ones when the schedule comes out that you mark high on the priority list.
Obviously, the other ones you circle before the season are the rivalry games–in particular, games against Seattle. Back in 2011, my roommate from my rookie season and another groomsman in my wedding had played for the Sounders for six years and currently works in their front office. Now, I can say I never traded for a Sounders jersey with him, but that was mainly because we had already traded earlier in our careers when he was with the New York Red Bulls. That all said, I miiiight have traded with him–even with the Portland/Seattle rivalry–but it would have happened off the field and one that would never be displayed in my office!!
Now that I am retired, I recently went back and looked at all the jerseys that I traded for during my career. It is pretty cool to see how many close friends that I still stay in touch with and how those kits will soon be up in my office framed. It is those memories that are the ones you will always remember even if at the time, the only thing you could think of was how bad their b.o. was!!