Strickland gets close to action in Brazil

Joe Avento • Jul 2, 2013 at 6:34 PM

David Strickland got an up-close and personal look at soccer at its highest level, and he really liked what he saw.Strickland, a Johnson City resident and local soccer coach, worked at the Confederations Cup in Brazil over the past two weeks.“It was really cool to see all that up so close,” he said. “The things they can do are amazing.”Strickland’s trek to Brazil began about nine months ago when he received an email from FIFA asking if he’d be interested in working at the 2014 World Cup. He applied and was selected. After some training and Skype interviews, he was set.Before next year’s World Cup, the Confederations Cup was being held in Brazil as a practice run, and Strickland was asked to help out a year ahead of time.FIFA was seeking help in all kinds of areas, and Strickland’s position in Brazil was “photo marshall.” He escorted photographers to the field for teams’ training sessions and games and helped them with anything they needed.Based in the city of Fortaleza, on Brazil’s northeast coast, Strickland worked two group-level games, Brazil vs. Mexico and Spain vs. Nigeria. He also worked the semifinal between Italy and Spain and all the training sessions before those games.“I could watch every bit of it, no problem,” he said. “When the games started, it was very rare anybody asked for anything. They were too busy so I got to watch.”During a Mexico training session, a ball rolled near him and he kicked it back to Javier Hernandez, who plays for Manchester United with the nickname “Chicharito.” “He passed it back to me,” Strickland said. “We got into a little passing game. He was kind of messing with me. Then he came over and shook my hand.”That interaction was common during Strickland’s two weeks on the job.At another practice, the Spanish team came out 30 minutes early and played a game in which the players tried to hit the cross bar from 25 yards out. Strickland was behind the goal when the players summoned him onto the field to be the judge.“It was 10 minutes of fun and laughs,” he said. “Their ability to hit the cross bar from that far away over and over, it shows how much they work at the game.”Strickland called it a “little boy moment.”“I was thinking ‘How cool is this?’ ” he said. “I’m hanging out with these world class players. They’re just laughing it up. I found out they’re just like us. They play because they love to play. They just get paid a lot for it.”He also got to meet Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world, and Italy’s top player, Andrea Pirlo, at a dinner. He worked near Buffon’s goal during the semifinal, won by Spain in penalty kicks.“The crowd was for Italy when they played Spain,” Strickland said. “The Brazilians were all cheering for him. Any time he’d come behind the goal and get water or a towel, he always smiled at the people. He was a real charismatic guy. He enjoyed the crowd and he was talking to the photographers there. Right in the middle of the match.”Strickland coaches the U-18 team for FC Dallas Tri. He’s also the club’s college-placement director, so seeing world class soccer so close was beneficial.“From a coaching aspect, it was interesting to see how each team prepared for the next day, because they all prepared differently,” he said. “Being that close to that level of play ... the first touch, the speed of play. It was just amazing stuff the players can do.”One player impressed Strickland the most: Neymar, who scored one of the goals for Brazil in the host team’s 3-0 win over Spain in the final.“He’s a ridiculous player,” he said. “I’m not a fan of his because he dives a lot and flops around on the field. But the stuff he pulls off, he’s like a magician. I can’t even explain it.”Brazil, on the other hand, didn’t leave Strickland with the same impression.“It’s not a great place to go visit, not a safe place,” he said.He got to see the country’s recent protests first-hand. The tournament was marred by social unrest with more than a million Brazilians protesting in the streets during the event. They were protesting that Brazil is spending money on soccer stadiums and facilities for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics while the country’s education system and hospitals are considered sub-standard.“It was going on right outside my flat,” he said. “It was about 40,000 people. It was very peaceful. No violence at all. There was a guy with a bullhorn and they were chanting and singing, Then they marched through the center of town.”Still, he expects to return either in December for the World Cup draw or the actual tournament next summer — or both.“My first game was Brazil against Mexico and there were about 60,000 people in the stadium,” he said. “When the Brazil national anthem came on, the whole crowd sang so loud it was like a rock concert. It gave me chills to hear their pride for their team.“It was a great experience.”

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