Before MLS2012 Starts, A Memory

The 2012, and 17th, Major League Soccer season begins this weekend.  I will be at FC Dallas Stadium on Sunday as the club takes on New York Red Bulls in the season opener.

There are story lines galore to be told: Kenny Cooper -now with his 3rd MLS side – returning to face his original team, can David Ferreira recover from the brutally broken ankle to lead FCD, how can a New York side that is largely star-filled improve from a sad 2011, how can Dallas get any better without adding any depth and there are probably three or four more good stories I’ve left off.

As mentioned above, this is the league’s 17th season and there are days I am really surprised it’s made it this far.  Like many things I notice in my advancing age I can believe how time has flown.  Steve Davis has written a great piece about how close MLS came to folding back 10 years ago, but has come so far from the brink that the sport is arguably the nations fifth major sport.  And if you’re going by attendance figures, maybe its the fourth.

I stopped trying to get people to follow soccer years ago.  I don’t debate it anymore, but MLS is a real league and worth your time.

Yesterday FCD announced that their annual youth tournament is being renamed in honor of the late Bobby Rhine.  It will also serve as a qualifying tournament for the Dallas Cup, which is the nation’s premier youth tournament.  It made me think of Bobby again and in terms of how much the club, the fans and I miss him.  I wrote this for another blog when he died.  At the time I didn’t have my own, but I wanted to reprint it here so it was on my own blog for posterity.

Here’s to hoping my club finally grabs the cup, but the realist in me knows FC Dallas, as they are rostered now, are probably not a deep enough club with too many older pieces in starting positions to do that.  But I will be there Sunday, as giddy as ever for a new MLS season.

*****

It seems everyone has a feel good story about Bobby Rhine.  Of course they do, he was a guy that you’d have to be a total louse to not like.  Bobby didn’t have to try to get you to like him.  Seriously, he was just that kind of guy that you instantly liked because his genuinely kind and honest persona just stuck to you.

Today we all found out Bobby died at the age of 35, while on vacation with his wife and two young sons.  Reports tell of a heart attack, which should scare anyone plus/minus 10 years of that age, because I can tell you Bobby appeared to be in amazing shape and health

I personally have always admired Bobby for a lot of reasons that I never wholly considered or really took to the time to think about.  I considered him a friend, but I would guess that if he had a Google+ account, I would have fallen under the “Acquaintances circle”.  My relationship with Bobby was one that crossed only through the sport of soccer but when we did bump into each other, he was always quick with a handshake and a common courtesy so lacking in general human interaction in 2011. 

Way back, about the turn of the century, I was privileged to be the co-host and producer of the Dallas Burn radio show.  It was good ‘ol Brad Sham and I chugging along trying to cobble together a weekly radio show about a pro soccer team that wasn’t terribly popular to the masses.  The team would recruit different players to come in each week to discuss the state of the team and the game, but 99% of them just froze when the mic came on.  

Oh boy, most of those guys were just terrible on the radio.  Monotone, one-word answers or didn’t speak English very well (or at all).  

Then there was Bobby Rhine.  

Bobby, a rookie from UConn, but originally from St Louis, walked in – all blonde haired and big white teeth – and just naturally understood how to talk, converse and be a real personality.  I clearly remember him telling me that he wanted to get into broadcasting after he retired.  He did just that – 10 years later.  

Before then he scored some goals, always played at 137% and was that guy on a team that everyone loved because he just played the game so honestly.  Never took the easy fall, or kicked a ball away to waste time Bobby was just that guy fans wanted on their team.  

My ever lasting remembrance of Bobby will be in the last years of his playing career.  Bobby was a striker in college, did a lot of midfield work for most of his pro career but late he was asked to move to right back.  A defensive spot that is difficult for anyone to transition to, especially if you’ve spent your playing life in attack mode.  But Bobby, being the team-first guy he always was (and smart enough to know it would extend his career) took on the challenge.  

The coach, wanting a guy that could add to the attack from the back, got that part in Bobby.  It was the defending part that was the issue.  You just don’t “know” how to defend.  It takes players years to develop the know how to be a pro level defender.  Bobby worked so hard, in such a small amount of time, to learn this part of the trade.  He was never great at it, but as a fan you always, always knew that Bobby Rhine was going to try harder than the guy he was defending.  For that, he was beloved.  From me, it earned my admiration.

When he retired it became clear that the team was going to move him to a place where his good looks, passion for the club and desire to build a new career could be put to good use.  When I heard that he was going to start doing TV as an analyst for matches, I really thought he could grow into that.  He did.  So very rarely do players make the conversion to broadcasting without sounding like idiots.  Not Mr Rhine.  Bobby’s smooth move was more natural than manufactured.  

Then I learned that Bobby was going to become the play by play guy for the team.  Now that is something totally different.  That’s going from being a passenger in the back seat to driving the bus.  I think it fair to say that everyone wondered how that would go as it takes years for a professional broadcaster to learn to do play by play and not suck at it.

Just like his transition from attack to defense, Bobby tried harder than anyone else I know and was far more successful at it, sooner, than anyone could have imagined.  No, he hadn’t reached Al Michaels/Joe Buck territory, but I’ll be damned if Bobby Rhine hadn’t turned himself into a completely respectable play by play guy that was worthy of a match time viewing.  Just leaps and bounds better than 90% of the dredge that most MLS teams trot out for their broadcasts.  

It wasn’t until a few hours after I’d gotten the call with the rumors of Bobby’s shocking demise that I remembered that day, back in the 90’s,  during the commercial break of the radio show when he told me he wanted to get into broadcasting.  

I had totally forgotten it.

Today, it just returned to rebroadcast itself in my noggin’.  

Alone its not much, but when I add it to my feelings about his playing career, the personal interaction I actually had with him, it really completes a total picture of who he was and really solidifies for me why I admired him so much.

It’s probably a good example of why everyone has a good story to tell about Bobby Rhine.

 …

(You can donate in the memory of Bobby to the FC Dallas Foundation here:  https://www.fcdallas.com/form/donations)

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