A professional soccer player reflects on the MLS SuperDraft and the role of animosity
It’s there, alive, but for the past few years I’ve had pretty good control of it. As soon as it knocks on the door, I won’t answer. I tell it to go away because it’s not welcome, not allowed in my heart. Yet, the feeling doesn’t seem to hear me or understand that it’s not welcome in my home.
As a professional soccer player, I’ve been wrestling with a particular feeling lately. I would argue that the majority of—if not all—players struggle with this at least once in their careers.
Its name is animosity.
The MLS SuperDraft resurfaced this feeling and made me wonder how deeply rooted it is. A name gets called off the draft board. I played against him. He’s no good. Then another. Again? Then another. They think he’s better than me? Really?
We’ve all felt it. We’ve all wondered why we feel it. I’m 24 years old and diving into my 3rd season as a professional player. I’ve played in the premier league (of Malta), and this will be my second season in the USL. Yet my dream, still, is to earn an MLS contract. Recently, I scrolled through the names of the players drafted. Generally, I’m excited for them! Each player drafted has a gift and talent to play this game well. Coaches, for their own reasons that we may never know, embraced a chance at including these players in their lineups. I don’t want to take anything away from those players, who have earned and deserve this moment. I hate that I have negative feelings about their joy.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’m as good and valuable as some of these players. Why them and not me? Is it just bad timing? Somebody help me understand.
I realize that my contempt isn’t wholly valid. As a player, it’s unfair to feel hostile towards one’s peers for opportunities that they’ve been given because those opportunities are almost always out of their control. The coach decided to pick the player; it’s as simple as that. In the world of sport, we are judged by our talent, and while the basics are objective, getting selected comes down to subjective judgments and desires of a single person, the coach. It doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. My frustrations don’t seem to care about this logic.
I texted a friend of mine and poked him about these questions, these feelings. At what point do we sacrifice being better players and achieving all of our dreams in order to be better humans? I can assure you that I’ve never once felt good about having animosity towards a teammate or another player who I knew deserved the opportunity he’d been given. So why am I even talking about this? At the same time, I think I might need this feeling.
I hate that I have this feeling inside of me, but it doesn’t do any outward harm. If anything, it manifests itself as a positive. It fuels me to show up earlier and stay later. I take the frustration and work harder. The anger provides drive. In that case, is the animosity good or bad?
A player would be lying if he said he’s never sat on the bench or in the stands and thought “I hope he blows this so I can prove why I deserve to be out there.” It’s an ugly feeling. But it happens to all of us. It’s fuel. Where is the balance in alleviating a friction that drives you to perform well, but conflicts with the kind of person you want to be?
I don’t want my desire to be a great player to outweigh my desire to be a great human being. Is my motivation for playing to become the best player that I can be, or does playing to the best of my ability provide me with a chance to become a better person, to impact others around us? Some will surely suggest that these desires are at odds with one another; one must be ruthless to excel on the field, and that often feels mutually exclusive with humanity. I don’t like that idea. I can’t accept that the two can’t be paired.
It’s at my door. Do I let it in?