By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (July 26, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Former goalkeeper Mike Ammann is a big believer in giving back. Forced into early retirement back in 2001, Ammann stayed away from the game for a few years. But Ammann’s love for soccer was too strong. That’s when he decided to use his 15-year experience in professional soccer to try and help budding goalies attain the tools they need by opening the Twenty-Four Seven Goalkeeper academy in Virginia.
“My oldest son is a goalkeeper and I wanted to make sure he was getting properly trained as much as possible and it has lead to us working with a lot of promising boys and girls in Virginia,” he said. “I really enjoy passing on my experiences and watching them achieve their goals. It really is great as we have a lot of different levels and they each have different aspirations.”
How Ammann, 41, began his own goalkeeping career was a fluke. At age 14, he volunteered to start in net after a teammate failed to show up to a game.
“The coach asked who wanted to play and I raised my hand,” he recalled. “I had watched enough of my brother as a goalkeeper so I figured I could do it. I made some saves in that game and it was enough for me to catch the bug.”
Ammann would go on to have a successful college career at Cal State-Fullerton. In 1993, the Titans reached the Final Four. If that appeared to be a huge feat, what would happen to Ammann a year later was even bigger. That’s when he received a phone call from Mike Stevens, the director of Charlton Athletic. Stevens had spotted Ammann at the Final Four and offered him a training stint with the English club.
“I was invited for a trial in England. They had a goalkeeper, Bob Boulder, retiring and needed another goalkeeper,” he said. “I played in two reserve games against Luton and QPR and trained there for two weeks. They saw enough to offer me a two-year contract.”
Once 1996 rolled around, the creation of Major League Soccer lured Ammann back home. A homesick Ammann signed with the then-Kansas City Wiz late in the 1996 season.
“It’s very easy to look back and say that I should have stayed in England, but at the time it was the right decision for me to make,” he said. “I wish I was more mature and had more experience at that time as that would have played more into my decision. England was my first experience away from home and I didn’t realize the opportunity that I was presented.
“Times were different back then with technology and communication. I would write a letter to my parents and wife and it would take two weeks before they read it, then write me back. And by the time I got their letter, it was a month later. So needless to say, with Skype and the Internet now, it would make things much easier to be away from home. All in all, I do not regret anything however. (My wife) Gina and I had three kids in three different states and have lived in places and experienced things we probably wouldn’t even have thought about without MLS.”
In 1999, Ammann was traded to the MetroStars. It was in New York where Ammann would go through the best of times and the worst. First came the worst. In 1999, the MetroStars had a horrible season under coach Bora Milutinovic, going 7-25.
“That was definitely a season to forget, but it also helped to learn a lot of lessons. We actually had a very good pre-season in Italy and Mexico that year and Bora got us very organized,” he said. “But I think that is his strength as a coach/manager, preparing a group for a tournament. This is why he had success with many different countries at the World Cup level. The problem was after we started the MLS season, we heard the same message over and over and it seemed like the life was sucked out of the players. I remember the long losing streak we were on and then finally beating Columbus on the road to end it. You would have thought we won the championship in the locker room.”
A year later, the MetroStars and Ammann had turned things around. Ammann made the All-Star team and the Metros went 17-12-3.
“It was like night and day from the previous season. Major changes occurred to the squad and staff and it was a completely different environment,” he remembered. “We started winning games and its very contagious, just the same as losing was in 1999.”
Ammann said the franchise certainly deserved to win an MLS title after the team came close in 2000, losing to the Chicago Fire in the semifinals. He said New York fans have waited long enough and that there is no reason why the Red Bulls can’t win MLS Cup this season.
“They have some great people that support the club and have gone through a lot of different emotions along the way,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t work for the club so I don’t know why certain decisions are made but it seems like they have plenty of money to spend. The lack of funds is typically the biggest hurdle for a successful club and they have put some big names together. But it shows that you cannot just buy a championship unless you have all the pieces in place.”
More from Clemente Lisi: