Tom Mulroy: 'There's so many people on the wrong page'

Former professional player Tom Mulroy has worn many hats since retiring as a player and touring the country juggling as “Soccer Tom.”

He grew up in Spring Valley, N.Y., and as a youth played for the famous Blau-Weiss Gottschee club in Queens and then at Ulster Community College, where twice he was named a NJCAA All-American. He was drafted by the Miami Toros of the old NASL in 1976 and played for 13 different teams -- one for each year of his career -- in five leagues before retiring. He moved into coaching, motivational speaking, and sports promotion, and was president of the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers from 2012 to 2014.

He lives near Miami, where he promotes the popular adult tournament, the Copa Latina. At 61, he’s gone back to coaching with a program in Weston, Fla.

What age groups are you working with in your club?

We got little ones from 6 or 7 all the way up to 12. We started the program about two years ago. We’re right next door to an academy, so if we get a good enough player we’ll put him in the academy. We’re not really competing.

They used to be at war. It was like Palestine and Israel. Now, I told everyone, ‘We can’t fight with who’s next door to us.’ I get, ‘They’ll steal our kids.’ And I say, ‘They’ll steal our kids? We’re rec. What are you talking about?’

If you join our club, you could be in my training group [Weston Select], you could be in AYSO where a dad trains you, or if you’re a 12-year-old you could be in Weston FC travel teams or you could be in the Weston Academy. If you’re a family from Venezuela, where people are coming from because of the situation down there, you have all these options in the same town.
How much "advice" do you get from parents about your coaching?

Because they’re paying, they think they have an educated opinion. One Brazilian guy comes to me and says, ‘You don’t understand. I know how this is done. My grandfather was a professional player, my father he was a professional player. You think I don’t know?’

So I said to him, “My father was a brain surgeon. My father’s father was a brain surgeon. Do you think I should do brain surgery on your son? Do you think we’ve got to play high-pressure and score as many goals as we can against those other kids who are worse than we are and we’re terrible to start with?’ 

There’s so many people on the wrong page and how we got here, I don’t know.
What is the path to the right page?
There are lots of things we can improve but there’s one we all talk about all the time. Last [United Soccer Coaches] convention, every convention, it comes up. Poor Hispanic and black people, that’s the answer. We’ve got to go to people we’re not going to. We’ve got to go to our best athletes, the kids that are hungry, and we just don’t do it.

In our area, too many people don’t want poor Hispanic or black kids playing. If LeBron James was a goalkeeper, I think he’d be pretty good.

People want pay-to-play where they are because it works for them, and their kid will make the ODP team and so on. The kids that live in Coral Gables don’t want to drive into Opa-locka and park their Lexus to play in the ghetto. They like it where it is, in Pinecrest.
Nobody knows how many Hispanic leagues and teams and players are not registered with the federation. What is causing this?
Why do those Hispanic leagues have to be brought into the federation? For every one player registered with U.S. Soccer, there’s probably a thousand adult players that are not registered. Why do you think that is? They don’t provide a benefit but take money.

I wanted Copa Latina to be part of the federation. I’m a system guy. I want us all to work together. Very few of the adult leagues in this area are federation, at all. The Copa Latina is 32 teams, single-elimination tournament, 30 days. To register those players so the tournament could be called a federation tournament, how much you think it would cost me? In excess of $25,000, so I could say I was a member of their group and have zero benefit to register more than 700 players, half of whom would be out after the first round.

They’ve set up an infrastructure that is not beneficial to constituents. It’s only political. People that want to get flown to a meeting and act like they’re a big shot as part of the federation, and get a free ticket for an international match or whatever. But they’re not out there providing services or doing something that would make the people want to join.
You got started in the game about 50 years ago when youth soccer basically didn’t exist. How did you get from there to where you are today?
I was one of the inner-city kids that I’m talking about. No way I could play soccer today. A single mom, no car in the house, no phone in the house, mom walks to work every day and I hitchhiked wherever I had to go.

In all of Rockland County, north of New York City, we were the only club that had a youth team. The Spring Valley Boys, now the Clarkstown Sports Club. It started as the Spring Valley men’s team, then they added a kids’ team, and then it grew so big and Spring Valley had just one little field, they wound up doing it in Clarkstown.

When I started to play, no one else played. We traveled into New York to play the other teams. My next door neighbor, Paul Bianco, would go to his dad’s bar and restaurant and we would make pizza dough downstairs. Well through the bar his dad sponsored the men’s team, and they were told they would get a cheaper rate of registration if they had a youth team, so the adult teams started putting together youth teams in the German-American league.

We had a 12-and-under team. We had kids on the team 7 years old, 9 years old, 10 years old, across the gamut. We’d play our home games in Spring Valley and we’d travel to Astoria and Queens. We’d play the Greeks one Saturday, the next Saturday it was the Brooklyn Italians. At about the same time, on the other side of the city, Long Island was starting up with the Long Island Juniors.

Everything was brand new and the slate was actually clean. The 15 or 18 kids on my team didn’t all live in Spring Valley. Their dads lived all over the place and would drive them to practice because there was no other soccer team. It’s not like you played rec or you played travel: there was one team. That’s what people don’t get.
And as corny as it sounds, you have no doubt that soccer not only changed your life but saved it. How?
I guess I was a pretty good athlete because in my second year – there wasn’t a U-14 team then, the division was called juveniles – the coach made me the captain and it transformed my life. I was already sniffing glue, shoplifting with my brother. I was definitely headed in the wrong direction, growing up in a mom-only household, blah, blah, blah.

This soccer thing changed everything: who I was hanging out with, what I did. I always tell people I would be dead or in jail if not for my coaches as role models and the sport of soccer.

From that team – that was in ’68, so I was 12 – seven years later, after I went to Ulster Community College, I was playing [for Miami Toros] with Pele. [Editor's Note: Pele and Mulroy swapped jerseys after a game in 1976.]

I was always thinking there’s a kid in Argentina or there’s a kid in Brazil who’s trying to practice more than I am. I’d wake up in the morning and try to practice more than that kid. I literally trained 40 hours a week. In the summertime I would jog to my junior high where they had the best fields and the goals set up. They had the combination football/soccer goals set up permanently.

My aunt would drive a carload of equipment, a bag of balls and a net, because I would run there four or five miles. I would put up the net and stay there all by myself. That’s why I was a great juggler. Back then I was the only person doing that. Now everybody does it. I did it because when I saw the Dettmar Cramer video, it was one of things you could to do to improve your technique.

It's grown so fast that we couldn’t have enough good coaches for all the kids that were playing, that goes without saying. But in some ways we’ve over-coached, we don’t play enough street ball.

You organized a lot of pickup games in the neighborhood as well as practicing by yourself. 

Up the road from us there was a movie theater, in Hillcrest, called Cinema 45. It had a wall with no windows, because it was a theater. Across the parking lot about 25 yards away was a fence that outlined the shopping center. We played there literally every day.

We played in that parking lot as much as any Brazilian kid on any street. Everybody in the neighborhood thought we were out of our minds. 

And one day this new kid shows up.

One day this kid comes to the parking lot, probably 9 or 10. He lives up on the hill, the shopping center is at the bottom of the hill, and I live on the other side of the hill.

He comes over and says, ‘Can I play?’ I was the boss of the game because I was the oldest, about 16, and it was my ball. I went to everybody’s house and dragged them out.

I said, ‘Well, do 10 juggles. If you can do that, you can play.’

One-two-three, drops it. One-two-three, drops it. I say, ‘Son, when you can play, c’mon back.’ We wouldn’t let him play in our game.

Next day, he comes back and says, ‘Can I play?” I say, ‘Bro, you know the drill.’ I kick him the ball, he does 12 juggles, boom, he’s in the game.
And that was Ron Dufrene, who also played at Ulster CC, went on to Florida International University, and then to the Major Indoor Soccer League with Dallas as well as Stade Reims in France. Born in Haiti and capped twice by the USA.
Yep. We’re still friends. My daughter calls him “Uncle Ronald."

You started your pro career with the Miami Toros of the old NASL in 1976, and you think MLS can work in Miami despite the failure of the Fusion, which lasted just four seasons (1998-2001). The market took a lot of blame but you have a different view, starting with the owner, Ken Horowitz.

I had my own little company here, I wanted to work with them. They didn’t want to do anything other than tell everyone they were the kings of the market and now they were the pros and everybody had to fall in line.

Well, you know what? I’m still here and he lost $30 million and he’s never coming back to a soccer game, which is what I told them. You could track everything they did and write “How Not to Run a Soccer Franchise.”

They couldn’t wait for him to go. Sponsors hated soccer after he left. He over-promised and under-delivered on everything. It started with the owner and then went to the [Lockhart] stadium. They got hijacked by the city and did a terrible job with the stadium up there.
The NASL has a team in Miami and David Beckham’s group is working to get its stadium project launched. How you see that battle playing out?
The NASL, I don’t know what’s going to happen. “Oh, they’ll do USL!” That’s fans talking. Miami is fighting the USL in court, and the USL has already said they’re not going to put franchises in the way of the major MLS markets without working with the MLS teams and giving them first right of refusal to field their own team. So why would they let in someone that clearly wants to compete with the MLS team?

Miami FC has the same budget as a few MLS teams, like the two they beat in the Open Cup. That’s good, except when your revenue is like the other teams in your league, and your expenses are like MLS. At some point, it doesn’t work.
What does MLS have to do to make it work in Miami?

In my opinion, they have to make Miami one of the coolest places in the world to see a soccer game. It has everything. But they have to do it right. I’m really hoping they really look at the market and be humble and do everything first-class, because Miami is the biggest VIP city in the country, and I include New York and L.A.
It’s not just winning. I love the fact that [David] Beckham’s behind it and for a while I was doubting what they were doing and when [Tim] Leiweke came in, it kind of changed. You could see that things got quieter because it’s better to fight the political wars behind the curtain rather than in front of the curtain.

They changed it from announcing stuff they weren’t sure about to not saying anything until they knew where they were. Beckham and Beckham’s group are in the entertainment business, and any news is good news. But their business can’t fail because some lady says there’s an owl in the backyard and the owl’s protected and you can’t move it and the contract will never go through.

Now I’m hoping the MLS thing comes through and I’m hoping they try to it right with everything. Look at the standard of training grounds now. That thing is Atlanta is off the charts. If Miami is going to be what everyone knows they have to be, they have to do that right and I’m pretty sure they’ll figure that out.
What about the stadium project?

The stadium is no easy answer. They still have some issues with the land. People are suing them because they don’t want a stadium there. I am hoping they make the proper decisions on the stadium. That’s going to be key.
People don’t take public transit, they drive. Everybody drives everywhere. There has to be enough parking. If they think buses and shuttles are going to move thousands of people to a soccer game in Miami, they’re crazy.

15 comments about "Tom Mulroy: 'There's so many people on the wrong page'".
  1. R2 Dad, November 15, 2017 at 1:35 a.m.

    Good interview--sounds like an interesting guy. The brain surgeon comparison is a false analogy, though, but even parents that aren't paying are a problem. Grownups are on the wrong page because they've forgotten they are there to support the team and cheer--that's it. Not complain. Not boo the other team, coach or officials. Not incite violence upon the other team. Not run onto the field when a fight breaks out, looking to punch out players. Not complain about handling or offside calls. Not bad-talk other parents, players or field marshalls. Not complain about calls they don't understand. Not run onto the field because a kid fell down. Not violate the laws of the game. The problem is that they do ALL of that, and ruin the sport for everyone else because they're unable to shut their gobs, sit down and just provide positive feedback so their kid can enjoy the game. If no one got hurt, it's a good game. And believe me, by U15 that gets more and more difficult as the officiating gets more lax. By U19, it's a jungle like adult leagues--total carnage--very difficult for most parents to remain positive when many players are getting injured over the course of the season. Would love a cartoon manual from USSF for every new U8 parent, on how to be a soccer parent, LOTG, to get them off on the right foot.

  2. Bob Ashpole, November 15, 2017 at 2:47 a.m.

    Good article.

    About 20 years ago, I looked at having a small adult rec club I ran join USSF. The biggest disappointment was finding there was no advantage to affiliating. 

    I was in my 60's before I played in my first USSF sanctioned match.

  3. Bill Morrison, November 15, 2017 at 4:41 a.m.

    Great to see and hear from Tom! I remember him from the 2 seasons he played for the old Hartford Hellions in the MISL; one of the few consistently good players in a pretty dismal team.

  4. feliks fuksman, November 15, 2017 at 1:24 p.m.

    Enjoyed very much reading the interview!  I’m a little older but our paths met many times in the past; and the thing I remember the most about Tommy, that I was very impressed with his ball skills and work ethic for an American born kid.⚽️

  5. frank schoon, November 15, 2017 at 1:56 p.m.

    Good interview....and again "street soccer". Kids doing it on their own and working to improve themselves. There is plenty of space ,this time behind the movie theater and a wall to kick against...PERFECT. And note both kids who wanted to play more also ended up playing in the pros.
    The pickup game subculture can established ,it just needs a little push. 

  6. Ric Fonseca, November 15, 2017 at 4:32 p.m.

    Wow, very good interview!  I first met Tom back during the earlu USSF Coaching schools and NSCAA Coaching conventions as well as US Soccer AGM's.  Glad he's still around and is cognizant of the the lack of non-US Soccer Affiliation of Latino/Hispanic, and his question has been resonating with me and the "old" members of the then nascent LATIN AMERICAN SOCCER COACHES ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA (lasca) and I STILL see that non affiliation is a very important aspect of the old process. Here's a tid-bit: During the '80s when I was a commissioner with the former Calif Youth Soccer Association So. (CYSA-S, I proposed that the Constitution and By-Laws of the Association be translated and distributed to the literally hundreds of clubs, players, association not affiliated to CYSA-S/USSF. I did it, but the then Bod didn't do jack diddly about it, meaning they did not actually want to distribute it - note: I was one of three Latinos on the BoD. So in order to answer Tom's question, first US Soccer has been unwilling to reach out, and conversely the Latino/Hispanic community doesn't want to affiliate.  But wait, there is hope yet, 'cause hope springs eternal. Much more to this story, but I shall close here with a quick, Hola Tom, mucho tiempo que no nos hemos visto, saludos cordiales y un fuerte abrazo!!!

  7. Patrick O'Reilly, November 15, 2017 at 7:23 p.m.

    Eric Sieppel, Tom Mulroy.......... there's probably hundreds, maybe thousands others in the USA with enlightened ideas on how to advance American soccer. Why aren't they on USSF board?
    I've  seen a lot of great college players I believe can play at the pro level. Of 1,000 higher ed institutions, Say 2 graduating each year from each are outstanding. That's 2,000 players PER YEAR. That's a hell of a lot of talent available. Over 10 years it's  a 10,000 player pool.

    Maybe a second National Federation is in the works. ....Maybe even a second FIFA?

    Anout the T&T disaster. I came away feeling pretty good in this regard: At age 81 I could have replaced a couple of those guys.

    Positive take from WC qualifying: dedicated soccer supporters are not going to accept us being a second rate soccer nation. I sense an Arab Spring in the works......have at it.


  8. don Lamb replied, November 15, 2017 at 8:36 p.m.

    Playing Devil's advocate here.... You point to these two older gentleman and ask why they aren't in higher positions in the US. My question is more along of the lines of why haven't they been doing more in their own communities. If there are, like you say, maybe thousands others like them, then why has our countries culture and infrastucture lagged behind so far for so long? Maybe there two gentleman are doing the right things, but the older generations are the ones who created the vastly inadequate environments that have just been overtaken by the DA and MLS clubs recently. It is fashoinable to blame USSF for everything, but USSF was relatively powerless until just the last couple of decades. For all of these older individuals who supposedly know best now, where were they years ago when we needed much better things happening at the grass roots level?

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, November 16, 2017 at 4:48 p.m.

    In reply to Don Lam's comment: As another "old timer", well, "young-un" when you were probably iether a thought, and or running around in nappies (saying this 'cause I haven't the slightest idea your age!!!) we "old timers" were in fact and deed in our communities doing the work that no one wanted. Above I said I - all by my little old lonesome - translated the old CYSA-S's Const/By-Laws and it took me a pretty long time to put in a standard Spanish, i.e. one that would not be way over people's heads and yet not in a patronizing style.  Still, the CYSA-S BoD literally "put it on ice" and as far as I know never distributed it!  As to why we weren't/aren't on the US BoD I can tell you that after WCUSA94, there were several then members of LASCA who were invited to participate (one one accepted!) but if more of us had in fact and deed gotten on the BoD, we'd still be pushing that boulder up the mountain, close to getting to the top only to have it roll down yet again, and yet again, we'd still be pushing it up.  And to say that USSF was "relatively powerless.... until a few years ago...(sic)" I really do not know where this on how this notion came to you! Lastly, my fried, we WERE at the grass roots level, and many of us still are, so in danger of sounding oblique, I ask you, 'WHERE WERE YOU WAY BACK THEN?

  10. don Lamb replied, November 16, 2017 at 8:38 p.m.

    Thanks, Ric. I understand that opportunities in the game and the general appetite for the game were so lacking that there simply wasn't much to do as well. I do wish there were a lot more people in the older generations who had a passion for the game, but the relaity is that those of you who did were forced to do some real pioneering. Cheers to your hard work and how far we have come.

  11. schultz rockne, November 15, 2017 at 9:20 p.m.

    Hell, Saint Thomas Mulroy saved lives! His mere presence (and if you know...his presence was/is not 'mere') at the one and only camp I ever attended--as a ten-year-old in northeastern Ohio in the mid-80s--flipped the creative switch in my soccer head as I learned where the true heart and soul of the game reside. What could be more beautiful and inspiring than that?

  12. Gary Levitt, November 16, 2017 at 6:59 a.m.

    Tom, great interview and perspective. Only when I have solutions do I complain or argue about the USSF - I really have no solution.  Keep doing what you are doing and hopefully the new Federation President has solutions to the issues you discussed.  BTW:  old Miam Toros guy - trained with you guys at Tamiami Stadium and FIU.  Where is the fastest player I ever played against?:  Steve David.

  13. frank schoon replied, November 16, 2017 at 9:21 a.m.

    Gary, I didn't  think Steve was necessarily a fast player, but what he had was so unique that I searched for old NASL games justs have to have this move put on my DVD of moves to teach players. As he takes the ball dribbling coming away from the sidelines at a diagonal direction  towards the left fullback, he cuts to his right down the wing leaving the fullback behind. The timing between the last dribble and the cut , the position of his body  was so precise, unique and perfect that only Garrincha could do it better.. To me it was just mouth watering. The defender had no chance becuase of his timing and touch on the cut

  14. aaron dutch, November 16, 2017 at 5:47 p.m.

    This is one of the best articles written in years, its too the point and brings up all the BS that for 30 years have been the issues with US Soccer/Football. Tom is a class act and should build a 500 slide power point and give a day long seminar on what Not to do in football in the US.

  15. Scott Johnson, November 17, 2017 at 4 a.m.

    What services should the USSF (and subordinate organizations like USYSA or AYSO) provide?

    A big one, it seems, is registration--and they can't get that one right.

    If US Soccer is to provide value here, they should provide a nationwide registration framework that is dirt-cheap (a few bucks max to register a player, team, club, league, or tournament) and portable (no travel papers, no need for team managers to carry a set of US Club cards for one tourney, a set of USYSA cards for league play).   No other strings attached--no enforcement of nonprofit status or other silly rules.  Should apply to futsal and indoor as well, now that that's ramping up (many of the futsal gyms all have their own cards that players need to purchase).

    Just. A.  Database. It's the 21st century, folks.  The Safeway down the street "helpfully" tracks all the stuff I buy there, all for free.  Facebook and Google know more about me than I do.  And yet it costs thousands of dollars for an organization to affiliate with the Federation?


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