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.
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.