By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
Never would I have guessed that my trip to Kaiserslautern, Germany to watch the U.S. national team play Poland in an international friendly on March 2, 2006 would have been out of the ordinary.
Of course, there were signs the day prior. As the Poland national team was putting the finishing touches to its practice that Monday afternoon, a helicopter swept into the area and hovered above the F.C. Kaiserslautern practice field.
As the team departed for its team bus, four bulky men dressed in black, giving strangers an evil eye, strode into the field entrance and walked around the pitch.
Minutes later, the U.S. national team marched onto the field for its 4 p.m. practice.
Helicopters at practice? Mean-looking dudes as security personnel?
I had never seen anything like it before or since (remember, this was less than five years after 911).
A day later I watched the U.S. defeat Poland, 1-0, as Clint Dempsey, who was emerging as the Americans’ go-to goal-scorer, tally the lone goal of the match at Fritz Walter Stadium.
Moreover, the U.S. won the hearts and minds of the local citizens — thousands lived at nearby Ramstein Air Base. A crowd of 13,395 braved freezing conditions and the snow (yes, it snowed for most of the match), especially in the second half.
“We don’t get this kind of support at some games in the United States,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.
That night I discovered that Red Bull, the energy drink producer from Salzburg, Austria, was very much interested in buying the MetroStars. At first I did not believe my originating source, but after I got enough facts, I was convinced.
It was after midnight in Germany and to make the necessary phone calls back to the states that I needed to secure this story, but I needed to get some sleep after a long day.
As it turned out, I didn’t get much sleep that night because I needed to wake up early to board a train in Kaiserslautern bound for Frankfurt for the return trip to the United States the next morning, while sitting on a great secret and story. And yet, I could do nothing with it because I felt needed more than one source, especially for a story so big.
And, it was going to be hours before I could get ahold of my American sources because a trans-Atlantic trip was involved.
So, I slept for most of the plane ride and wound up landing at JFK Airport in a snowstorm. I drove home during the storm, rushed to the kennel to pick up my Cocker Spaniel, Jennie, before it closed at 4 p.m. that day due to the storm and went to work on my sources for a story for the New York Daily News and BigAppleSoccer.com.
Within two hours I had four sources that were spot on (that hasn’t happened very often in my career) – much to my pleasant surprise, confirming the information.
One of my sources was stunned that I had known about this secretive deal. By the time 6:15 rolled around — about 15 minutes after my usual deadline for soccer stories and columns to the Daily News — I had my story written.
Now, that was 15 years ago. The internet was quite a different world back then. You could afford to sit on a story.
Who knows what would have happened today? One source would probably do because it is of the essence to get out the story first, even if the facts aren’t complete.
But I certainly won’t argue what transpired back in March 2006, even if I had to sit on a story for what seemed like forever.