Sidebar

18
Fri, Oct
41 New Articles

Typography

Chris BirchallThere's a saying that has several variations, most commonly seen as either "Men plan and God laughs," or "Want to make God laugh? Make plans." You can carefully plan your day, your week, or your next column with all kinds of good intentions only to have outside forces swoop in and send you searching for Plan B.

Case in point: I had planned to write a column on Galaxy teammates Chris Birchall and Landon Donovan, who were going to face each other in a crucial World Cup qualifying match next Wednesday while representing Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S., respectively. I went out to a Galaxy training session last week and had enjoyable conversations with both players, who provided keen insights into each other and into what it might feel like to compete against a teammate with a World Cup berth possibly being at stake.

So much for that plan.

Birchall, who joined the Galaxy in July, strained a hamstring in the Galaxy's 1-0 victory over Chivas last Saturday and had to withdraw from consideration for the Soca Warriors' qualifying games at Honduras on Saturday and next Wednesday against the U.S. at Port of Spain, Trinidad. He hopes to return for the Galaxy's next MLS game, against FC Dallas on Sept. 12.

But both players were so engaging, it seemed like a shame to jettison my notes because their matchup won't occur. So here are some tidbits from the column that might have been:

Though Birchall plays for T&T and helped lead the small nation to its first World Cup qualification in 2006 by scoring a crucial goal against Bahrain, he had never been in the country before 2006. His T&T connection? His mother, Jenny, had been born there after her parents emigrated in search of work and she spent most of her teen years there. That connection gave Birchall not only a World Cup experience he wouldn't have gotten with England but also earned him a new nickname.

Late in the 2005-06 season, while Birchall was playing for the English team Port Vale, he was approached during a game by Dennis Lawrence, a Trinidadian playing for Wrexham. Lawrence said he'd heard Birchall had a T&T connection and asked what it was. "Me mum," Birchall said, neatly summing up his multi-national eligibility.

He repeated that response to reporters in Trinidad not long afterward when he arrived to join the team and as a result, he has become known as "Me Mum" Birchall. In the context of things, there are far worse things an athlete could be--and has been--called.

"I’ve got a great relationship with the fans. I love playing for Trinidad," the 25-year-old midfielder said last week, before his injury. "After Dennis came up to me it was a case of just making the decision if I wanted to go over and play, which I did straightaway. Two weeks later I was on a plane to Trinidad for two weeks, where it was just a case of getting things sorted with the passport and trying to get used to the weather, etc., and playing a few friendly games before that World Cup."

Birchall became the first white player to represent the country in something like 60 years. He said he felt some trepidation about that and about whether fans would resent him because he didn't live there and was a late addition to the team. His concerns were quickly and happily resolved.

"Things couldn’t have gone better really. I’ve been playing for four or five years now. and the relationship that I have with the fans is something that I didn’t really expect," he said. "From a person who’s never been to the country before until I went there for football, I didn’t really know what to expect. Maybe I expected a bit of racism and people thinking, ‘Who’s this white boy coming over and trying to play for the team?’

"But when I got there it was completely different. Everyone was friendly. It’s such a laidback country and maybe in a different country I wouldn’t’ have been accepted to so well. I can’t thank the fans enough for how much they’ve made me feel welcome."

The injury cost him a chance to face a teammate for the first time. He was looking forward to facing Donovan and the U.S.

"I've played against players where I know them, you say hello to them, but not the way me and Landon play together every day, day in and day out," he said. "It will be weird, but Landon is one of the best players—probably the best player ever to put a U.S. jersey on. So it’s a privilege to play with him every day.

"I just hope that day, all his shots are off target.To be honest every time he does play against Trinidad he seems to perform really well. The last time he assisted in all three goals in USA [in a 3-0 victory] so hopefully we can get a good result, but it’s going to be tough."

He said they had talked about the game several times. "We do mention it. He’s under no illusion. It’s going to be a tough test for them as well," Birchall said. "Last time I think they’d already qualified in the first group stage. They’d already qualified and we managed to get the win, but I think he and the USA team find it a bit difficult coming to Trinidad. And that’s what he mentioned, even going to places like Jamaica they find it difficult. But they’re a quality team. If they play to what they’re capable of, on the day they’ll give anyone a good game.

"But we can play well on the day and we’ve pulled out some good results in the past against Mexico and even USA, so hopefully we can do it again."

Donovan said playing against club teammates is something "you kind of get used to" after a while, but he too was looking forward to it.

"I’ve obviously known of him for a long time and when we signed him I was able to give Bruce [Arena, the Galaxy coach] a little input too, playing against him," Donovan said. "It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting. But I hope we win....

"For him, their team’s in a little different position. They’re a little more desperate. So that makes it a little different. But I think it’s fun and it will be enjoyable and it will be good to see him down there."

Donovan was complimentary toward Birchall, who has played four games for the Galaxy.

"I think he’s fit in really well first of all off the field, which is always important," Donovan said, "and then he’s done a good job integrating himself. The times that he’s played, I think he’s done very well. And now it’s a little bit difficult situation because we’ve been playing well for a while and it’s hard for him to really get himself locked into the team, but he trains well, he’s been working hard and I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets a real chance."

This season has been something of a whirlwind for Birchall, who became a father for the first time in April.

"I've been here about six or eight weeks now. When I first got here it was tough, because playing in England you don’t get this weather. You get it maybe a week out of the year," he said of the heat.

"It’s been brilliant, really. The facilities here are fantastic. It’s a great place to live. I couldn’t be happier, really. Six weeks into it I feel like I’ve really settled in. This week the coach has even said to me, ‘You’re looking a different player from when you’ve first come,’ and that’s because I feel like my fitness is there. He’s put me in games. And I’ve got use to the climate and the weather and settling in. It’s a big move when you move somewhere, tyring to settle in.

"Especially when you’ve got things to think about and your mind’s not just on football. It’s about settling family. I think now I’ve just settled in and come up to the right time with the qualifiers coming up and the last seven games with the Galaxy."

Alas, he's out of the qualifiers but likely to return in time to help the Galaxy secure a playoff spot.