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A Tribute to Craig Waibel

By Andrew Winner
The Talisman

The Talisman would like to take the time to congratulate the greatest player in the MLS on his second consecutive championship. Throughout his career, he has exceeded his physical ability with thoughtful play in addition to looking especially snazzy with a playoff beard.

Here’s to you, Craig Waibel.

Are you surprised to read Waibel’s name? Granted, most journos consider Dwayne DeRosario or Brian Ching the engine of the team, but the Talisman knows better.

The Talisman first met Waibel when he was an assistant coach for our U-12 team in Spokane. At that time, he was the main attraction on the Lewis & Clark High soccer team, a real BMOC. Bigger, stronger, faster, and just plain better than anyone else – it was like watching LeBron James playing for St. Vincent – St. Mary. And the U-12 Blue Devils were lucky enough to have Craig come by and teach us what none of our adult coaches would – “gamesmanship.”

He taught us how to rub it in after a goal – to take the ball out of the net and give it to the person you beat. He taught us how to grab and jostle without drawing the referee’s attention. He taught us how to drive the opposing team’s best players to lunacy with an unending stream of friendly dialogue.

Some of that gamesmanship was on display in the MLS Cup, when New England’s Khano Smith got into it with Waibel. If you didn’t see the play, the pair got tangled up near the corner of the penalty box and Smith went down, hoping to draw a penalty. Waibel can explain what happened after the incident:

“Between the two of us, I have the distinct advantage in big-game experience,” Waibel said. “I gave him one passing comment to bait him. He’s a younger guy so when he responded, I started to push the envelope a little. I told him in a very adult way to stop going down so easily. That’s all I can say.”

Smith took the bait, giving Waibel a Zidane with head referee Alex Prus standing just a few feet away. However, disaster for New England was averted when Smith escaped with only a yellow card – a lenient punishment for a head-butt on national TV.

As you know, Houston went on to win the game, ending the 2007 season with their second consecutive title.

For now, Waibel will wait to see where he’ll be next season. The Dynamo will decide in the coming weeks whether or not to pick up his option for 2008. Waibel sees himself playing in Houston again next season, but knows there are no guarantees in professional sports. However, he does have an inkling of how he would like his career to end.

"I’d like to go at least one more year – that would make it ten years as a professional,” Waibel said. “After that, it would have to be a family decision – I’m married now.”

“But if I were to write a book, it would start with me playing for the Seattle Sounders – which I did – and end with me playing for the Seattle Sounders. I’ve been to a lot of cities but as anyone who has lived there knows, there’s no place like the Northwest.”

The Talisman sees Craig Waibel through the eyes of an 11-year old – hence the tongue-in-cheek belief that he’s the greatest player in the league. He will always be infallible. Congratulations to him and the rest of the Dynamo on a well-won championship.

Here’s a link to some frank answers from the man they call the Peaceful Warrior.

Notes:

Season ticket deposits continue to pile up in Seattle. The as-yet unnamed team surpassed 6,500 deposits in the first week – and they won’t even take the field for 16 months! This is great news to those who have put their money where their mouth is. When the Talisman told minority owner Adrian Hanauer an MLS team would be successful in Seattle a few weeks ago, he responded, “I’m going to hold you to that!”

Waibel’s triumph caps what was a banner week for the Lewis & Clark Tigers of Spokane, Washington.

Tigers in the major professional leagues are scarce – to the Talisman’s knowledge, Erik Coleman for the New York Jets is the only other. That’s not to say the athletic tradition of the LC Tigers is not storied – the Tigers are playing this weekend in the Washington State semifinals. The Talisman will be there to support the alma mater.

Predictions:

All eyes will be on England this week – the Three Lions need only a draw with Croatia to see them though to Euro 2008. And it looks as though Crouchinho will be playing a critical role in the outcome. My prediction: England loses!

I foresee McLaren coming out and playing for a nil-nil draw, but his plans crumble after the Croats show their pride and ripple the net early in the second half. (Universal Fact No. 1: Teams who have experienced recent civil war never, ever roll over when they are wearing their colors.) Forced to change personnel and tactics on the fly, England is unable to find the equalizer and despite the heroic efforts of Crouch, crash out of the tournament.

And just in that instant, as despair covers the isle of Britain, the English come to a startling, collective realization – the English National Team just isn’t that good.


Andrew Winner is a freelance soccer writer based in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at: andrewwinner@gmail.com




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