John F. Russell: Soccer star proving he loves game | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: Soccer star proving he loves game

— It’s easy for a sports columnist to be critical of today’s top professional athletes. Just pick a topic, and you can find some professional athlete to use as an example of what’s wrong in the world of sports.

The obscene salaries, the blatant use of performance enhancing drugs and the over-the-top personalities provide plenty of fuel for any writer.

But just when I thought I would be bashing sports figures until retirement age (I’m guessing sometime before my 80th birthday if my 401K pays off), I meet a guy like Marcelo Balboa.

Forget the stereotypes and wide sweeping generalizations that apply to most sports figures, because Balboa isn’t your typical professional athlete.

First off, he played professional soccer in the U.S.

While soccer ranks No. 1 in the rest of the world, here in the U. S., the game’s stars are in a constant battle to capture the limited appreciation of the American public. A public more concerned with the other game of football. Balboa also is at a disadvantage because he played defense in a country that is obsessed with scoring.

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Balboa retired from professional soccer after the 2002 season, but he left behind a legacy that makes him one of the most recognizable figures in American soccer.

Living in Steamboat, I never thought I would meet the soccer player, but last week, Balboa stopped by Rob Bohlmann’s Steamboat Soccer Academy to give back to the sport he loves. He made an impression on the young players, and this slightly older sports reporter.

Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes to spend with the former World Cup and Major League Soccer star. He was attempting to inspire young players, and I was late for another assignment.

But it only took a few moments for Balboa’s non-assuming personality to take hold.

He was honest, he was likeable and he was to the point. These all are rare qualities among today’s sporting stars. It was easy to see he loved the game of soccer, and his responses to my questions proved it.

Some former stars sit back and look at the sports they have left with envy. Balboa, who made $250,000 in his final year, left the game before stars like David Beckham, who will make in the neighborhood of $6 million this season, began to push the salary curve for soccer stars.

But Balboa isn’t jealous, and he even thinks players like Beckham will bring even more attention to the sport in years to come. Balboa insists the game of soccer was never about the money and says he would have paid to be a part of the 1994 World Cup Team.

As I watched him mix it up with a group of youngsters in the middle of a soccer field at Ski Town Park earlier this week, it was easy to see he was telling the truth. Let’s hope the future stars of Major League Soccer follow in his footsteps – even if it makes it a little harder for sports columnists to bash sports superstars.