Union's Albright believes in Philly soccer
Chris Albright was about to answer the question quickly, but then paused. Last Sunday, the Philadelphia native had just made his home debut for the Union.
Chris Albright was about to answer the question quickly, but then paused.
Last Sunday, the Philadelphia native had just made his home debut for the Union.
A soldout crowd of nearly 20,000 watched in PPL Park, a world-class soccer-specific stadium just outside the city where he first learned the game.
So, when the obvious question of, "Did you ever think you would see this in Philadelphia?" was asked, the former William Penn Charter star thought it over for a moment.
"You know what? Yes, I did," he said. "This does not surprise me. In my mind, this is the best soccer community in the country, hands down. I know from where I grew up playing the devotion people in the inner city have to soccer, and it obviously spread into the suburbs.
"I've always known the potential was here. It just took a vision, proper ownership and a stadium to get people to come. It's a wonderful environment."
The reality of sports is that few athletes get the opportunity to complete a circle during their career. That happened for Albright when he signed with the Union on Feb. 13.
"It's an opportunity that I am grateful to have," said Albright, 33, who is starting his 14th MLS season. "I'm grateful because all the people who helped me get to where I am are getting a chance to watch me play.
"All of the coaches. My dad who drove me all over the Delaware Valley to get me to practice and had a lot of late meals or ate fast food.
"All of the people who helped foster my career to become a professional are now able to share the experience with me. That's really special."
There is some irony that Albright has been able to hack out a such a long professional soccer career.
He was 5 when the old North American Soccer League folded in 1984. American talent wasn't considered good enough to draw foreign interest. With the exception of indoor soccer, there were no realistic dreams for a professional career when kids like Albright first took up the game.
It wasn't until Albright was 14 and the development of this thing called Major League Soccer was part of the selling point for the United States to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup that there was something to look forward to after college soccer.
"I try to explain it to people that had you asked me who my favorite athlete was when I was 12 years old, I'd have said Michael Jordan," Albright said. "There weren't any soccer players that I could see regularly on TV and maybe give me a dream.
"But when you're a 12-year-old kid who knows he's not going to be 6-6, soccer was a sport that you could compete in and become good, no matter your size."
Perhaps to emphasize that, Albright, who is listed as 6-1 and 180 pounds, wore a Penn Charter T-shirt he said was nearly 20 years old under his training gear last Wednesday.
It still fit.
Developing his game in the Philadelphia-area youth soccer scene and then at Penn Charter, Albright went on to become an All-America at the University of Virginia. At age 20, he was regarded as one of top attacking prospects in American soccer and was added to the 1999 Project-40 (now called Generation adidas) joint developmental program between MLS and U.S. Soccer.
As a rookie in 1999, he won an MLS Cup with D.C. United.
In 2000, Albright was a member of the United States team that placed fourth at the Olympics in Sydney. He scored in matches against the Czech Republic and Kuwait.
He was a member of 2002 United States team that reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup, even though he did not appear in a game.
"I don't really think about it as I did not get to play," Albright said of his World Cup experience. "Just to say that I was on a World Cup team and got to represent my country is amazing.
"I got to play in the Olympics and was a much bigger part of that, so it's all good memories."
In MLS, Albright, who made the transition from attacker to defender, has played for D.C., the Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls and now the Union.
He is part of the first generation of American soccer players to become the role models he didn't have as a kid.
"With MLS, things have changed now," Albright said. "Now a kid can turn on the television and see Americans playing pro soccer.
"Now that 12-year-old, who isn't going to be 6-6 and 230 pounds, can look at the league and dream, 'Maybe one day I can be like' - pick the MLS player.
"That's something I'm proud to be a part of."