It’s late February in Cleveland, which is a bad time to call someone living in Miami. Alas, it’s the first time I’ve spoken to former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Mark Dougherty in about 17 years, so it’s well worth the weather envy.
“I live in Miami and I’m coaching and I’m really enjoying it,” Dougherty says as I pace in the living room, looking out at the frigid gray remnants of the day’s 39-degree rain showers.
Dougherty is in the car with his wife, attorney Jane Muir, on their way to dinner. Interestingly, a couple years ago, it was Muir who found an old feature I wrote about Dougherty in 1999 and mentioned it to someone in the Crew’s front office, who in turn mentioned it to me. The excavation of that article is what prompted the whole idea for the Massive Features book that was about to come out and is temporarily on hold as we await the ultimate decision on the Crew’s potential relocation. Anyway, the point is that Muir unwittingly provoked a book idea for me, which is cool, but she’s had a far more profound impact on Dougherty’s life.
After leaving the Crew, Dougherty moved into coaching, first with the Bowling Green men’s team, then the Colorado Rapids, and then with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Coaching at the international level can be rough for a father.
“My kids were getting older,” he says. “I came back from a trip to Japan and my youngest daughter was reading. It was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m missing a lot.’ I decided I needed to not do this anymore.”
Dougherty needed to be there for his kids, so he took a job at Lockheed-Martin. Makes sense. A goalkeeper knows all about defense. Except instead of stopping rockets, he was helping to build them.
“I was a material planner for the engineers, who are some of the smartest geeks I’ve even known,” he says. “These guys are unbelievable in how they make a rocket fly where it flies, and I basically had a blank checkbook to say, ‘Hey man, get me the parts.’ It was kinda cool.”
Lockheed-Martin eventually moved his job to Alabama, and Dougherty had no desire to relocate there, so he started working in real estate. A few years ago, via friends of friends, Muir happened to attend a cookout at Dougherty’s place while visiting Denver. They immediately hit it off and began a long-distance relationship, which eventually led to their marriage and his move to Miami. Fittingly, one love led him into reconnecting with another love.
“She said, ‘What are you doing? You’re not even coaching soccer.’”
Building rockets and selling houses hadn’t been as fulfilling as his work in the beautiful game.
“I wasn’t really happy and she said, ‘You’re the best at coaching soccer….so let’s get you back to coaching soccer.’ So that was great.”
Now Dougherty does private coaching/mentoring and public clinics for youth goalkeepers.
“I’m loving what I’m doing, giving back and mentoring young goalkeepers with potential,” he says.
It’s a good life.
Life wasn’t necessary good, in a professional sense, for Dougherty when he first joined the Crew. After two successful seasons with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, including a Supporters’ Shield (although not invented yet) and an All-Star appearance, he was unceremoniously dumped when Tampa signed Swedish World Cup hero Thomas Ravelli.
“I didn’t know anything about Columbus,” he says. “It was kind of a shock to get replaced by Ravelli in Tampa, first of all. It was like, damn. So when I come to Columbus, it was like it’s good to be wanted, but they have Brad Friedel and I’ll never play. As luck would have it, he got his work permit in England within weeks of my arrival. I thought it was my job to win, and then there was the whole Juergen Sommer thing.”
Friedel departed for Liverpool but then the Crew signed another U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper in Sommer. Dougherty was right back to square one again in a new city that was unlike his native California, or his professional stops in Hawaii and Florida.
“I found the weather to be a shock because it was drizzly, rainy, and snowy,” he says as I look out at the very weather he is describing. “But I met a lot of great people right away. The Midwest boys on the team, Yeagley, Clark, Maisonneuve, even Juergen, those guys were some pretty classy guys. They were down to earth. Rob Smith, Robert Warzycha, Jason Farrell…I could go on and on. The people were fantastic. A lot of them were Midwesterners.”
Dougherty lived near Obetz his first year, then bought a house in Clintonville. He didn’t actually get to experience much night life in Columbus, however.
“It was so new, and if you remember, there were like nine of us that had babies that first year I was there,” he says. “Remember that? All the wives were pregnant, so we did everything together. We didn’t really go out much. We would hang out at other people’s homes. Whoever had the nicest house, which was the guys making money, that’s where we went.”
Within a couple years, Dougherty’s son Andrew would become a hit at Crew games. He was a special halftime show unto himself as a toddler, running around and kicking soccer balls that came up past his knees while the fans cheered him on.
“I had to do something to ease my frustration of sitting on the bench,” Dougherty jokes.
It makes me feel ancient to know that Andrew is now 19 years old and was too young to recall his time as a fan favorite. Dougherty doesn’t even have any photos to share with him.
“One of those clips made Sportscenter and I wish I had it,” he says. “He doesn’t remember.”
Andrew is nevertheless a tiny piece of Crew lore for those who were around back then. When I ask about the people of Columbus and becoming part of the community, Dougherty singles out his real estate agent turned friend, Sherry Segna, as an example of what Columbus is about.
“She’s everybody’s friend,” he says. “Great people. Just great people. I’ll tell you what, when I got the offer to leave Bowling Green and go coach for the Rapids, I had house in Bowling Green. You know where that is. [Note: For those who don’t, it’s in northwest Ohio.] Sherry would go up there and prep my property. When the moving company was moving us out, they ran over a pipe somehow and broke that and it caused flooding. She fixed all that and planted flowers in its place. Then she sold my house in Bowling Green, even though it was a couple hours away, just so I could leave for Colorado. Shit like that, you can’t…I mean…those are great people, right? Those are people you will appreciate forever.”
And it’s true. Dougherty and Muir recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg to visit with the Segnas, Columbus people he will appreciate forever.
On the field, there is no question that the highlight of Dougherty’s Crew career was shutting out the New England Revolution in the inaugural game at Columbus Crew Stadium on May 15, 1999.
“I thought it was a great sign for the future of the league that Lamar Hunt put his own money into the stadium and we watched it get built,” he recalls. “To see it come to fruition, literally, and being the Crew, and seeing the steel go up in the stadium, and then playing against one of my idols, Walter Zenga, at the other end of the field…walking out on the field, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The excitement in the stadium and the buzz in the stadium, and then to win 2-0, it was amazing, amazing, amazing.”
My favorite locker room memory from that night revolved around the fact that many players struggled to answer even the most basic questions about the game. The enormity of the event fried their brains. Thomas Dooley even offered that he must be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. And then there was Dougherty. When I went to his locker, it was like he was watching the game on videotape.
“They’re running up and down the field and their heads are on a swivel,” he now says of his more forgetful teammates. “I’ve got the best seat in the house. I see everything that’s going on, so it’s a bit easier for me to focus and recollect what was going on from moment to moment.”
My memory of his memory during our postgame conversation is a little on the nose, as his memory of the night includes our postgame conversation.
“To this day, when I talk to my goalkeepers about concentration and focus, you’re one of the guys I refer to,” he says. “I say, ‘I’ve been asked after a game, ‘You didn’t have anything to do tonight. It was an easy game tonight.’ And I say, ‘It’s the best game I ever played.’ ‘What do you mean? You didn’t have anything to do.’ ‘Well, I followed my communication and organization, stemming the opposition threats, and just being that quarterback out there, and that’s why that happened tonight.’ But that’s just one more example of the focus and the concentration. I can remember that night like it was yesterday.”
To be in that stadium with the Columbus fans left an impression that has lasted a lifetime.
“We were playing in football stadiums around the country,” he says. “Even with the (San Francisco Bay) Blackhawks, I remember going to the Orange Bowl and playing the Miami Freedom or whatever team was here at the time and there were like five people in the stadium. So playing in front of 20,000 every week was amazing. And to hear people cheer your name, it’s just unbelievable.”
When the news that Crew owner Anthony Precourt had designs on moving the club to Austin, Dougherty shared the same sense of disbelief and anger as anyone who has ever been part of the Crew community.
“I said, ‘Who is this Anthony Precourt guy? Oh, he’s a trust fund baby without any business experience who doesn’t care.’ It’s a business to him rather than a family and a team and a culture. Columbus has that. It’s unique. When I played in Tampa, it was a job. Columbus is a family. That comes from Lamar, all the way down. I just imagine, for Anthony, it’s just business and he doesn’t care.”
For many, spitting on Lamar Hunt’s MLS legacy is one of the unconscionable facets of this ordeal. Dougherty can easily imagine what Hunt would have thought about all this.
“Lamar would not be a happy guy,” he says. “Lamar basically built the stadium with his hands, and we were the Crew, and we were the hardest working team and all that, and it stood for something that we believed in, and our stadium was perfect for it. It was iron and steel and nothing really super fancy like they’ve got now. To me, it seems like a very adequate place for the Crew and for the National Team. So why does he want a new shiny something when you’ve got something in place that’s so historic? It’s like Fenway Park in Boston. It’s like the Green Monster. It’s the first soccer stadium in America. Preserve it. Enjoy it.”
Dougherty and I share Lamar stories for a bit, whether it be Hunt standing in line for a hotdog at Crew games, or walking around the stadium with a broom and dustpan, or his refusal to give up on Columbus even after the hockey lawsuit and two failed stadium referendums.
“An excellent business man like Lamar,” Dougherty says, “looks to find ways to solve problems locally and doesn’t just up and run for the next best offer.”
Back in 1996, Dougherty was one of eight plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Major League Soccer’s single-entity structure on anti-trust grounds that MLS was colluding to hold down player salaries. The suit did not ultimately succeed, but Dougherty is no stranger to fighting the good fight against MLS. As we discuss this Grand Theft Massive disaster, he is certainly rooting for Columbus from afar.
“I know there’s great support, but I’m down in Miami,” he says. “I’m removed. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, but I just don’t know how to make a difference and I’m only one person. You know me, I’ll go in on the cause. I’m one of the guys who sued the league, so I want to stand up and do what’s right for the Crew.”
As we continue to talk about the relocation saga, I begin filling Dougherty in on what the fan response has been with the #SaveTheCrew movement. Despite what seems to be Precourt’s best efforts to poison the well in Columbus, Crew fans have been trying to stay positive by holding rallies, signing up business allies, holding an MLK Day youth soccer clinic, and going so far as to buy and arrange for advertising for Crew games.
“That speaks volumes,” Dougherty says. “If he can’t see that, then he doesn’t give a shit about the people, or the team, or the history.”
But many of us do give a shit about those things, and Mark Dougherty is among them. He used to be cheered for making saves for the Crew. Now the roles are reversed. When it comes to the Crew, Dougherty’s cheering on those doing the saving.
I can be reached at [email protected] or via twitter @stevesirk
If you would like more information on the #SaveTheCrew movement and how you can help, please visit SaveTheCrew.com