- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

I knew my chance of breaking into the movies was a long shot when 500 soccer players turned up at the casting call for the film "Game of Their Lives" at RFK's auxiliary field this week. How was I going to show off my Marcelo Balboa-styled bicycle kick with so many Landon Donovan wannabes crowding my space?
This was my kind of film, based on the U.S. team's famous upset of England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, but being the oldest player on the field with a rickety left knee sapped my confidence. I even wore my mint Newcastle United shirt to catch the eye of United coach Ray Hudson, a former Newcastle player, who I spied at the tryout. "You're bound to get the part wearing that," Hudson gushed.
Drat. It was America's three-time World Cup star, Eric Wynalda, not Hudson, judging the talent on the soggy field. Wynalda, hired as the film's technical director, gazed on as hordes of players were allowed two shots on goal to prove their talent.
To be honest, I've longed to be on the big screen ever since I watched my older brother die in the arms of Lloyd Bridges in "Attack on the Iron Coast," a 1968 war movie. There I go name dropping, but it's true. My brother began his short-lived acting career playing a soccer star in a 1960s British drama series about a soccer club called "United."
But back to the casting call. Realizing that skill and youth were not on my side, I decided instead to cozy up to director David Anspaugh and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, the men who created the inspirational sports movies "Hoosiers" (basketball) and "Rudy" (football).
"Why this story?" I asked them.
"These were common guys who accomplished an uncommon and unusual feat," Anspaugh said. "One day they were working at their jobs in St. Louis and then in the next minute they are on the world stage, at the World Cup, causing the biggest upset in the game."
The Americans were the 500-1 underdogs going into the 1950 World Cup, yet they conjured up an amazing 1-0 win over the favored English on a goal from Joe Gaetjens, a native of Haiti. The result stunned the world but hardly made a ripple in the American media.
Billionaire Philip Anschutz, who operates half of the Major League Soccer franchises, including D.C. United, is funding the $40 million project through his film company, Crusader Entertainment. Anschutz originally wanted to do a modern soccer story and not a "period film," according to Anspaugh. But once Anspaugh and Pizzo pitched him their story based on the Geoffrey Douglas book, Anschutz was on board.
"Unlike Hoosiers, in this film the leading role is not the coach but the players," Pizzo said. "We have to find soccer players who can act or actors who can play soccer. They need to look like the characters in the book. We want to respect those players five who are still alive."
While most of the parts in the film will be played by newcomers, a big name actor will play American goalie Frank Borghi, an undertaker by trade, who stood up to a pounding from the English forward line but kept a clean sheet.
Anspaugh believes the U.S. team's recent success at the World Cup will generate interest in the film and noted that "the potential for the foreign market is enormous."
Watching from the sideline at the casting call was Joe Gaetjens' brother Jean-Pierre, who flew in from Atlanta. Now in his seventies, Jean-Pierre talked about the mysterious fate that befell his brother. It's generally believed that Gaetjens was murdered by Haiti president-for-life Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's secret police in 1964.
"Joe was arrested because of our political activities," said Jean-Pierre, who opposed the Duvalier regime. "Joe was not political. But that's what dictators do they go after the relatives of those who have fled into exile."
Casting calls for the movie are being held in six cities, and filming will begin in April at locations in St. Louis, New York and Brazil.
As for my chance at stardom, all I got was muddy cleats.
United notes D.C. United will not pursue big-ticket Argentine star Cesar La Paglia if Marco Etcheverry remains with the club, United coach Ray Hudson said. The high-salaried Etcheverry will be talking with Major League Soccer and making a decision about his future in the next two weeks.
"I would like to see him play one more season and go out on top," Hudson said.
But Etcheverry's future is not in Hudson's hands. MLS must decide whether it still wants to pay the Bolivian star the league's top salary of $270,000.
If La Paglia isn't available, Hudson, who is now on a two-week trip to South America, will be looking at half a dozen other players, including a Chilean central defender.
Hudson also said British stars John Moncur and Billy Dodds have decided not to pursue careers in MLS.

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