Interview with Mike Chabala, former Dynamo’s player and entrepreneur

Mike Chabala is the prototype of the North American footballer. Graduated, he began his professional career thanks to the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Chabala had a brief competitive career, during which he managed to give his support to the two consecutive MLS Cups won by Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007, as a member of Houston Reserve. When he “hung the shoes on the nail” (Italian way of saying to indicate the end of a footballer’s career) used the knowledge learned during college (Chabala graduated in Economics from the University of Washington) to become an entrepreneur.
How was your passion for soccer born? 
When I was a little boy I joined my elementary school soccer team like most kids my age. I could barely sleep the night before a game. I would lay out my kid from top to bottom perfectly on the floor and dream of playing. There was a magical feeling that was placed within me add a very early age.
At the beginning of your career you played both in NCAA and in PDL, how do you think about the levels of the two championships? 
They’re both important as I learned a lot on and off the field. I was never the best player and was constantly evolving as the game changing. College Soccer was at the time the steppingstone to the next level so it was imperative that I was on one of the best teams in the country and that I was one of the best players every season. After being drafted I was on one of the best teams in Major League Soccer for a few years so playing in the PDL League help me  introduced me to the next level. At the time both were extremely necessary and valuable in my ascent.
How important was it for you to study up to University?
School was always a priority and my grandfather would never let me leave college until I graduated as I was the first member of my family to finish my degree. The degree was important but the habits of studying and staying disciplined well in season were far greater. You never know when the game will change and having a degree is extremely important in America as wages are not nearly the same as they are overseas.
In Europe and South America there are few players who can graduate. What advantages does a sportsman have in obtaining a degree? 
Again you never know what the game will bring you so being able to secure a degree is extremely valuable to any player in America as it opens more opportunities and doors after you’re done playing. There are negatives and positives as it takes away from time on the field but at least at this moment in United States it is absolutely necessary until contracts are much greater.
What are your memories about the SuperDraft you were chosen for the MLS? 
I remember flying myself or my parents flying me Philadelphia for the draft in 2005. My parents just want to me to be a part of the experience but I had no idea whether I would be drafted or not. The draft was not nearly what it is today and nobody knew I was there besides maybe a couple of friends or former coaches. Three rounds went by without my name being called and only one to go. I was optimistic but I’m sure as time and spots were fading away. I remember the 43rd pick and saying to myself, I’m next. There is only a few pics left and San Jose Earthquakes were on the clock. I knew the coach and the team as I have trained with them earlier in the summer. When my name was called (Houston Dynamo) it was one of the greatest moments and accomplishments of my life.
In America and among those who love soccer in the New World a debate has arisen about the importance or not of University soccer. For some young athletes come to agony later than those in other parts of the world. What do you think about it? 
I truly believe now if you are going to play the top level you must skip University. It restricts the amount of time you can play and the competition. Footballers must play around the world and NCAA restricts him at a time on the ball. I would highly recommend any player that is looking to play professional to pack a bag and move overseas or to South America. You have to be willing to go “all in” and I’m grateful that I was able to edge and still make it to the top.
What is the current importance of SuperDraft in MLS? 
The league has grown tremendously and positioning for players has become a premium although a lot of players are now identified at an early age and signed contracts as “homegrown players” that obligates them to be a part of the hometown team. As our league grows and clubs gain autonomy it will only become more important.
Let’s talk about your career. In which team did you find yourself better and in which you expressed your highest level of play? 
I play my best football for the Portland Timbers in 2011. I was traded from Houston to Portland midseason and had a chip on my shoulder. I had several assist and my best score of my career against the la galaxy and David Beckham as a man of the match.
What do you remember of the two consecutive MLS Cups with Houston Dynamo?
The locker room. Memories that will follow me forever and relationships I will cherish for eternity. One of the greatest things I took away from playing professional soccer wise how to be a good teammate and what it is like to be a part of a winning locker room. Championships Star in the changing room. Waiting back to back championships was a fairytale and although my minutes were extremely limited for the first four seasons I still maximize my time learning and observing all aspects of the game on and off the field.
What are your coaches and teammates that you most esteemed?
Dwayne Derosario was one of the best competitors I’ve ever had a chance to play with and against. Dominic Kinnear was incredible manager and I admire him even more as I get older and look back on how he was able to control and manipulate his team. Kei Kamara was one of my favorite players to lace up with as every day was a good day. Honorable mention would be Lovel Palmer. We laughed and played every moment of every game.
Have you ever been close to calling in USMNT? 
I would like to think so but my closest opportunity was probably in 2011. I had a few chances earlier in my youth career but never got the opportunity.
You retired rather young as a soccer player. What did you feel at that moment? How did you find the strength to become what you are today?
Too early but there was something greater in store for me. I can’t explain the difficulties in transition. I have no the choice. Either had to fight or give up. I don’t know the latter.
Houston, Portland, Austin, Washington, a memory for each city and each team.
Houston: When into championships back to back. Portland:  scoring my best goal against the LA Galaxy. Gaining an exuberant amount of confidence well sharpening up in Austin before my MLS debut. Exploring the city in Washington DC and enjoying the history of one of the most successful franchise is in Major League Soccer history.
Let’s talk about current events. How do you feel about the level of MLS this year?
Pretty impressive. The talent and the standard of youth has exceeded my expectations. The rapid pace of play with a combination of skills and power has me very confident that I will see if United States with the World Cup in my lifetime.
What about the Houston Dynamo season? The team won the U.S. Open Cup but in the championship went badly. 
Disappointing. Salvaged an average season they winning the US open cup and I’m happy for them but I truly believe change needs to occur in the organization for it to move forward.
How do you consider the Portland Timbers season? 
Started off slow but have been making up a lot of ground and found themselves extremely close to the top before decision day.
How do you consider the D.C. United season? 
Adding Wayne Rooney to the roster was one of the best things that Club has done in a long time as well as building out there for stadium. Making the playoffs and feeling the stance it’s something they should be very proud of.
Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Schweinsteger, Giovinco and Villa, how good is it to have these footballers at MLS? 
It’s amazing to have the rest of the world pay attention to our league even as these players finish their careers. They Are helping our league and amazing ambassadors of the game. That are helping us grow.
What in your opinion are the best players currently in MLS? 
Miguel Almiron and David Villa.
Let’s talk about national team. Which coach would you like to see on the bench of the USMNT?
Josè Mourinho. he is my favorite manager and he is a winner. I can’t say his style would fit but success leaves clues and does not lie.
Let’s go back to your life. After retiring from soccer, you have created a company (Sphere) that combines soccer and fitness. Can you talk about it?
Gladly. Think of spin class, yoga, boxing class, barre or CrossFit but for soccer. Meet sphere, a Soccer inspired fitness concept that i designed to be team inspired But individually focused. My competition is playing in the boutique fitness market with companies like CrossFit or SoulCycle. I have designed a concept to help players connect on and off the field using only a ball. I’m changing the game by creating an atmosphere that is unlike anything the soccer community or fitness market has consumed. We don’t care about your position on the fields, we all we care about how you play off.
In which areas of America does your company operate? 
Texas and New York City for now.
Your company is also active in the support of people with disabilities. How important is it for diverseable people to play sports? 
I like to say keep the ball rolling. We all have the capability of helping someone else less fortunate or in need. My goal is to connect and help as many people around this world one pass at a time.
What do you think of the reform of the USL with new teams, new cities and the mechanism of promotion and relegation?
I think change is wonderful for this country and adjusting to the future of where Soccer is going in North America. Change provokes growth in our country is long overdue.
American soccer is undergoing a profound transformation. It is becoming a very important economic sector. You are an entrepreneur, if we take into consideration the continental macroarea (USA, Canada, Mexico) in which state, province, city, would you invest to create a soccer franchise? 
There are a few markets left but I would look at Louisiana. New Orleans would be an amazing environment and place to play. The people love to party and know how to support a team. The soccer community is rapidly growing and small knit community could rally.
In the United States millions of Italian Americans live, even of new immigration, just as thousands of American soldiers live in Italy. Would it be possible to create partnerships related to soccer between the two nations?
Why not. Maybe Sphere can make the pass.

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Cristiano M. G. Faranna
Giornalista siculonapoletano. Collaboratore per l'agenzia videogiornalistica Videoinformazioni. Appassionato di Mls, della città di New York e della crescita del calcio in Canada

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