La Plata native takes part in tribute soccer game at RFK

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007

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Ryken graduate Derk Droze hoists a trophy he won during a recent tournament.

He stepped on the field Saturday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., the field he grew up chasing. Finally, there was Derk Droze. Never mind that there was also television star Anthony LaPaglia, the firm but compassionate agent Jack Malone on ‘‘Without a Trace” who chases criminals. Or the guitar player from the Sex Pistols, or Jason Statham, the debonair British actor who chases villains and girls in movies like ‘‘The Italian Job.”

They had never spent their lives chasing one field, one moment, been close enough to touch the moment all their life but never got to feel it. These actors, musicians and former professional soccer players of Hollywood United had spent a lifetime giving people moments to watch, cheer, criticize, buy and sell.

So they stepped onto the stage Saturday to play a tribute match between old hands from the 1997 D.C. United MLS Cup championship team in honor of Marco ‘‘El Diablo” Etcheverry. And they gave the fans great theatre, playing to a 1-1 tie until Etcheverry scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick in the final minutes.

Droze brought 45 to 50 family members and friends from around the metropolitan area and tried to give them a show, even if he missed all four of his shots. They went right over the goal or just wide, but that wasn’t the point; they were in the moment.

‘‘It was great,” Droze said. ‘‘I, as a local, couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was a lot of fun. It was just a privilege to be a part of the event.”

RFK Stadium had Droze right from the start. From when his dad, Dan, played for the Annapolis Sailors in 1969, the old farm team for the Washington Redskins, and then hosted the Redskins Monday Night Waldorf Show that brought Redskins players to Southern Maryland to meet fans, and then flashed his pass to take Droze into the locker room every Sunday.

It called him again when he went off to college to George Washington University. His friend worked for RFK and gave Droze a tip that the stadium was hiring. He applied, got hired and worked there for two years, learning the ins and outs, the backdoors and the stars that shined in that concrete bowl.

He worked the 1994 World Cup, but America had no room for soccer players. On to Chile then for two years to play for Club Deportes Arica, until, finally, America came calling.

Major League Soccer spawned in 1996 and Droze hoped his hometown team, D.C. United, would call his name. Instead, the New England Revolution drafted him for its inaugural season. So he gave up the chase.

But Droze kept chasing after this sport that gave him joy, the one he played at St. Mary’s Ryken High School until graduation in 1990, the one that burst him out of intimate Southern Maryland and into the world. To Chile and to Denmark to play for Lyngby FC and Olstykke FC. To learn new languages, to see how other parts of the world were beginning to shrink and shout at each other.

‘‘I feel very fortunate that I’ve done something I’ve loved to do,” Droze said. ‘‘To have traveled and lived in other countries, learn other languages, meet wonderful people, see how other parts of the world live.”

This could be like a movie, the ones LaPaglia and Statham carry along with action and rage and dread and hope until there’s this feeling that the end is about to come and the screen will fade to black. Droze felt that with soccer.

Four years ago he let the final play out on his career and moved back to the states. Now he’s working at Fox Studios as a broadcast engineer in Los Angeles. But soccer still has Droze. He’s been in two soccer movies, ‘‘The Game of Their Lives” that was renamed ‘‘Miracle Match” and ‘‘Goal.” He’s been in a few commercials, anything to keep the script fresh.

But they probably couldn’t have written a better script, not LaPaglia or Statham or Danny Cannon, the director of CSI who played Saturday, that a man who once was a kid from La Plata chasing after one field would travel the world to finally get there.

‘‘Things happen for a reason,” Droze said. ‘‘You go with the flow, make some goals for yourself and set your sights high, because I think anything is possible. You just have to believe. Sounds cliché, I know, but I’ve never thought differently. I’ve never thought something as impossible. I’ve never lived my life that way. It was never about the money. It was about the love for it.”

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