BASN’s Exclusive Interview With Robin Fraser

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: March 22, 2007

MIAMI — One of the top defenders in MLS history Robin Fraser was a consistent performer on whichever team he played for. Capped 27 times for the US National Team, he retired in 2005 and is currently the director of coaching at the Arizona Futbol Club,a youth soccer organization. He recently took some time between coaching sessions to talk to me.

He’s a 5 time MLS Best XI, two time MLS Defender of the Year a former US International, a member of GolNoir’s All time MLS Best Black 11 and he’s here in the house with me.

A.D.: Let me jump right into it: Robin Fraser is one of the most underrated players in the history of MLS. True or false?

ROBIN FRASER: Uh…I don’t know, false? I got a fair amount of individual recognition with the exception of the MLS All-Time Best XI.

A.D.: It was my contention that you should have been on that team ahead of Marcelo Balboa.

R.F.: Well, all I can say is that they choose who they choose. I was fortunate to be MLS Best XI five times and outside of Chris Armas nobody else has done that. I think Jaime Moreno may have also but it’s a pretty exclusive club. I believe Chris Armas also wasn’t on the All-Time Best XI which I think is criminal.

A.D.: You were an All-American at FIU won a championship there in 84, gone to a couple of MLS Cups and represented the US. Any regrets about leaving before winning that elusive MLS Cup?

R.F.: Do I have regrets about retiring? No. I think that I retired because the time was right. I would have loved to have won an MLS Cup but the fact that I didn’t win one doesn’t make my career incomplete.

A.D.: Your playing career has spanned 5 National team coaches but you never had a signficant, consistent run with the USMNT. As you look back over your career how much does that bother you, if at all?

R.F.: It can’t bother me because there’s nothing I can do about it now and I couldn’t do anything about it then. What it comes down to is that different coaches have different preferences. I think a lot of coaches were content to go with the status quo rather than pick different players.

I think I would have been on the 1990 (World Cup) team but I had an injury in 1989 and when I came back [US Coach] Bob Gansler thought I was too far off form having not played for a year. But I was called into the first camp after the World Cup, which is usually the way things go with me.

I don’t waste a lot of time thinking about why as those days are long gone. But the leauge (MLS) was great because it allowed other players to compete against National Team players day in and day out. In 1988 there wasn’t any way for a fringe player to prove that you belonged and the league changed all of that.

A.D.: You were born in Kingston, Jamaica but raised here in the US. Were you ever tempted to take up other American sports?

R.F.: Not really. I liked playing football and basketball and baseball in a recreational capacity. In fact I played a LOT of basketball. But I never really wanted to play them competitvely the way I did soccer. When you’re from the islands, you’ve got one of two things in your blood: soccer or cricket. And I wasn’t very good at cricket. I remember watching the 1974 World Cup at the National Arena in Jamaica. It left an indelible mark on me and ever since then, I wanted to be a professional player.

A.D.: After graduating from FIU, you ended up in the A League with the Colorado Foxes. Did you ever have an opportunity to go overseas or was that still a time when American outfield players weren’t taken seriously?

R.F.: Well it was and to be honest, I have to give a lot credit to players like Eric Wynalda and Steve Trittschuh and guys who said “I’m going to go overseas and make it work, no matter what.” It was time when it was very difficult for Americans. I had some opprotunities where a couple of teams were interested over the years.

Coming out of college there was a fairly significant team that was supposedly very interested but I had an injury that kept me out for all of 1989 and by the time I got healthy, the opportunity was gone. So at the time I was at FIU it would have been very difficult to head overseas, much more so than it is now. Had I been a mainstay on the National Team it certainly would have helped in that capacity.

A.D.: You were picked up by LA when MLS Started in 1996 and the Galaxy promptly ran off double digit wins to start the season, playing in front 40-60,000 people. What were your strongest memories about the early part ’96?

R.F.: It was a euphoric experience to be quite honest. Here we are in the US and never had been big crowds ouside of the NASL. Two nights before the the first game there was a pep rally in Pasadana. We’re on the bus on the way there and and we’re thinking that they’ll be a few people here and there. Well, we get out of the bus, walk down this red carpet and get onto a stage and there’s thousands of people going crazy. That was the first time I thought, wow this could be huge. Then when we played on opening night and we thought we’d get maybe 20-25 thousand people. Well, there were people who couldn’t get it until the second half and it endup up being 70,000 people in the Rose Bowl.

So I had some unbelievable memories of the passionate followers that the Galaxy quickly developed, the quality of the players on the team and the fact that, for the first time, we as soccer players, were treated like rock stars in Pasadena.

A.D.: After a midseason dip, LA ran through the playoffs and took a 2-0 lead in the MLS Cup before DC United came back to win. I understand that isn’t a great memory but describe that game and emotional see-saw that went with it. Besides the weather.

R.F.: The weather right (chuckles). I remember that all through the season, we had this phenomenal young player that nobody had ever heard of named Chris Armas and that he’s had a good game, he’s put a goal away and he’s going to be MVP of the first MLS Cup. That was my strongest memory after he scored.

And then, it was the worst 17 minutes of soccer. It just all fell apart. I still remember the last corner kick scored by another unknown player who would go on to fame and fortune named Eddie Pope. But it was a dramatic beginning and the type of final that the initial MLS Cup deserved. The two best teams were there, though I’ll never say the best team won. But it was a great game, DC did what they had to do. The crowd, considering the weather, was abolutely magnificent.

In spite of the score, I think it was the best MLS Cup in MLS history.

A.D.: MLS Cup ’99, about 7 mins into the match you get pushed by Roy Lassiter and have to leave with a broken clavicle. DC scores off a throw in into the penalty box soon thereafter. You were all class in the sideline interview afterwards but how long did that take to get over?

R.F.: It was really frustrating. We were absolutely fanstastic. Between 1998 and 2000 I thought we played some of the best soccer the league had ever seen. So it was frustrating and difficult to watch. For the team it was disconcerting and it was one of my most injury-freee years. So to have been healthy all year and to have that happen….it took a long time get over especially as that was the last MLS Cup I played in.

Robin’s trade to the Columbus Crew helped his side garner the Supporter’s Shield and Robin another MLS Best XI nod.(mlsnet)

A.D.: With all that you accomplished in LA, four-time Best XI and 1999 Defender of the Year, you were suprisingly traded to Colorado in 2001. What were your feelings on leaving LA and returning to Denver?

R.F.: Extreme disappointment to be leaving LA. The core of players that weere there from the beginning was such a beautiful mix of great talent and diversified personnel so I was broken hearted to leave there. Sigi Schmid and I had some issues. But I thought it would be a great thing that if I had to leave LA I would goto Colorado where I spent the majority of my 20s. But leaving LA was unbelievably hard. My wife loved LA and being a part of the Galaxy was tremendous. It was disappointing to have to leave.

A.D.: You appeared 27 times for the US, among them a couple of wins over Germany and a 3rd place finish in the 1999 Confederatoins Cup. What is your most lasting memory representing the USA?

R.F.: Hmmm. There were so many over the years. The program has changed so much since 1988 when I was first on the team. In the early years, we were just a bunch of college kids playing European first division teams. Later we were playing teams like Argentina, Brazil and Germany. So I have many memories, one of them has to be playing Brazil and Ronaldinho, a game that we lost 1-0 and we missed a penalty kick so we actually could have tied it. I thought defensively we were fanstastic and that was gratifying because Brazil routinely ripped teams apart.

Also standing on the podium collecting our thrid place medals at the Confederations Cup. That was a great experience because during my time on the National team, I didn’t play in a lot of international competitions, mainly lots of friendlies and other games. So to go through an actual competition and get third place was a great feeling.

A.D.: Do you hav any regrets not having represented Jamaica internationally?

R.F.: I actually tried to play for Jamaica first, but was not picked up. A tryout was arranged for myself, and four other friends that I played with in Miami. We went down for a weekend, and were told that they weren’t interested. A year and a half later, I was playing for the US Senior Men’s National Team.

Then in 1998 when it was clear that I was not going to be a part of [US Coach Steve] Sampson’s team, I wondered if I would still have been eligible to play for Jamaica. I called the Technical Director, Carl Brown, and told him that I would love to be considered for Jamaica. He said he would look into my eligibility and get back to me. That never happened, so I never really got anywhere with that. I thought that would have been my last opportunity to be considered for a World Cup, so I would have played for either country, and I would have been equally as proud to have played for either.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing with the U.S. team. Things seem to work out for a reason, and it was a tremendous experience traveling and playing for the U.S. I am very proud to have represented the U.S. for so many years.

A.D.: You were eventually traded to the Columbus Crew where you joined another Jamaican turned American International in Jeff Cunningham. There’s no questioning his individual talent so what’s kept him from making a lasting impact on the National Team?

R.F.: What I’ve come to find in all of these years being around the game is that consistency is the most important thing. Jeff can be unbeliveably brilliant and then have his moments when he’s not good. You can’t be brilliant one time and not good the next. If he could be more consistent he could [make an impact]. He’s a ridiculous talent so it’s just a matter of consistency.

A.D.: The Player you most hated to see coming at you with the ball 1 on 1 was:

R.F.: Probably Jeff Cunningham to be perfectly honest. I could say Jaime Moreno as well but there hasn’t been any player who’s been harder for me to deal with in one on one situations than Jeff. I’m faster than most players and strong enough that I could contain you physically. But Jeff has all of that. Jeff is just as fast if not faster than me, has unbelievable skill, and is strong enough to take a knock. So he was the hardest player for me to deal with one on one.

A.D.: Every once in awhile an MLS vacancy opens up but no Black coaches are ever mentioned as candidates. It’s been a said you had the chance to step into that void in Houston but elected to take over director of coaching duties at a youth club in AZ. How did that opportunity come about and what were the factors that led that decision as opposed to testing the waters in MLS?

R.F.: [Houston Dynamo coach] Dominic Kinnear approached me about the job. That would have been a great job, because working with Dominc would have been incredible. We played together on the National Team in the late 80′s, and early 90s. I decided against it because I didn’t want to lead the unstable life that I had lead for so long as a player. I wanted to be somewhere that I felt I would be for a long time. Plus, I wanted to try to affect kids. We have too many kids playing in this country to not be producing better players. So I figured I would start here, and see how I could affect soccer in this country.

A.D.: Is enough being done to attract kids of color to these mainly suburban youth clubs?

R.F.: No because soccer here is unlike soccer anywhere else in the world. Here it’s an upper middle class sport. So it tends to exlcudes a fair number of kids from the cities and tougher financial situations. But there has to be way to channel into those communities because there are a large number of talented players who never get a chance to play. So I don’t think enough is being done but it is being addressed.

A.D.: One more question: As a central defender and a budding coach how excited are you about Oguchi Onyewu’s emergence on the US backline and what would you like to see him improve on to take his game to the next level?

R.F.: Well, where he is now (with English club Newcastle United) it’s either sink or swim. He’s in a good envrionment to learn about decision making defensively. Offensively, I think he needs to be better with the ball. I think he needs to learn to play better balls over both longer and shorter distances. I think he’s got a clean first touch but I also think his passing is what really needs to be improved.

A.D.: So he’s a work in progress?

R.F.: Yes, most definitely.