Nakhid, David 1964–
David Nakhid 1964–
Professional soccer player
Trinidadian soccer star David Nakhid played one season for the New England Revolution, one of the twelve teams of the Major League Soccer (MLS) organization. Nakhid’s experience in North American soccer—which has yet to achieve the wild popularity that the sport enjoys in the rest of the world—was plagued by several difficulties, including a change in the team’s coaching staff, a problematic losing streak, injuries, and a much-publicized incident in which a white teammate used a racial slur against Nakhid.
Nakhid was born in 1964 in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, two islands of the West Indies that lie just off the coast of Venezuela. It is a tropical, but highly modernized country where the majority of the population are descended from slaves brought to the Western hemisphere from Africa; English is the official language. A standout on the soccer field from an early age, Nakhid played for American University in Washington, D.C. during the mid-1980s, where he was an international-studies major. During his tenure, the team enjoyed several notable successes, and even made it to the National College Athletic Association’s soccer championships during his junior year. In the 1985 finals, American University competed against the University of California at Los Angeles in a game that stretched into eight overtimes—the longest game in the history of collegiate soccer. Nakhid’s team lost, 1–0.
After graduating from American University in 1986, Nakhid went on to spend eleven seasons playing for professional soccer teams in Europe and the Middle East. These included the Grasshoppers Zurich, a Swiss organization, a Greek team called PAOK, and Belgium’s Waregem. He was also drafted by Al Ansar of Lebanon. As a member of the Grasshoppers, Nakhid was part of a team that took two national championships. During his stint with Waregem, he was twice voted Most Valuable Player. As a midfielder with Al Ansar, Nakhid and his team took three league championships. He also continued to play in Caribbean competitions. Nakhid was named Most Valuable Player at the Caribbean Shell Cup on three occasions. He was also given the honor of captaining the Trinidad and Tobago national team for the World Cup soccer championships in 1998.
The New England Revolution signed Nakhid, a midfielder,
At a Glance…
Born May 15, 1954, in Trinidad. Education: Earned degree in international studies from American University, 1986.
Career: Professional soccer player. Has played for Grasshoppers (Zurich, Switzerland), PAOK (Salonika, Greece), Waregem (Belgium), and Al Ansar (Lebanon); New England Revolution (a Major League Soccer organization team), Boston, MA, midfielder, 1998; also captain of Trinidad and Tobago national team.
Awards: Most Valuable Player, Caribbean Shell Cup, 1994, 1995, 1997.
Addresses: Office —Major League Soccer, 110 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10017.
fielder, in February of 1998. As a member of the 12–team Major League Soccer organization, the Boston-based Revolution was part of a concerted effort to create a successful fan base for soccer among North Americans. However, as New York Times writer Kevin Baker noted a season later, “the fact remains that after four years of existence, M.L.S. is all but moribund, its attendance stagnant, its television ratings minuscule, its buzz inaudible.”
Nakhid had never played on a losing team until he arrived in Boston, and was predicted to become a key player who could help the Revolution advance to the M.L.S. playoffs. However, salary caps and an effort to keep the number of foreign players to a maximum of four per team hampered his job security from the start. Nakhid was the only player that season who was not signed to a guaranteed contract. The Revolution’s coach, Thomas Rongen, was initially a great fan of Nakhid’s, heralding him as one of the team’s emerging standouts. However, problems surfaced early in the season. Nakhid sprained an ankle in a game against the Chicago Fire in June of 1998, which led to the Revolution’s sixth straight loss. The losing streak demoralized Nakhid and his teammates.
Despite these difficulties, Nakhid remained optimistic. He planned to rehabilitate his ankle as quickly as possible, head back to the playing field, and help his team reverse their slide. “I still don’t see anything real bad,” Nakhid told the Boston Globe’s Jim Greenidge. “I’m still optimistic …. It has to start somewhere, and I’m going to devote myself to seeing that we get back on track. I’m convinced we can still turn it around.”
By August of 1998, the Revolution had lost an appalling nine games in a row. Moreover, some of Nakhid’s teammates were angered when he requested some time off to play on the Caribbean All-Star team before the World Cup games—an honor he was virtually obliged to accept, since he was also captain of the Trinidad-Tobago team. The sniping reflected some internal problems and cultural differences within the world of international soccer. Some analysts claimed that players from the Caribbean were treated differently than European athletes, an accusation borne out by salary statistics—the predominantly black Caribbean soccer stars are the lowest-paid among the foreign players in the M.L.S. organization.
“It’s like any other place in America,” Nakhid told Frank Dell’Apa, another Boston Globe sportswriter. “We are seen as cheap labor. There is no way we will be paid as much as Europeans; even if they don’t have comparable technical skills or production. It’s something I disagree with.” Moreover, players from the West Indies like Nakhid do not usually emerge as team leaders. “Caribbean players are seen as skill players,” Nakhid told Dell’Apa. “It’s the same situation as it used to be in the NBA, or the NFL, where the black quarterback was not considered to have the tactical brain for the position.”
The situation within the Revolution continued to disintegrate. In late August of 1998, Rongen was replaced as the team’s head coach. He later remarked said that some players had created problems on the team, but refused to name names. When the new coach, Walter Zenga, took over, Nakhid was not placed on the traveling team for the first game, and was benched during the next two. “Nakhid’s situation is symptomatic of a team that has been fractured for many weeks,” explained Dell’Apa, who argued that a particularly significant defeat for the Revolution in a game against Miami—the 3–2 loss probably killed their chances for a playoff spot—might have benefitted from Nakhid’s skills had he been allowed to play more. Dell’Apa also noted that foreign players usually bear the brunt of the ill will when a soccer team is losing. Nakhid was pragmatic. “Someone was looking for a scapegoat, and maybe they found one,” he told the Boston Globe.
In October of 1998, during the final postseason practice for the Revolution, the tensions within the team erupted into violence. During an argument between Nakhid and a white teammate, Edwin Gorter, Gorter used a particularly ugly racial slur. Both men threw punches and had to be forcibly separated. The M.L.S. organization moved quickly to investigate the matter. Gorter was suspended for two games, ordered to make a public apology to Nakhid, and slapped with a $20,000 fine—the largest in M.L.S. history.
The money from Gorter’s fine was used to pay for diversity training for all 12 teams in the league, as well as its front-office personnel. “Because MLS players come from a wide variety of environments, maybe they aren’t sensitized to the results of what they say or do in this country,” the League’s commissioner, Douglas Logan, said, according to Sports Illustrated. “We bear the responsibility to educate people about that.” Boston Globe writer Michael Holley, however, called the fine and forced apology pointless. “I would like to see the Revolution and the league set up a televised press conference in a section of Boston where Caribbean people live, maybe in Mattapan where Nakhid eats and gets his hair cut. Invite the community. Then ask Gorter to repeat what he said to Nakhid and ask him why he said it,” Holley suggested.
Less than one month after the incident with Gorter, Nakhid was placed on waivers by the Revolution. The team’s management claimed that the Revolution had to part with Nakhid because they were already over the four-man foreign player limit. Two other players who were playing for the Revolution on temporary work visas were also waived. Nakhid’s experiences in North American soccer were not unusual. “Dispelling stereotypes is something I’ve had to do at university and in Europe,” he had once said in the interview with Dell’Apa in the Boston Globe. “The only way to break it is to work hard.”
Boston Globe, March 23, 1998, p. D7; June 18, 1998, p. F7; September 18, 1998, p. E2; October 11, 1998, p. C14; November 3, 1998, p. C4.
Fort Lauderdale Standard-Times, April 5, 1998.
New York Times, November 28, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, October 19, 1998, p. 23.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the Major League Soccer website at http://www.mlsnet.com