Omi

When you aren’t training or heading to Toyota Park for a Chicago Fire game, how do you enjoy a day off?

Honestly, nothing too cool. I have a 3-year-old daughter so I usually hang with her.

So you made it past the terrible twos. What was the biggest shock that came with being a parent?

That’s a good question. I would say just how much you care. You always hear all of these clichés about having kids and then when you realize you have a little girl’s life in your hands it’s kind of scary. Very scary actually.

After two consecutive MLS cup titles with the LA Galaxy, how does it feel to be back and playing for your hometown?

I love it. I was born in Elmwood Park and lived there until I was maybe 4 and then we moved to Elmhurst. Obviously being from here I’m pretty biased but as far as sports towns go, Chicago is one of the best. Getting to play in front of the fans is amazing and also getting to go to Blackhawks and Bulls games, seeing those atmospheres and the teams that I love is great.

You didn’t join the Lakers bandwagon?

You know what, when I played for the LA Galaxy our owners owned the Staples Center and a part of the Lakers so we got to go to courtside games and I did start to like them a little bit.

What was it like playing within the media frenzy surrounding teammate David Beckham?

He’s a good dude, he’s obviously a celebrity but he’s probably the best thing that ever happened to the MLS. We were kind of unknown in the U.S. and I feel like once he came everyone became more familiar with the league. When he was on the Galaxy it worked out well and whenever anyone said they played for the Galaxy they knew exactly what [sport] they played for because of David Beckham.

Was he a cool guy outside of the public eye?

He is very cool, yeah, and down to earth. Believe it or not, he is.

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You know we’re gonna ask about his fashion designer wife Victoria Beckham.

She was very cool too! They are very unassuming. She’s clever, very clever. I feel like every time you hear about her in newspapers they are saying she doesn’t smile but she’s actually quite the opposite. They are a brand, she’s very smart.

You left high school to play in the U.S. Soccer Under-17 Residency Program. When did you know the game was going to be more than just a hobby for you?

I have always loved soccer but I was still playing other sports like baseball up until I was about 13 years old. I think it was when we were playing a tournament called the Dallas Cup, that was the first time I had played against teams from other countries like Everton [Football Club] and Santos [Football Club], some of the biggest clubs from around the world and our team did pretty well. That was when I realized the game was so much bigger than just Chicago and our country and that was really cool to me.

Do you think the ability to perform at a professional level is a talent you are born with or is it the dedication you put into the sport?

I was always overly competitive almost to a fault and soccer was the first sport I was able to play when I was young. I honestly don’t know, no one in my family had played soccer so it definitely wasn’t inherited. There was just something about the game that I can’t really describe.

What was going through your mind when you stepped up to play goalkeeper while the Galaxy was up against San Jose? 

That was crazy, I had never played goalie before. Our [starting] goalie [Donovan Ricketts] had snapped his arm and then our [second-string] goalie [Josh Saunders] elbowed somebody in the head and got a red card so there were no more goalies left on the team. I basically stepped forward and probably shouldn’t have but I did and somehow it went well, I didn’t give up a goal. It was blind luck, I kind of blacked out so I don’t really remember it all. It was like four minutes before half so in my head I thought I was going to play just the last four minutes and then we’d have a better plan for the second half but I stayed in it [for the rest of the game].

When you got drafted into MLS, was the lifestyle of a pro what you expected it to be?

No, it was much harder. I went pro when I was only 17 so it was hard to realize [how difficult it would be]. I feel like I was just a kid when I went pro so all of a sudden being in a locker room with 35-year-old men when I should have been a senior in high school was a major adjustment. Guys had wives and kids and were doing adult types of things and I was still going to prom.

Did anyone take you under their wing?

Yeah and he actually just became the Fire’s assistant coach, Clint Mathis. He was a star for USA in the 2002 World Cup then in 2003 I was drafted to the New York [Red Bulls]. He immediately saw something in me as a player and a person and took me under his wing.

What do you think he saw in you?

Man, I don’t know.

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How does the dynamic between a player and coach change once you become close in age and you’ve established yourself in the league?

I still take orders! I definitely take orders but the difference now is that the dialogue is a lot better. When you’re young and something bad happens you just kind of keep it to yourself and you’re always wondering what the coach is thinking. Now there is so much open dialogue that I feel like I can go to him and say, “Hey. Listen, this is going on,” and talk to him like a man.

Soccer is an emotionally-driven sport. Would you consider yourself one to have a temper?

I do, unfortunately. Yeah, my mouth always gets the best of me … It kind of adds to how competitive I am with even the dumbest of things, which I think is a good thing at times but it’s a bad thing when you’re playing cards with family.

Do you read the press written about you?

I never do, no.

When you google your name Bradley Cooper comes up. Do you hear that you look like him often?

[Laughs] I get it sometimes, yeah. I still don’t have a good response to that. It’s still awkward.

How do you deal with the stress of the game?

Before having my daughter, I would always go to my dad. He’s my dad and my best friend, we’ve always been really close so we always talk about life and he’s a big role model to me. In these past three years since having my daughter when there’s something wrong or after a loss I just see her face and realize [what really matters and] that everything is okay.

Go-to pre-game meal?

Pasta and chicken. I cook on an as-needed emergency basis. I’m the furthest thing from a cook so it’s very dry, I don’t even use pasta sauce it’s just olive oil and penne. I’ll maybe eat some fruit, but no cheeseburgers or pizza on game days.

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In one sentence, how would you describe yourself off the field?

I’m 6-foot-2 and 220. [Laughs]

What is the last text message you sent?

Do I have to check?

Sure.

[Scrolls through iPhone] My buddy Jason just texted me at 3:11 p.m. and said, “Are you down to have a drink?” I said, “No.” I can’t say what he wrote after that but I said, “Haha. No drinking until after my game,” and he wrote, “Fair enough.”

March Madness. Are you a basketball fan?

College basketball, no. But [for my bracket] I’ve got Michigan State and Louisville [going to the finals]. I took Michigan State winning it though.

Who are you closest with on the team?

I’m close with Quincy Amarikwa and Sean Johnson. We’re all a pretty close group but I’d say those two are the ones who I talk to the most.

When you finally have to retire, do you hope to still work in the industry in some way?

I’m trying not to think about it. I feel like once I start thinking about it it’s a means to an end so, I think I’ve got a couple of years left at least. I’m gonna try to not think about it. It’s probably going to blindside me and I’m going to wish I had a better answer to this question.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be? Dead or alive.

It has to be one person, right?

It can be a table of people.

I get a table? Alright! Now I can’t even think of one, of course. Alright, I think I would do [Brazilian soccer legend] Pelé and then Chris Farley. I mean, if you’re having a good dinner Chris Farley’s gotta be there. I’d throw Bradley Cooper in there too. I’d kind of mess with him a little because he’s ruined my life for awhile. [Laughs] But that’s it! Table of four.

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Omi