On Friday afternoon I met Alkis Panagoulias for lunch at, of course, the Greek Taverna in McLean. (Order the trout special -- you won't regret it.) For younger inhabitants of Soccer Insider Nation, that name probably means absolutely nothing. To those who have been around a bit or know their American and Greek soccer history, Alkis is a legend.
He guided Greece to their first appearances in both the European Championship (1980) and World Cup (1994), and won domestic championships with Olympiakos. His highest-profile jobs in the United States were leading Team America, an RFK Stadium-based squad that served as the national team from 1983 to '85, and overseeing the Olympic team at the 1984 Games in L.A. He and his wife, a real estate agent, have lived in the same house in Vienna, Va., since their arrival more than two decades ago.
Alkis, now 72, gets back to Greece a few times a year -- to run youth tournaments, meet with old friends, work with a journalist on his biography. In the summer of '04, he was a venue director for soccer during the Olympic Games in Athens. His current project is help arrange U.S. exhibitions for PAOK, a Greek club from his home town in Salonica, which plans to come to the States for a couple weeks after their season concludes in May. Ideally, they'd like to play in New York and Toronto, home to huge Greek immigrant communities.
Alkis said he was impressed with the U.S. performance Wednesday against Mexico and, despite last year's poor World Cup results, believes things are looking up for American soccer compared to 20-25 years ago when he was trying to jump-start the program.
"It's much better now," he said. "The big thing is all the young players in the parks and fields. This is the future. Youth is the force. There's no country in Europe that has such big potential with their youth. Not England, not France, not Germany. It's right here. Big things are coming."
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