Cambuur's D.C. Connection
SC Cambuur is close to gaining promotion to the Eredivise and playing in the Netherlands' top flight for the first time in nine years. Why should we care?
Because Cambuur's general manager, Alex Pama, was born in Bethesda, Md., coached youth programs in Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia before arriving at the Dutch club three years ago. Under his guidance, Cambuur has pulled itself out of financial ruin, and this spring has advanced to the final round of playoffs for promotion. It will play top-tier club Roda (16th place among 18 clubs) in a series that begins Thursday.
In the Netherlands, low-finishing Eredivise clubs have to battle top second-division teams to earn a berth in the first tier the following season. If each team is victorious in the first two matches, a third game is played.
The son of a military liaison at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, Pama lived in Bethesda until about age 5 before moving with his family back to the Netherlands. After high school and college, he played third-division soccer in the Netherlands and quickly transitioned into coaching and scouting. He accepted an offer to become the director of coaching for the Boise Alliance and later took a similar position for the Arkansas state association in Little Rock. He then moved to Atlanta, helping the U-18 Lightning win the 1998 national championship and creating the Redwings club.
Pama, 37, was preparing to give up soccer and enter the corporate world when, through a former player in the Netherlands, he was contacted by Cambuur about a front-office position. At the time, the club was having financial problems, not drawing spectators to its 10,000-seat stadium and struggling most years to finish in the top half of the Eerste Divisie. Eventually, Pama helped turn the club's fortunes.
With an American background, however, he needed to prove himself to a skeptical audience.
"Americans in football in Europe are not easily accepted," he said in a phone interview today. "You come from a third-world country in soccer. As Americans, we look at the possibilities, not the impossibilities. In Europe, they want to see it; they're more negative. I was working at a faster pace that they are used to."
Long overshadowed by provincial rival Heerenveen, Cambuur finished third in the league season with a 20-9-9 record and defeated Zwolle in the second round of the playoffs. The club lost the first game, then won the next two. Tickets to this week's opener against Roda were sold out in two hours.
"There's still a huge hurdle left," he said. "It's been quite a turnaround for us. The pressure is on Roda. No one else thought we would be in this position."
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