Courtesy: The Rochester Democrat and ChronicleBall's nonstop motor helps to spark RhinosJeff DiVeronica
Staff writer June 29, 2007
A few months shy of his 35th birthday, John Ball is the oldest player on the Rhinos' roster.
He has never been a fitness freak, admits to smoking a cigarette or two over the years and doesn't shy away from junk food.
But when Rochester was pushed to the brink in Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match, there was Ball, running just as hard in the 120th minute as he was in the first.
"I guess I just have good genes," the veteran midfielder says with a laugh.
Ray Reid, his college coach at Southern Connecticut State who has revitalized the UConn's program, used to joke that Ball had three lungs.
But Ball has brought more than an amazing work rate to Rochester's teams the past three years. He brings intensity and the savvy the young Rhinos need. He'll mouth off to an opponent, an official or even a teammate, depending if he feels it's necessary.
"I think sometimes our team needs a fire lit under their butt," said Ball, an 11-year veteran of the USL First Division with more than 175 matches under his belt for six different teams.
"With the referees, I've been around so long I know a lot of them from indoor (soccer) or outdoor. I know what I can get away with and when to just shut up."
Rochester faces one of Ball's former teams tonight at PAETEC Park when it plays the Atlanta Silverbacks. It's a matchup of teams going in opposite directions.
Atlanta is 0-4-2 in it last six while the Rhinos are 4-0-3 since a May 20 loss at USL leader Vancouver.
Rhinos coach Laurie Calloway has said he likes Ball's ability to rile up his own teammates and even opponents. But Ball has learned over the years when to take his foot off the gas pedal.
Early in Tuesday's 2-1 comeback win over Western Mass, he tangled with an opponent on the sideline. As the opponent stood up, he stiff-armed Ball, who exaggerated the push and went to the ground.
But the gamesmanship fired up his teammates, who racked up a record 40 shots and dominated, even if they could only manage to score twice.
Ball assisted on Aaran Lines' game-winning goal in overtime.
"He's tenacious and he's a proven commodity in this league," said former Rhinos general manager Chris Economides, who wanted desperately to acquire Ball when the Rhinos got off to a slow start in Calloway's first season (2005).
"Once he got married and settled down his whole mindset changed."
Ball nearly signed with Atlanta in 2005, but he came back to Rochester, where he played in 2000 before being released midway through the season.
"This club has so much history, so much tradition," said the Waterbury, Conn., native who spent part of the 1999 season with Chicago (MLS). "I think a lot of our young guys don't know that."
Ball wants to help restore that pride in Rochester. Only he and injured Scott Vallow have any connection to the Rhinos' former championship teams.
"We've finally got this stadium everyone wanted," said Ball, who has won two Division II NCAA championships and two indoor titles with Cleveland but is still trying for his first professional outdoor crown. "We have a good team. I want us to fill it."
Ball actually did lift weights for a few months earlier this year when the birth of his second child, son Jalen, who is eighth months old, changed his morning regimen. The baby would get him up early, so he'd go to the gym.
"I got a little stronger. I have to have something to back up my mouth," he joked.
Ball said he played with even more fury on Tuesday because a chance for a rematch with the New England Revolution (MLS), who eliminated Rochester in the fourth round last year, was on the line.
"I wanted those guys again. That's the bottom line," he said. "I'm still haunted by the inside-the-six goal I missed and I will be until we get them again."
Ball will be around for that July 10 matchup at PAETEC Park. But July 18 he leaves for two weeks to play for the United States futsal team in the Pan-American Games. He already has played in two futsal world championships, including in 2004 in China with Canandaigua's Andy Guastaferro. Futsal is played indoors on a basketball-like court. A smaller but heavier ball is used and the sides are 5-versus-5.
"There's nothing like hearing your national anthem before a game in another country. Gives you chills," he said.
Notes: The Rhinos will be without midfielder Stephen Black and central defender Kenney Bertz tonight because of yellow-card accumulation. Bertz also suffered a broken nose Tuesday. ... Atlanta started 2-0-2 but is winless in its last six matches (0-4-2). The Silverbacks haven't won since May 18. ... Ex-Rhinos David Hayes and recently signed Corey Woolfolk play for Atlanta. Woolfolk also nearly signed with Carolina.
Posted by Luca Ranocchiari