Khano Smith leaned cool and calm against the stone wall that surrounds the pitch at Ceylon Park on the southern outskirts of Boston. Music blared from inside an auto body shop across the road and men with bottles tucked in brown paper bags wandered past, lazily taking in the football and the late summer sunshine.
“We’ve got to stop that guy,” said one of the Kendall Wanderers on a recent Saturday morning, breathing heavy at the half-time break through a thick Irish accent. “Where do I know him from?” asked another. “Have we played against him before?”
It’s a long way from professional or international football.
While his club team-mates and opponents had been working a normal Wednesday the previous week - tending bar, doing construction, designing software, teaching - Bermuda’s most famous sportsman was lining up in front of thousands at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in the Trinidadian capital Port of Spain in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, captaining his country against international stars like Kenwyne Jones and Carlos Edwards.
A former Major League Soccer standout with New England Revolution, Smith stands over six feet tall. He’s lean, and possesses blistering pace and a confounding array of flicks and tricks. He stands out on the fields of the BSSL, an amateur league based in and around Boston, Massachusetts where he plays for First Wave.
“Growing up, you dream about playing for your country, even if it’s a small country,” Smith, 30, told FIFA.com. “To wear the captain’s armband is a special feeling,” he added, after skippering the side for the first time in a pair of narrow losses against Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana to start the first group stage of CONCACAF qualifying for Brazil 2014.
He laughs good-naturedly when asked about the contrast between playing in the part-timer leagues in his adoptive US, where he attended college, while still representing his country at international level. “The level is a bit of a change, a long way from one to the other, but I love to play and, being from the islands, I’m used to it.” The 4-0 win over Kendall Wanderers, one of Boston’s oldest and proudest Irish clubs, was largely down to his orchestrations.
A professional Rev
Smith was discovered playing amateur football in Pembroke Parish of his native Bermuda for Dandy Town Hornets. Former Liverpool star Steve Nicol, coaching Boston-based MLS outfit New England Revolution on a pre-season tour of the West Indies, was sufficiently taken with Smith’s pace and potential, and signed him up on the spot at the airport in Hamilton. Suddenly a bona fide pro, the Bermudan scored before thousands of fans on his debut for the Revolution in 2005 and went on to make 85 appearances and score seven more goals for the club before ill-fated stints with New York Red Bulls and Lincoln City in England. “When I started with the Revs, I had just come from amateur football; you see a lot of that on the islands, so I’m used to it. Amateur one day, professional the next.”
Able to play up front or out wide on the flank, Smith’s professional career was defined by moments of tremendous creativity followed by basic errors and frustrating inconsistency. As careers in football often do, his came to a quiet end, no MLS side willing to take up his contract as a free agent. “There’s always a time when your career is going to end,” he said matter-of-fact from his home in Quincy, south of Boston, where he’s getting his coaching badges and hoping to continue on in the game. “If a pro team came in for me, I would jump at the opportunity to play again – I haven’t given up hope. But realistically, it’s time to move on.”
And while Smith continues to play for the love of the game on the bumpy amateur patches of Boston, terrorising the opposition with his class and experience, he still hopes for unlikely glory on the biggest stages with his Bermudan national team. With two losses, the Gombey Warriors, who have never reached a CONCACAF Gold Cup or climbed particularly high up the world-ranking ladder, are in a must-win situation. “In our second game [a 2-1 loss to Guyana in which Smith scored] we didn’t get ourselves up like we should have,” he said. “We were the better team, but we lacked a bit of focus.”
Up next for Bermuda are the first two home games of their campaign, and the captain is expecting. “We beat Trinidad and Tobago last time we played them at home [in qualifying for South Africa 2010] and we can do it again,” he said, his voice steely and determined. “With two wins at home, suddenly we’re back in the race and then who knows what can happen.”