FIFA Legends Lindsay Tarpley and Ryan Nelsen speak with FIFA.com
They will be draw assistants for the Olympic football tournaments on Wednesday
Olympic memories, anecdotes and players to watch discussed
Lindsay Tarpley and Ryan Nelsen both had careers filled with moments successfully dealing with high-pressure situations. However, this Wednesday they will be dealing with pressure of a different kind as they will be drawing the names out of the hats to determine the groups for the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments.
Both former players are ideally placed to take part in this significant milestone on the road to Tokyo 2020. Tarpley won two gold medals with the USA women’s national team at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. She famously scored the opening goal in the final in the former.
Nelsen captained New Zealand at their first-ever Men's Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing 2008, where they drew against hosts China PR in the opener. Two years later he also captained his country to their first FIFA World Cup™ point in a 1-1 draw against Slovakia at South Africa 2010 and at London 2012, he captained the Oly-Whites once more where they finished with a point after a draw with Egypt.
These days they’re both busy coaching and raising their respective children. Nelsen talked of his enjoyment of being a fan now but joked about the realities of life post-career.
“The real world’s a bit different than when I played professional football," he said. "It’s weird you actually have to pay for working out in the gym and things like that – it’s outrageous!”
When she’s not trying to get her son and daughter to listen to her on the pitch, Tarpley is also an entrepreneur, where she’s started a company with some former players: “It’s fun to see how soccer shapes your life. You realise you are who you are because of those experiences.”
In terms of official draw experiences, Tarpley will be the one showing Nelsen the ropes this week as she took part in the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying draw in the fall of 2019. “I’m going to be leaning on Lindsay big time on this," he said. "I’m petrified! I’m renowned for tripping over and dropping things (laughs)!”
Both legends dreamt of being Olympians growing up in their respective corners of the world. For Nelsen especially it felt like one that would never be realised.
“Growing up watching the Olympics, it felt too far off and felt like something on another planet," he said. "For it to become a reality was something that was amazing. I can’t put it into words. It was something I didn’t think could possibly happen for me. It becomes about being an Olympian for life. No-one can that away from us.”
Tarpley grew up idolising the likes of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Tisha Venturini, who she says paved the way and she was fortunate enough to eventually be team-mates with: “The experiences I learned on and off the field through them is something that I still use throughout my life.”
Tarpley went from watching the Games as a young girl to putting her gold medal through the metal detector at the airport alongside her favourites athletes growing up.
Nelsen said: “Unlike the US, our gold medal tally was a wee bit less! (laughs) For any New Zealander to get there was a major achievement. Watching them compete against the world’s best – generally they punched above their weight. They showed that what they had worked on when they were young schoolboys and schoolgirls, they fulfilled their dreams, so that’s something very special.”
Nelsen also spoke about the “purity of the Olympics not burdened by commercialism” and that they are “from the soul, like the FIFA World Cups”, while Tarpley emphasised the “unified feeling” that they promote.
Every Olympian will tell you the opening and closing ceremonies are unforgettable, and for good reason, but what makes the Games unique is that they bring together athletes from different disciplines into one place. Tarpley cited the unity of representing her country alongside athletes from every sport.
For Nelsen, there was a meeting with a tennis star that he will never forget.
“I remember seeing Roger Federer in Beijing and just staring at him like I was a stalker or something! It was really embarrassing. He knew I was staring at him too hard. It was this awkward, electric moment where he probably thought he was going to get killed and I was absolutely awestruck. I can’t play tennis to save myself, but that guy’s a living legend.”
Both Nelsen and Tarpley will have an extra eye on their home countries in the draws. New Zealand’s men’s team will be competing in their third Olympic Games in Tokyo, while the USA women are four-time gold medallists and looking for an improvement in Tokyo following their quarter-final exit at Rio 2016.
“New Zealand have some very good young players," Nelsen said. "When I was playing half the team was still amateur and now they’re all pros, so that’s a good start for New Zealand. The great thing about being from New Zealand is no one expects anything and that’s where we have our advantage.
“For the men’s draw, looking at the teams, it’s going to be interesting and really close. There’s a few powerhouses but I think a few underdogs are going to cause a few upsets. Watch out for Liberato Cacace. I think a couple of years from now he’s going to arguably be one of the best left-backs around in Europe. He’s an extremely talented young man.”
The USWNT will be far from an underdog. In fact, they’ll be expected to make it five golds at Tokyo 2020.
“I think it’s important for them to focus on what’s ahead," said Tarpley. "I love the way they’re playing. Tactically and technically, they’re incredibly talented, so it’s going to be fun to see who Vlatko ends up taking in the 18 and to see how they come together.
"I’m so excited to continue to watch them play. The women’s game has grown so much across the world. The Olympics is going to be a great platform for them to really shine.
“The US has a lot of veteran leadership but there’s also so many young players who are making an impact and a couple I would keep my eye on are centre-back Abby Dahlkemper and forward Sophia Smith.”
The live-streamed show will be hosted by the British TV presenter and journalist, Samantha Johnson, current sports anchor and correspondent for TRT World, based in Istanbul. She will be joined by FIFA Legends and draw assistants Tarpley and Nelsen along with Jaime Yarza, FIFA Director of Tournaments, and Sarai Bareman, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer, who will conduct the men’s and women’s draws respectively.