Living the American dream

Dedi Ben-Dayan sought an even bigger spotlight than Maccabi Tel Aviv could shine on him. Now he's shining for the Colorado Rapids.

dedi ben-dayan 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
dedi ben-dayan 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
He was once the heartthrob of Israeli soccer - very popular among the ladies who came to the games and the most talked-about player in Abraham Grant's Maccabi Tel Aviv. But then he entered the darkest chapter of his young career when he found himself away from the spotlight and fighting for his place with Hapoel Beersheba. Dedi Ben-Dayan has moved on since then. He now plays for the Colorado Rapids in the America's Major League Soccer league and is the darling of the Jewish community in Denver. Recently the club exercised its second-year option on the player for the forthcoming season. The talented left-winger, who has turned into a well-known figure in the MLS after scoring four goals and registering two assists in just eight appearances, sat down to talk with The Jerusalem Post about his American experience. How were your first months in the USA? "It was an incredible experience as it was my first time outside Israel. The atmosphere is different, there are more fans at games and it's a new style of play." What are the differences between the Israeli Premier League and the American MLS? "It's a much more professional league. Unlike Israel, teams there have an organized training staff with specified jobs. The games are tough and are played with a more serious approach. The league is very competitive and it's easier for players to get to European clubs from there. The financial situation is also much better." What position do you play in your team? "I played as a left winger as a youngster. Abraham Grant used me as a left back in Maccabi Tel Aviv, but now I'm back to my natural position and enjoy playing this position, as it doesn't require any adjustments from my side." Describe the feeling after scoring your first goal? "It was a great feeling. A few Israeli tourists had come to see me with Israeli flags. I got hold of a flag and made a run with it. I'll cherish the moment forever." Who are the leading players in your team? "Cameroonian Alain Nkong is an excellent midfielder, very aggressive and talented, but I'm not sure he'll stay with us next season. Jamaican-born Jeff Cunningham is a great striker who plays for the USA national team and will take part in the Germany 2006 World Cup. Tell me about the soccer scene in Denver. "Well, we have a huge stadium with 76,000 seats, but the arena is seldom sold out. Regardless, the attendance is better than in Israel and the game is marketed very aggressively there." What do you do in your free time? "I enjoy playing Playstation, surfing the net, listening to music and I also visit the Pepsi Center frequently to watch Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets in action. The skiing and snowboarding are also great in the winter season." How do you stay in touch with Israel? "I'm always on the phone with my family and friends. The Jewish community in Colorado is very supportive and helpful. The holiday season was very pleasant thanks to the synagogues that hosted me and made me feel at home." What is your advice to Israeli players? "I warmly recommend going to play in foreign leagues, and I am ready to help every Israeli who wishes to try his luck in the MLS. If any player seeks my help, I will do my level best to get him there." Ben-Dayan will be back in Denver in January to join the Rapids training camp for the new season, but he surely has his own opinion about the Israeli Premier League. Regarding the dominance of Maccabi Haifa in the past few years, Ben-Dayan pointed out the management as the main reason behind the success. "When the club is run professionally, everything runs smoothly," he said. "Haifa is surely the best-managed team in Israel." As for Arkadi Gaydamak's Betar Jerusalem, Ben-Dayan doesn't think they will taste instant success. "I don't think they will threaten Haifa, even next season. Betar has to build itself properly and take one step at a time." Talking about Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he spent eight seasons, still brings up memories for Dedi and puts him on the defensive. The former Maccabi star prefers not to comment on the current team that Nir Klinger has assembled and doesn't rule out a future return to the yellow-and-blue. Ben-Dayan has not yet given up on his dream to play for the Israeli national team, and claims that a good run of form can earn him a place in Dror Kashtan's squad for the upcoming Euro 2008 campaign. Ben-Dayan's agent, Don Barnett, a former American resident, is also very impressed with his player's ability to adapt to the MLS league. "He's the perfect ambassador for Israeli soccer in the USA. The ideal Jewish poster boy, who knows how to win the American Jews' hearts," Barnett said. Barnett said he wishes to increase the import of Israeli players to America and mentioned players such as David Revivo from Ashdod SC and Yaniv Avargil from Bnei Sakhnin as potential candidates to make the move to the MLS league in the near future. Barnett also claims that a move to America can improve Israeli soccer's image on the world scene and bring more players to Europe in the long run. "Israeli soccer has many flaws and is not run in the best manner. Lots of politics are involved in signing players and making other moves," the seasoned agent explained. Ben-Dayan's agent also tried to bring current Betar Jerusalem star Omri Afek to the MLS's richest and most successful team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, a few seasons ago, but said that unfortunately, many other factors were at play that prevented the transfer. For now, though, Ben-Dayan has the spotlight all to himself.