Six months ago, if you'd asked the average American adult to name
a male soccer player (eight-year-old sons excluded), you'd likely
have gotten a blank stare and the 25-year-old answer, "Uh...
Pele?" Now this perpetually overlooked sport finally has a new
hero in the States--but he's a champ of a game show, not the World
Cup. Ethan Zohn, 28, the $1 million winner of Survivor Africa, is
an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson who spent four seasons
playing low-level pro ball as a goalkeeper for the Hawaii Tsunami
and the Cape Cod Crusaders. Thanks to the 27 million viewers who
tuned in to Survivor Africa's Jan. 10 finale, however, he's more
recognizable than Claudio Reyna and Kasey Keller combined. We
caught up with him shortly after he hit it rich.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: What do you think about being the most famous
soccer player in America, though you're not even playing?
Ethan Zohn: Frankly, it's great because I don't think the youths
of America have anyone in the soccer world they can identify
with. I'm just a normal guy who loves soccer and plays at a
decent level, but now I can create opportunities to be an
ambassador for the sport and popularize it.
SI: What if some teams started recruiting you for a little
reflected Survivor glory
EZ: If I'm going to get taken on for publicity value, I'd rather
do it as a spokesperson for a team, rather than, say, being
fourth-string goalie on the New England Revolution, with people
just getting to see me warm up with the team. The general manager
of the MetroStars said I could practice with the team anytime. I
want to play on my own merit. Obviously I've reached my
potential. I gave myself five years to make it, and I'm not going
to be the next superstar, but I would like to be involved in the
SI: How do you think guys like Alexi Lalas feel about your
suddenly becoming the crown prince of soccer?
EZ: I threw out a ceremonial first ball at a MetroStars benefit
game, and some of them asked where I had played. To them, the
Cape Cod Crusaders are like a rec league team, and here I am,
being identified everywhere as a professional soccer player. I
did get paid to play, so I'm not embarrassed to say I'm a
professional player. But I don't know how these guys take it. I'd
like to think they're happy because this could help the sport.
SI: O.K., so you want to help soccer. Now's your chance. Let's
hear your sales pitch.
EZ: It gets criticized because it's low-scoring. I say, Look at
baseball. People say the best game you could see is a no-hitter.
Nine innings, no hits, and people think that's not boring?
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON