From A-League to Asia for Dodd
Travis Dodd has a habit of being the first: first Aboriginal player with a Socceroos goal - scoring in his first appearance - and the first Australian to grab a hatrick in the AFC Champions League.
Now the 28-year-old midfielder has another first in his sights: helping Adelaide United become the first Aussie team to make it through to the knockout stages of Asia's showpiece club event.
The Reds from South Australia begin their campaign away to South Korea's Pohang Steelers on March 12th.
'Expectations for the team this time around have been raised .... we believe that were are capable of making it through to the quarter finals,' Dodd, Adelaide's interim captain, told ESPN Soccernet.
Last season, they finished third in a tough group-G - behind Seongnam Chunma, from the Korean Republic and China's Shandong Luneng - to miss out on the final eight.
After their campaign began disasterously with a 1-0 home defeat to Shandong, the Reds lost just one of their remaining five matches to hold their heads high in their inaugural foray into Asia.
And it could have been an even better introduction had they not squandered a 2-0 lead at home to Seongnam Chunma in their third group game. The 1996 AFC Champions League winners came back to draw 2-2 and severely dent the Reds' chances of advancing.
They rounded off their group matches with a 3-0 thumping of Vietnam's Dong Tam Long An in what was the final game of former Sheffield United and Crystal Palace striker Carl Veart.
But Dodd stole the show at Hindmarsh Stadium with two first half goals followed by a third early in the second half to complete his hat-trick and secure his place in Australian footballing history.
Dodd has a habit of coming up with spectacular long range goals but admits that he needs to score on a more regular basis.
'That's something I will try to improve on,' he says. 'Also to play with more consistency throughout the game and not play in patches as much.'
In 64 appearances for Adelaide United, Dodd has scored 12 times. But it was the goal that he concocted 18 months ago for a Socceroo team missing most of their European stars that he most fondly remembers.
Playing in his international debut in an Asian Cup qualifier against Kuwait in Sydney in August 2006, Dodd scored the opening goal and set up the second for Sasho Petrovski in a 2-0 win.
It made him the first indigenous Australian to get his name on the scoresheet in a senior international. Dodd and Newcastle captain Jade North – who led the Jets to the 2007-2008 A-League title - are proud, high-profile Aboriginal players.
'It would be fantastic to be able to get out to the (indigenous) communities around Australia and share our experiences with the young kids and show them what they have to look forward to,' he said.
After starting his National Soccer League (NSL) career as a 16-year-old and playing for four different clubs, Dodd ventured overseas in 2004 for a brief stint with Malaysia's Johor FC before linking up with Panionios. He featured in both the Greek league and the UEFA Cup before a change of managers saw him fall out of favour.
Dodd returned to his hometown of Adelaide to join the Reds when the A-League started in August, 2005.
In his interview with ESPN Soccernet, Dodd charts the ups and downs of Adelaide United's season, speculates on how he can improve as a player and admits a burning desire to play more for the Socceroos.
Q: Travis, last season you scored the first-ever hatrick by an Australian player in the AFC Champions League. What are your expectations personally and for the team this time around?
Expectations for the team this time round have been raised. After last year's performances we believe that with the right attitude and application we are capable of making it through to the quarter finals. We have an improved squad, and I believe that if we can get everyone fit and keep them fit we can give the competition a really good shot. Personally I would like to pick up from where I left last year.
Why did Adelaide fall off the boil during the A-League season after looking good at different times of the campaign?
It was a frustrating season. We had a great pre-season, winning the pre-season cup and had some good results early on. We had a heap of draws early on that we probably should have won which could have changed the whole season for us. We conceded a lot of cheap goals early on and it took a while before we got the resolve to keep teams out. We had lots of injuries too, but in saying that, we still were able to put out a very competitive team each week and should have done a lot better.
I guess the good thing to come out of the season was that the club had the opportunity to play some younger players and give them a taste for the league. Hopefully they will use that as extra motivation to push harder next season to put pressure on the older guys to keep their places in the team.
Following Harry Williams, John Moriarty and Charles Perkins, you are flying the football flag for indigenous Australians. How important is that to you and is football growing in indigenous communities around the country?
It is an honour to be mentioned with players like that. Football in Australia is a fast growing sport and to be one of only a couple of indigenous players is great. I believe that Jade North and I would be fantastic ambassadors for the game: to be able to go out to the communities around Australia and share our experiences with the young kids, show them what they have to look forward to with the possibility of travelling the world with football as your livelihood.
Although the A-League is still in its infancy, it is important that the FFA looks at establishing these kind of programs, along the lines of AusKick from Aussie Rules. There is so much raw talent in the indigenous communities and it would be great to see more Aboriginal kids coming through the ranks and pulling on the green and gold strip.
You scored a great goal in 2006 in an Asian Cup qualifier for Australia. What are your Socceroo ambitions and what was it like to be in camp under Pim Verbeek?
Scoring that goal was without a doubt the highlight of my career. It's every kid's dream to be able to play for their country and to be able to do that and score on debut in front of friends and family, especially my son was unforgettable. Obviously I would love to continue playing with the Socceroos. With the World Cup qualifiers coming up, there is a great chance for A-League players to put their hands up and show that we can play with and against the best the world has to offer.
Being in camp with Pim for the week was a good experience. We got a chance to train solidly and show what we had to offer. It was disappointing not to make the final squad for the first qualifier, but there are still plenty of games to be played so you can't drop your head. You just have to get on with it, work harder and make sure you don't miss out next time.
How was your experience playing overseas in Malaysia and Greece? Would you like to play abroad later in your career?
I had mixed experiences playing overseas. I went to Malaysia after the NSL finished up. It was only a temporary thing as I just wanted to keep playing. It was hard to adjust to the very humid weather and the very different food. Greece started out as a fantastic move. I was playing regularly and scored in a UEFA Cup qualifier against Udinese. We qualified and I got to play against Newcastle United and Sporting Lisbon. Playing against teams of that calibre was a great experience. Unfortunately we had a few bad results in the league and the coach was sacked.
The new coach didn't give me a lot of time on the pitch. I was having problems with payments from the club and my wife was pregnant with our second child so we decided the best thing to do would be to come home and play in the A-league that was about to start. I want to be able to play at the highest level possible so if the chance came up to be able to play overseas again then I would have to look at it. But at the moment I am settled here and would love to win a championship with Adelaide United.
Finally, what are your longer term career ambitions? How can you improve as a player?
As a player I think I need to score more goals. I should have had a few more than I ended up with this season so that's something I will try to improve on. Also to play with more consistency throughout the game and not play in 'patches' as much.
I would like to stay around the club after my career has finished. At this stage coaching is not really something I am looking forward to, but that may change in a few years time. I love the environment at the club and just can't see myself doing anything outside of football. But we are always being told to look at life after football so maybe I will have to spread my wings and look at other things.
Sydney-born Jason Dasey ( www.jasondasey.com ) is a host of Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.