The Interview: Andy McDermott
A conversation with the former pro soccer player, Hollywood actor and cop about Intentional Sports, the soon-to-open nonprofit sports facility he has founded on Chicago's West Side
Andy McDermott is a soccer renaissance guy doing some terrific work. I spoke to him in early June about his new nonprofit in Chicago and his amazing story, which you can listen to on my podcast. The written version is entirely free to read below.
Our guest now is Andy McDermott. He's the president and founder of Intentional Sports, a nonprofit that's building a big sports facility, including for soccer, on the West Side of Chicago. Andy played soccer at Northwestern, followed by seven seasons of pro soccer in Germany, Chicago, Indianapolis and Charlotte. He then spent nine years working as a police officer in Phoenix, and then became an actor, with his break in the Will Ferrell film Everything Must Go in 2012.
From 2017 to 2020, he was the director of culture at the Copa Soccer Training Center in the East Bay of San Francisco. He's obviously a man of many talents. Andy, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.
Hey, Grant. Thanks for having me.
“I said, ‘Will [Ferrell], man, I’ve just got to ask. You think about Remember the Titans and The Natural and Hoosiers, some of these movies that I was raised on in sports. How come no one's ever made that great drama movie about soccer?’ I mean, Victory aside, of course. We all love that movie. He looked at me with a straight face and he said, ‘What? You didn't see Kicking & Screaming?’” — Andy McDermott
Lots to talk about here, but I want to start with Intentional Sports, what you're doing in Chicago. What is Intentional Sports?
Yeah. Thanks. That is a great question. I always say it's really exciting and also terrifying at the same time, because we are building about 152,000 square feet on the West Side of Chicago in the North Austin neighborhood right where it intersects with Belmont-Cragin, Hermosa and Humboldt Park. So it is accidentally the perfect spot, because that kind of mixture of cultures, sports, frankly, might be the only thing that could combine everyone there and bring everybody together under one roof.
And it's a pretty rough spot, which is why we have to be there, because kids in urban centers... As you know, it's not just Chicago. But Chicago is kind of the prime example, because we're on the front page of the paper, if you still read the paper, front page of the headlines, for all the wrong reasons these days. Because in my opinion, kids just aren't getting the chance to play sports. School gets out, and then there's no positive place to go. They just leave and they make their own decisions.
And I say it all the time. If I was a kid and I didn't have a soccer practice to go to or some activity to go to, then I'd have made bad decisions too. I mean, I was a knucklehead, just like any other kid. And if you let kids make their own choices, then they're going to gravitate towards where they're pulled. So we just really want to give kids the chance to fall in love with a sport, fall in love with a game, fall in love with an activity.
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Obviously, I'm biased. I'm a soccer guy. So soccer will play a huge role in this facility. Every day after school, these kids, they won't pay financially for these programs, but they pay with their academic standards and their attendance and their character-building. And if they put the name on their shirt of Intentional Sports or Chicago Fire community soccer programs or Jason Heyward Baseball Academy, if they wear that and they're a member of those academies, then they have to earn it by staying out of trouble and hopefully learning the lessons that we all learned on a soccer field about self-discipline and dedication and accountability and being a teammate and conflict resolution, all these things.
So in a nutshell, it is a very safe space that we're going to bring great programs together, and hopefully get kids in the building in the afterschool time. And then because we're a tax exempt 501(c)(3), we're able to be self-sustaining in our business model by hosting adult leagues at night after those nonprofit programs in all the different sports. Whether it's soccer, futsal, basketball, baseball, youth leagues and tournaments on the weekends, camps, clinics, anything, frankly, that will bring some revenue in because we're not trying to make any money here.
All of that money will go back to keeping the lights on, but then providing all of those scholarships and those free programs. So we're not trying to get rich here. We're trying to make just enough money so that we can provide all that free programming, and we don't have to rely upon donations year after year.
Tell me a little bit about what the facility includes, because it seems like a lot.
Yeah, absolutely. I think the architects picked up on my insanity level in the first conversation I had with them over Zoom, when I was still living in California. I was kind of being recruited or tricked into moving back to Chicago to lead this thing. But I said, "Hey, look, the golden egg in Chicagoland would be a full turf fieldhouse." And they said, "Well, how big is that?" I said, "Well, minimum FIFA standards is 110 by 70." They said, "110 feet by 70 feet, that's easy." I said, "No, yards. We talk in yards." And they said, "Whoa."
So then they went to work on these huge pieces of steel. And it’s absolutely the worst time in history to buy huge pieces of steel. But of course, they said, "Well, if you believe that that's going to be the thing," on both sides. I call it the internal programs, to provide all these other programs. And then external, to get people to come into the building from wherever it is. From the suburbs, from the North Side, wherever, to come and spend money and contribute to what we're doing, then you got it.
So they agreed to that. So our turf fieldhouse is 40 feet tall, it's 110 yards by 70 yards of FIFA standard turf. We'll have motorized curtains in there to break it up into four 7v7 fields or two flag football fields. We'll have motorized bating cages for... I think I mentioned Jason Heyward is one of our champions here, from the Chicago Cubs, the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy. So, we'll be able to use that turf really well.
And then quickly, the other spaces are four basketball/futsal/volleyball courts. So 12 hoops or four courts like that. And then we'll have a strength and conditioning center, both inside and outside, locker rooms, restrooms, a big multipurpose room, which we can use for sports or music theater, performance, arts. We can also have about 450 seats in there. It's in the plans to do a guest speaker series, where once a month, we have someone like Grant Wahl come in and speak to kids.
And we do coaching education and referee certification and licensing and things, so that people from the community can become soccer coaches or refs or umpires. That's really where this place makes a difference. It's not if Andy McDermott is running this place, but in a couple years if someone from the community is running this place and then our entire staff is from the community. And then it's a generational change, because eventually these kids will be coaching their own kids in this place. That's when I think we've really made a difference.
What's your timeline for getting going, opening up?
If I could share with you a drone photo right now, you could see it's massive. It's a cavernous space. And the great thing is that land has been vacant for 40 years, so to repurpose that 10 acres, we got some help from the city of Chicago, from the state of Illinois. I could tell you about the fundraising later, but it's been really one amazing surprise, miracle after miracle, to get this far. Construction tells me that by end of October, November, we should have the keys to be able to at least do soft opening events, staff training. Maybe a few celebrity games in there by the end of the year, and then open for programming Q1, 2023.
On your board, I noticed there's some very familiar names on the board of Intentional Sports, including Oguchi Onyewu, Hugo Pérez, Charmaine Hooper, Lisa Byington, a few others as well. How did they get involved? What is their involvement?
Well, I really just guilt-tripped them into saying yes. They've been an amazing startup board. Unashamedly, I needed some folks with some networks and some influence, just to lend some legitimacy to what we're doing, because nobody cares who Andy McDermott is. But when Hugo Pérez puts his name behind something, then you know that it's not just quality football, but ever since I met him in the East Bay of San Francisco, when we were in development for that USL Championship team out there, and I was tasked with being the sporting director and start to create that program, I went and had coffee with Hugo, because he was in the area. My plan was to beg him to be the head coach and technical director of that team.
And I just really fell in love with his view towards the game and development and technical play. But also, he just said there has to be a community aspect to this. He wouldn't have done that just for money. He said, "How do we get the community involved in this?" That resonated with me and just stuck with me. And then here, three years later, he was my first call. Said, "Hey, Hugo, we're going to do this, in this place." Before I even asked him to be a board member, he said, "Well, yeah. You want me to come and do some clinics? When do you want me to come?" I was like, "You're perfect. You're exactly the kind of champion for this."
So he's just one example. But then Lisa and I were friends at Northwestern. She's obviously amazing in the sports broadcasting space. Then Charmaine Hooper and I trained together when I was with the Chicago Stingers. Her husband, Chuck Codd, was a teammate of mine. She was playing for the Chicago Cobras at that time and then the Atlanta Beat of the old, what was it, WUSA?
I just remember, I think someone made the mistake of telling me, "Hey, Charmaine is training with you guys, so take it easy. Make sure that you don't injure her." And then I was I think on the ball and absolutely got crushed by Charmaine. So I learned quickly, don't take it easy around Charmaine, because she's faster and better and stronger than you anyway. And on and on with that board, it's just some really good humans who have helped lend their network, their ideas in helping get this place started.
It's interesting. We're recording this right around the time the U.S. men's national team plays El Salvador again, in the Nations League. That's El Salvador coached by Hugo Pérez. U.S. coached by Gregg Berhalter, who lives in Chicago. I've seen a couple of quotes from Gregg about your project. He admires what you're doing. Do you have a connection with Gregg in Chicago as well?
I have. I'm a huge fan. I know Soccer Twitter, U.S. Soccer Twitter always has a love/hate relationship with whoever our head coach is. I'm a big fan. I know him to be a really smart guy.I always tell people, look, I promise he's trying his best to win. It's not like he has any other desire here than win every game. So that said, off the field I've really gotten to appreciate him as a champion for giving everybody an opportunity to play.
He just has a heart for equity and diversity and inclusion. So he came and played. We had what I call a loading dock legends game last summer, where the only place that's not under construction out there is the old loading dock in front of the Glidden paint factory, or the old Glidden paint factory, which is now a community center. Some Northwestern soccer alumni pitched in to get that resurfaced. We resurfaced it, put some lines down, some goals. And now it's this street soccer pitch, which is a pretty cool space there for us to play with some kids while we're under construction.
But anyway, Gregg came and played. Oguchi came, DaMarcus Beasley came, Charmaine came. And a handful of some local legends from the women's side and the men's side came and played in this legends game. And Gregg and I completely cheated because our other two... it was four v four, our other two was my 14 year old son and his 14 year old daughter, both of whom are much quicker and better at soccer. It gets competitive, as it always does, when you have a bunch of old guys like us. We made it to the finals, lost to Oguchi's team. So Oguchi has the bragging rights this year, but we fully let little Lily and Luke score all the goals. And we parked the bus back in front of the goal.
But Gregg introduced me then, to a couple of other great people, who have really helped out. The U.S. Soccer Foundation and Ed Foster-Simeon, his team there have been awesome. His guy Alex Bard has connected me. We're gonna have two of their Musco Lighting mini pitches out front of our facility, which I'm just really excited about.
I mean, the inside of the facility is going to be amazing, but that will be kind of the first thing that people see when they pull up, is these two little mini pitches with great walls and lights and 3v3, so it’s perfect for old guys like me because it’s only 20 yards long. But I think that will be a really cool cultural spot where people can just come and do pickup games and just hang out. That's what we want it to be, is just a safe space for people to gather.
I do want to get into your many varied careers, but before I do that, if people want to learn more about what you're doing with Intentional Sports or even support it with contributions, how can they do that? Yeah, thanks for asking. Full disclosure, this is my first foray into the nonprofit world. So it's always awkward for me to talk about fundraising. But I'm learning that there are people with resources that want to give it to good things. Maybe sometimes they just don't know what it is. So every year, they donate or give a tax deductible contribution to some place. And United Way is amazing. Susan G. Komen is amazing. But maybe they want to give to a smaller place that's really trying to do something good, just like they are. But I promise that we need the money.
IntentionalSports.org is our website. There is a support link there, where you can donate, I think, up to $10,000 on the website there. And If someone really wants to be a hero, then they can email me directly. That's Andy@IntentionalSports.org, pretty simple. We're a federal 501(c)(3) and everything is monitored. Every dollar goes straight to what we're doing. So no one's getting rich here, but if you have some extra money, we can certainly put it to use, that's for sure.
It's a great project. I would encourage people to check out the website, just a lot of good information there. I do want to ask about your career because you've had what you would call probably... I don't know if it's career changes or just these very different things that you've done. And yet soccer has been part of what you're connected to for a really long time as well. What was your pro soccer career like?
I would say in college I was what I would call a box-to-box number 10. Where at Northwestern back in those days, we had really, really amazing students who also played soccer. So I was probably more on the soccer side than on the student side. So I tried to do way too much on the field, but had a great college experience. Then met Bret Hall when the Chicago Fire was starting. They connected me with Bret and they said, "Hey, we'd love to have you come in. This was when Bob Bradley was at the Fire. "But we see you as a training player. We'd love for you to play with this team called the Chicago Stingers," which I had grown up watching the Chicago Sting and then Chicago Power.
So I knew of them, but I was like, "Look, I'm graduating from Northwestern. I'm not sure if this is the career path." And then I met Bret Hall, who played for the Sting, played for the Power. He just basically grabbed me and retaught me the game of soccer in the craziest possible way. He said, "Look, there's piano players on every team. If you want to play longer, then you’ve got to learn how to be the piano carrier." So, that's basically what I did. I was that medium level talent, that could run all day and was somewhat athletic. But really, I'd rather die than lose.
So for some reason, they kept putting me in the starting lineup, and then made it up to the A-League. Went over to Germany for half a season, with Sport Club Freiburg over there, with their third division team. Just fell in love with that culture and really learned the game even more. I'm jealous of the kids these days. I know I sound like an old man, but they're just introduced to the culture of football so much earlier than people our age, where I think we've talked about this before, the '94 World Cup was the first time I ever saw international football because we didn't have the internet. It didn't exist.
We didn't have NBC Sports or whoever it was, showing the Premier League every Sunday. So that was the first time I'd ever seen world class players playing in person. My professional career was hilarious, back when we made $12 a year instead of 12 million, but some of the greatest times in my life. Some of my best friends still, just avoiding getting a real job as long as we could and bus trips to Canada and all the rest of it. Man, it was hilarious.
And then you spent nine years working as a police officer in Phoenix. How did that happen?
Man, I knew after 9/11 happened, I was in Indianapolis playing for the Indiana Blast, an A-League team in the old USISL. I knew I was going to serve in some way. And actually started the FBI selection process and the Secret Service selection process shortly thereafter, while I was still playing soccer. I was about 27, 28 and realized I was just playing against 17 and 18 year olds, who were faster and better than me. I was never going to be David Beckham. So the time became right.
And then my wife got pregnant with our oldest, named Cruz, who's now 17, impossibly. I had taken the entrance physical for the Navy Seals and passed that and had the Army Ranger recruiters in our living room. Then my wife told me that she was expecting. And she said, "There's no way that you've been playing pro soccer for the last eight years, being on the road and now all of a sudden I'm pregnant and you're going to go overseas for a year, year and a half." God bless the guys and the girls who are serving our country, but she just made it pretty apparent that she was not going to raise that baby by herself. She said, "You can do what you want to do. I know you better than anybody, but you have to be home at night."
So I took a job as a cop, thinking it might have been a temporary thing, while I waited for the FBI and the Secret Service. And then just fell in love with being a cop, even though I had never thought that way. I love everybody. I'm always smiling and laughing. I could never write a speeding ticket because that would've been so hypocritical. But I just fell in love with being able to help people every day, make a difference every day. I always tell that one story. The soccer ball is kind of the undercurrent of my life, taken me all over the world and introduced me to some of the best things. It's still opening doors.
But it might have been most important when I was a cop, because I was actually part of the tactical unit, which meant that I didn't have to go investigate accidents or write speeding tickets or anything like that, or take calls I didn't want to take. We just got to do operations and some of that stuff, but when we didn't have an operation or a training, I was free to go and do what I wanted. And I had a soccer ball in the truck and could go into the housing projects, which was primarily Hispanic families in Phoenix. And I speak Spanish. So I would go out and juggle the ball and find kids who were playing. And for the first few months, no one would let me play. But after a while, they'd let me play or kick around with them.
Then after about six, eight months, actually the moms started to trust me enough to come out and say hi. And then a couple months later, they'd come out with a plate of tamales and want to talk. Then I could finally say, "Who's scaring your kids? Who's really doing bad stuff in the neighborhood? How can I help you?" They would look both ways and then they'd kind of whisper what apartment number or whatever. We actually did a lot of good work because of those relationships.
And I say, I just accidentally started some community policing there. I had no intention of it, but it was really because of the soccer ball, only because I could do a few tricks, that we ended up having a pretty good relationship with people in the housing projects there.
It's a really good story and shows, one, how soccer can connect you with people. But also, isn't that sort of what policing is supposed to be? I mean, maybe it isn't always anymore.
Yep. Yep. Again, God bless the guys and girls who are doing that job. I think it's the hardest time in history to be a cop. People don't realize that someone will call the police for help, and it's the worst moment of their life. Right? No one ever calls the cops to come to a high school graduation. It's always pretty much the worst day of your life. Then cops show up, and then everybody else has their cell phone cameras and is videoing. So not only does that lady officer need to come there and solve that problem, but everyone's recording every single thing that she does.
So it's just so hard, but yes, I am hugely invested in this project in Chicago and with the Chicago Police Department and the Fire Department and having those guys and girls in the facility. Not just in uniform, but in shorts and a T-shirt, playing basketball with kids, playing soccer with kids. So those kids can see cops as more than just a uniform. They can see them as humans and then vice versa. I think that long term that does a lot more than if the cops just have to respond and arrest someone who has committed a crime, because obviously there's not enough jails. There's not enough cops. It's not solving anything long term. We just kind of continue that cycle.
What led to your acting career?
Oh, they came and filmed a movie in Scottsdale, when I was a cop, with Will Ferrell, called Everything Must Go. Michael Peña, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern. It's a good movie. It didn't crush it at the box office because it's not his typical Ricky Bobby or Step Brothers or something. He was very good in it, in my opinion.
I had been modeling for extra money, ever since college. That was kind of my part-time job. My modeling agent said, "Hey, they want to see you for this role." I was like, "That's a real movie. They're going to see real actors." He was like, "You're such a coward. You've always wanted to do this. Just go and try." So I showed up, and the recurring joke became the cast director said, "Hey, Andy, that was a great read, but that costume is fricking amazing." I don't think he said fricking, but I know we're on a podcast. It's F-ing amazing. "Where'd you get that costume?"
I said, "It's not a costume. I'm on my way to work." He said, "You're a real cop?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Oh, the director's going to love that." So I somehow tricked my way into being in this movie and was on set. Had no idea what I was doing. When they say action on a big movie like that, there's a hundred people standing around, from the grips to the audio to the wardrobe.
There I am in these two scenes with just Will Ferrell. And of course, I had memorized my lines, his lines, everybody else's lines. He had all the lines in the world. So he was asking me, "Hey, what's my line there?" I was like, this is so surreal. Then he's such a sweetheart of a guy. He just wanted to hear soccer stories and cop stories. I mean, fast forward to now, this was 2011, so way before the LAFC stuff, but he had told me that he was a big soccer fan. He coached his kids in AYSO.
I think his wife is from Sweden. I don't want to get that wrong, so it kind of introduced him to global football. I said, "Will, man, I just got to ask. You think about, Remember the Titans and The Natural and Hoosiers, some of these movies that I was raised on in sports. How come no one's ever made that great drama movie about soccer?" I mean, Victory aside, of course. We all love that movie. He looked at me with a straight face and he said, "What? You didn't see Kicking & Screaming?"
And I was like, "Well, I mean, yeah, that one, of course, but how about another one?" He said, "Well, maybe you need to write it or something like that." So I fully blame Will, because at the end of the night they said, "Hey, that's a wrap for Andy McDermott." They give you a hand. I'm looking around, like what is going on? He came up and gave me a hug. He said, "Hey, Andy, I just want to let you know, I hope this isn't the last thing you do, because I think it's what you should do."
I just remember thinking, that's the worst thing to tell a wannabe actor, like gasoline on a dumpster fire, like me. So we ended up starting to get some calls from LA after that film. I just remember one, specifically. I was sitting in briefing as a cop. My phone rang, and it was a LA area code. It turned out to be the executive producer of the movie Argo with Ben Affleck. He said, "Hey, Andy, just want to see if you could come in or what time you could get here, because Ben wants to meet you for kind of a supporting featured role as one of the soldiers in this movie he's doing called Argo."
I said, "Hey, that's amazing. I could probably get there first thing tomorrow morning." He said, "Why?" I said, "Well, I actually live in Phoenix. I'm a cop." And he hung up on me, and I never heard from them again. I just realized, there's a hundred guys like me, in my lane. You had to be there. So it's a little bit better now, obviously post-pandemic where now I audition in my basement all the time, from Zoom or whatever. But back then, you just had to be in LA.
So we moved out there in 2012, kind of gave up the career, sold the house. Rented a place sight unseen. We knew nobody. We had four kids at the time. So my wife is as insane as I am. I think she was just happy that I would not get shot at, for real anymore. She was happy that I would play a cop on TV and not in real life. We were out there for almost five years, just working full time. And anytime the phone rang the answer was yes, unless it was something completely inappropriate. Everything from commercials to TV shows to movies to photo shoots, you name it. It was a full-time hustle for those five years.
Very cool. Thanks for sharing. How often does soccer come up with various actors you've met?
All the time. I am just completely, stupidly lucky that at age five I was a spaz of a kid. Only making fun of myself there, not anybody else. But I'm sure that I would have been diagnosed with some kind of hyper or ADHD or something. My mom just said, "You have to go outside and play something." So I think she signed me up for soccer because it was the most running. No one knew anything about soccer back in 1980.
Even though my dad was a college baseball player, much to his chagrin I chose soccer. And then he ended up coaching us for a while, just because someone had to. I just remember the old story was he had a bag of balls and would put us in a line and would take the ball out and throw it at us. And then we'd have to control it and then kick it as far as we could. That was our soccer development at age six, seven. But yeah, so just stupidly, soccer found me. Now I've been on fields for 40 years as a player and a coach for the last 25. Now I've gone through the A License course, and I'm a director of our kids community club out here, called Palatine Celtic, which is a great community club.
Honestly, you meet someone who's a football fan and... Very quick story. I was just in Mexico, in Tulum, Mexico, filming on a show called Mosquito Coast, for Apple+. I had watched season one. There's this great character in the show, who's the bad guy. I walked in the makeup trailer and there he was sitting there. He looked at me in a Southern accent and just said, "Hey, you must be Andy, playing Hicks." And I said, "Yes, sir." I said, "Big fan of what you do. I mean, you're extra creepy." He said, "That's a strange compliment, but thank you."
Anyway, had a conversation with him for about 15 minutes in a Southern accent. Went back to my trailer and as you do, did some internet stalking on Ian. Ian Hart is his name. Turns out he's from Liverpool. He lives in London. He's been in Harry Potter and a ton of other stuff. He's an amazing actor. He's played John Lennon a couple times. And then I saw him on set and I said, "Ian, I'm a lifelong soccer guy. Are you red or blue?" He said, "Blue, I bleed blue." I said, "You're from Liverpool." He said, "Yeah. I'm not smart enough or I'm not clever enough to switch back and forth between my accent. So I just stay in this character."
It was amazing. It wasn't until a night while we were there, staying at this nice resort, and it's just two of us, because you don't bring your family when you're working. We had a couple of drinks. And then I finally heard his normal accent. And we were talking about Everton. He was just really hopeful that Frank Lampard could right the ship. Since then they have, and they're safe.
But talk about a surreal experience, being in Tulum, Mexico, sitting next to a guy from Liverpool, talking in an American Southern accent about Everton and talking about what players should be there and what players shouldn't be there. I said, man, only a soccer ball could have this conversation going on right now.
Absolutely fantastic. Andy McDermott is the founder and president of Intentional Sports, a nonprofit that's building a big sports facility, including for soccer, on the West Side of Chicago. Andy, good luck with it. Thanks for coming on the show.
Hey, my pleasure, Grant. Thanks so much, man.