Avery John performed in the MLS Cup for the Revolution and the World Cup for Trinidad and Tobago last year. Both experiences could be considered the epitome of a soccer player's career, but neither was completely fulfilling for John.
The Revolution lost in the MLS Cup and Trinidad and Tobago players, despite delivering an inspiring performance, became involved in a pay dispute that has not yet been resolved.
So, though John's international career could be over and the Soca Warriors' aspirations have likely been stifled, John is maintaining high standards with the Revolution.
John will return to the MLS Cup for the third successive time when the Revolution meet the Houston Dynamo in Washington, D.C., Sunday, his hard-tackling style complementing central defender Michael Parkhurst's finesse.
"He's solid as a rock," coach Steve Nicol said of John. "He gives nothing away, he gets it done with no frills, none of the fancy stuff. He is an old-fashioned tackler; when he goes in he takes the ball, and everything else. He is aggressive, but he is going for the ball. Coaches who complain about his challenges, if they had somebody on their team like that they would be quite happy with him."
John said his style has not changed since he was a youngster growing up in Vance River, Trinidad. MLS referees, though, could be getting used to John.
In his first year with the Revolution, John was issued nine cautions in 24 playoff and regular-season games. John has been yellow-carded 11 times in 54 games since.
"I don't think I'm dirty or nasty, I don't come from behind you and I don't hit people off the ball," John said. "But if the ball is there to be won, I'll take it. If they don't want to go into a tackle they should jump, but I'm going to go for a good, fair tackle."
John kicked up his intensity several notches for the World Cup and was ejected after a second caution early in the second half of Trinidad and Tobago's 0-0 tie with Sweden, one of the surprise results of the tournament. It was the Soca Warriors' first appearance in the World Cup, and they set up effective defend-and-counterattack tactics, holding opponents scoreless for 173 minutes before falling to England.
That was good preparation for the MLS playoffs. The Revolution started the postseason in a defensive mode, earning a 0-0 tie in New York in Game 1 and extending a three-game shutout streak with a 1-0 win over Chicago last Thursday.
"By the end of the regular season, we had been through a lot," John said. "In the US Open Cup, we played our best game [a 3-2 win over FC Dallas]. We've worked all year to get to this point and now we are in a position to complete it. Everyone is fit and buzzing around in practice, and now we have to make sure we are 110 percent for the game.
"We know we have to win it. Both teams have some pressure to win it, but I believe we want it more."
This will be something of a homecoming for John, who played for two years and earned a business administration degree from American University in Washington. John played alongside Nicol, who was a player-coach, with the Boston Bulldogs in 1999, then went to Ireland and performed in the 2002 Champions League preliminaries with Bohemians. By 2004, John was ready to move on and Nicol brought him back.
Last year, John played in only 10 regular-season games, partly because of international duty, but the Revolution had a 7-0-3 record with him in the starting lineup. This year, the Revolution had a 14-4-6 record in all games (cup, playoff, regular season) with John starting.
John did not perform against Houston this season, the Revolution winning (1-0) in Houston and tying (3-3) at home. The last time John played against the Dynamo, he deflected a cross that Brian Ching finished for the tying goal in last year's MLS Cup.
"Houston is a strong team and they have the best goals-against record in the league," John said. "But we are playing on the East Coast and we should have people supporting us, and that's to our advantage."