Chris Seitz knows how this works. He is a master of balance, perspective and routine. Seitz is a professional soccer player, the backup goalkeeper for D.C. United, but with four kids at home and another on the way, he is also a pro when it comes to managing sanity and exhaustion after a newborn baby arrives in the middle of a season.
In United’s locker room this summer, any advice helps and can be shared widely across the group. Quincy Amarikwa started the wave when his second child was born at the end of May, and Earl Edwards Jr. became a dad a couple of weeks ago. Six more United players on the 26-man roster will add to their families in the next few months. Seitz, in his 13th MLS season, said he has never seen this many pregnant wives on a team at once.
“If we all stay local,” Seitz said with a smile, “we'll have a really good youth team in 12 or 13 years.”
Conversations in the locker room veer into the players’ personal lives, and first-time dads lean on the others if they have questions. Does this sound normal? Wait, how do you get enough sleep? There’s no guarantee that what works for one family will work for another, but Seitz passes down his tricks and recommendations. His go-to baby product is the mini bathtub with a monitor that checks the water temperature and beeps frantically if it’s too hot.
“That and then the butt paste,” Seitz said matter-of-factly, as if he were discussing his performance at that day’s training. With constantly wet diapers, “it makes them feel so much better.”
The worlds of the youngsters naturally intersect with soccer early and often. If Amarikwa’s oldest son, Sir, who is about to turn 2, visits Audi Field for a game, he will say: “Dad! Dad!” and point to the field. Amarikwa’s wife, Sirena, isn’t sure whether Sir can see his dad on the field, but the toddler knows once the players walk out, he’s there.
Seitz’s two oldest daughters, ages 6 and 4, play the sport. They wear D.C. United jerseys to school and tell their teachers about their dad. Seitz said his 15-month-old son “can crush a ball” when they play around in the basement.
“I love it,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “I still view this club as a family, and adding new pieces to the family is always fun.”
Steven Birnbaum announced his wife’s pregnancy when United played in Orlando in March. He scored his only goal this season and made a beeline toward the ball so he could slide it under his shirt — soccer’s classic way to share the news. (Ulises Segura, one of the many expecting dads on the team, made a similar announcement.) In the hotel before the game, Birnbaum talked with Wayne Rooney about the plan if he scored. Rooney, a father of four, encouraged it, and Birnbaum didn’t have to wait long to execute the celebration.
At the time, only Birnbaum’s family and a couple of close friends knew. The game was on national television, and his wife, Jeanne, didn’t initially realize what he had done. Then she started receiving congratulatory texts.
It’s all quite wholesome: Just look at the Father’s Day montage the club posted on Twitter. The kids wear their dads’ jerseys, and the players are thankful to go home to families where they can temporarily alleviate the pressure tied to their on-field performance.
But there’s an element to this, especially regarding births during the season, that Olsen describes as cutthroat. Soccer — preparing and competing — is the players’ job, and they feel an obligation to their club. They usually want to play, Olsen said. So perhaps they miss a day, then quickly return to train, travel or play.
With frequent road games, players deal with concerns that they will miss the birth, though Sirena Amarikwa said that’s not unlike any working father, especially one who travels often.
The club stays aware of which players are adding to their families and particularly how much support they have in the United States, said Olsen, who had his first child while he still played for United, though he was out that season because of ankle problems.
The Seitz family has a planned induction for the birth of baby Remi in mid-July, before the team’s three-game road stretch at the end of the month. But there’s a chance she arrives early. Thursday’s game at FC Dallas is the “last big question mark for us,” Seitz said. If the baby comes during that trip, Seitz’s wife, Kate, said a neighbor will watch the other four kids and she will take an Uber to the hospital. Birnbaum’s child is expected around the time of the MLS playoffs, but he and his wife haven’t thought that far ahead.
Amarikwa and his wife found out about their second child, the one born recently in the D.C. area, when he played in Montreal. But Amarikwa was in the final six months of his contract.
“You don’t know if you’ll have insurance or a job, and you don’t know if you’ll be in Canada or in America,” he said.
With the uncertainty comes the need for players to remember they are in what Amarikwa calls the MSL, the Mental Strength League. That’s the advice he passes down to the new dads on the team — understanding his rather blunt-sounding adapt-or-die mentality. Amarikwa, who is deliberate and purposeful in all he does, talks about the MSL nonstop, said Edwards, who has a locker next to the 31-year-old backup forward.
“Unless you’re a Wayne Rooney or a [Luciano Acosta], your job is to make it work,” Amarikwa said, “because if not, there are a million other people who want to come for your position.”
For some players, they return to their teams with a new fire after having their first child. Seitz said he quickly began seeing his sport as his livelihood, the way he supports his family and helps pay for the kids’ soccer camps. But there’s a piece of perspective, too — that a rough day isn’t an all-consuming setback.
For Edwards, the birth of his daughter, Londyn, prompted what he called an “overnight change.” After his wife’s pregnancy, he is suddenly more relaxed. The pressure he felt before has disappeared.
“Earl has come back with a real energy about him and looks light and powerful,” Olsen said. “And I've seen guys also, for three weeks after they have their first child, look like s---. They look tired all the time.”
Sleep and recovery reign paramount in this profession, so in the same way Seitz touts his bathtub recommendation, Amarikwa said he shares all his “systems and processes.” With a newborn in the house, Edwards and his wife have embraced the Amarikwa night shift schedule: His wife can rest while he takes care of the baby until midnight. Edwards sleeps from then until 6 a.m., when he takes over responsibility for about an hour. After training, he has an hour to himself, usually to nap, before resuming work as a dad again.
It’s still easy to see the simple question: Really, how does it all run smoothly?
“It doesn’t,” Amarikwa said. “But you have to make it work.”
D.C. United at FC Dallas
When: 9 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex.
Live streams: FloSports, ESPN+. Both are subscription services. ESPN+ is subject to blackout in D.C. area.
Records: United 8-4-7, 31 points; Dallas 7-7-5, 26 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Marquinhos Pedroso; MFs Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez; F Wayne Rooney.
Dallas probable starters: GK Jesse Gonzalez; Ds Bressan, Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler, Ryan Hollingshead; MFs Brandon Servania, Bryan Acosta, Dominique Badji, Paxton Pomykal, Michael Barrios; F Jesus Ferreira.