For those fanatics among you interested in getting a glimpse at MLS' stars and busts of tomorrow, MLSS is offering some vids of the combine here from its three dates, the last of which was today. It comes on the heels of their official mock draft, which we can throw into the ring with the host of others popping up around the innernets in recent days. Draft hits on Thursday, so expect some reactions in this space.
A few notable pieces:
- It usually becomes obvious around this time of year why New York fails so miserably in rearing young talent. The Red Bulls, much like the Redskins of the NFL, treat draft picks like hot potatoes. Barring a draft-day maneuver, New York picks 31st in the second round, and that's it. Simon Borg, Jason Saghini and Travis Clark each assume New York takes a different player, one of which is a keeper. Super excited about shedding future MVP Dwayne DeRosario and wasting his DP tag on the 85-year-old Frank Rost, are we?
- If Montreal passes on Darren Mattocks, and they should not, New England will be licking its chops with voracity. Vancouver desperately needs depth at the back and should pass on the striker, meaning the only thing standing between New England and an exciting project at forward is Jesse Marsch. Remember, Montreal "took" Brian Ching in the expansion draft but the likelihood that he ever suits up (or is healthy enough to play consistently) is remote. The idea that they can pass on him for Andrew Wenger, an exciting prospect in the Perry Kitchen mold, remains alive, but Mattocks has a ceiling as inviting as the Sistine Chapel. New England wouldn't complain if Marsch passes. Three of the Revs' top four goal getters in 2011 were midfielders.
- For my money, Enzo Martinez is the most intriguing prospect of the lot. The North Carolina midfielder has game-changing talent as a No. 10 and has been to the College Cup three times, winning it once. The bonus is that he became the sixth member of the GenAd class last week, so he's a safe pick. He has some South American flair and should bring a much-needed infusion of stylish footy to a class that appears more and more to be lacking it. The list of teams that could use his influence is as long as the league's roster of teams. I can see somebody jumping on him earlier in the top 5 to make sure he doesn't slide down the board too far.
This has also been weighing on my mind.
Brek Shea is back from his training session in London and is comparing his mindset to that of Clint Dempsey. It's admirable, and Dempsey is enjoying a career year as a Cottager, but soccer hype in the States is a relative term. The soccer media here is decidedly softer than the notably hawkish scribes in tabloid-rich England and on the Continent, where soccer news is devoured like so many delicious nuggets of Belgian chocolate. The rumor mills swirl faster abroad, and I dare say Shea would have trouble being recognized even in the most cosmopolitan of places here. So much of that hype, that push, must come from within. It's a tougher scenario. At best, Shea receives a passing or failing grade from a major media outlet, which in turn spurs vigorous online debate from a notably small subsection of the population. At worst, his performances pass into history almost completely unnoticed. Either way, popular call-in shows and newspapers from suburbia to the inner-city do not care about the fate of Brek Shea.
Indeed, the trouble for Shea could actually be lack of expectation. The perception is changing, but we've come to expect little individually from our Nats as a rule. Using Michael Bradley as the recent litmus, American players have always been long on athletic prowess and short on skill. Naming my top skill guy, Tab Ramos, is a sad indictment. Players like Shea are challenging this paradigm, that Americans are automatons who can run for days but couldn't dribble their way out of an empty airplane hangar. But Shea has been sheathed by his nation's spotty past in the game and a general perception that whatever the USMNT accomplishes, it does so with a team ethic in defiance of the kind of aesthetic that truly makes soccer The Beautiful Game. It has shelved our belief, for however long I can't say, that we are capable as a nation of producing a Messi or a Rooney or even anything close. So Shea's expectations are managed accordingly.
I hope Shea follows Dempsey's lead in a few areas. As a small-town kid from Nacogdoches (which is the very definition of backwoods for those not versed in the Texas countryside), Dempsey has adjusted to life abroad as well as can be expected. He seems not to notice or care that Americans aren't supposed to make defenders look stupid in the Best League in the World. But shouldering thousands of pounds of criticism has never been the purview of the American soccer player. If they fail, they're another case for the trash bin along with scores of other flame-outs. If they succeed, they do so modestly as Dempsey (Fulham), Bradley (Chievo Verona) and Landon Donovan (Everton) have shown in spells with sides abroad. Real Madrid prodigies these are not.
So with that lens, I look at Brek Shea wondering how to properly set his ceiling, where to place the bar. He is not a failure if he doesn't land with a CL side, as we'll all agree, but should he be viewed more critically? Whatever pressure is on him is almost entirely self-inflicted. Managing outward pressure and using it, much as you would create a diamond, can produce some magnificent results. I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are worth kicking around. The more you ask of yourself, the more you reap rewards. The arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann and the establishment of Claudio Reyna's youth program are both proof. Hopefully Shea becomes an extension.
- Will Parchman