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Rookie Roundtable: Four from U-20 MNT Talk About First Pro Season

For four Under-20 players the past five months have marked the beginning of their professional careers. Hunter Freeman (Colorado Rapids), Tim Ward (MetroStars), Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire) and Will John (Chicago Fire) were all drafted during the 2005 MLS SuperDraft in January, getting picked in the midst of qualifying for the FIFA World Youth Championship, and have been taking their first licks and creating their first memories in their soccer careers. The four sat down with and talked about life in MLS.

What was your first week as a professional and being with the team like?

Will John: “My first week being with the team we reported February 1st and it’s too cold in Chicago to play soccer, so we were pretty much in a gym just running. So, it wasn’t the best of weeks, but it was good to meet everybody and know what’s going on. Everyone was pretty nice. Obviously, you’re a little nervous going in because none of us were pros before and we’re rookies. It was a good week though. We just ran in the gym, that was about it and then we were off to Florida for preseason.”

Chad Barrett: “(Will and I) were probably the only rookies there at the time. There was a couple others. We just found out the surroundings. The first week was just kind of nice to be in Chicago. We are right downtown and me and Will were out most of the days just kind of browsing throughout the city. Meeting the team and getting to know the big city of Chicago was definitely a little bit of a benefit before we headed off to the preseason.”

Hunter Freeman: “For me, it was pretty much the same in Colorado. It was snowing. I went there a little earlier, about 20-something of January and actually worked out for a week unofficially. It wasn’t actual practice, but pretty much all the guys that were there. You’re definitely nervous. You’re new, you’re a rookie, so you don’t know what to expect from you new teammates. You don’t know how quickly they are going to accept you or not accept you and that kind of stuff.”

What was the toughest thing about making the jump from college to the professional level?

Will John: “For me, speed of play there is always a step. Even from just college to the Under-20 national team the speed of play changes and it gets more physical in an international level as it does from college to professional. So, you just have some things to adjust with and just getting to know your whole team.”

Chad Barrett: “Just like what he said, we definitely had benefits being with the Under-20s because it is faster than the college level. A lot of kids come out of college and have never played at that level, so we were kind of accustomed a little bit to the speed. Living by myself (in college) was definitely a benefit. That way we move to a big city and are looking for a new place we know how to go about it. Will and I haven’t been that successful, but we’re working on it.”

Hunter Freeman: “On top of that, I would just say the day-to-day competitiveness and grind of a professional sport. In college I think everyone takes it seriously, but now it is your job. This is what you are getting paid for and if you don’t show up and you don’t perform there could come a day real soon that you don’t get paid. And that day could come tomorrow or it could come 15 years from now, you don’t know. There is just a lot more passion. Guys are fighting for their lives practically, trying to feed their families and be able to pay bills and stuff like that. I think your mindset has to be there everyday and that can be taxing on your mind.”

Tim Ward: “I think it is just a couple steps up in every aspect of the game and of life. Everything is faster, harder, stronger and you have to come in day-in and day-out and perform or you could lose your spot if you don’t have a couple good practices or a bad game. It’s unlike college where you could play bad or be lazy and still probably play every game and start every game. I think that is just the toughest thing, coming in day-in and day-out and performing well.”

Have any of you guys had a moment where you realized you were in the professional league?

Freeman: “For me, there wasn’t a tackle or anything like that, but just going back to the whole serious part of it, you know. I mean guys definitely have a good time, but usually when you step on the field everybody’s intensity is there. Yeah, people do get stuck in tackles and you find out quickly who to get out of the way of their tackle and who you can maybe get stuck in on a tackle, and who that if you do get stuck in on a tackle to make sure you’re looking around because you know they’re going to come back after you. Just little things like that. I don’t ever recognize one guy coming after me to be like, “Welcome to MLS,” but I think just the whole surroundings you’re in, you realize this is the top level.”

Barrett: “When you get in the games and in practice day-in and day-out guys are fighting for their jobs and fighting for their jobs, fighting for their spot, and your just going to get hit. Practices are going to get crazy sometimes and you’re going to get hit. The best thing you can do about it is just shake it off, not think anything of it and just keep on your game. The second you take head out of the game you could lose your spot.”

Ward: “For me, of course we get picked on because it’s me, Eddie Gaven and Michael Bradley. They call us little kids and stuff like that, but that’s about it. Otherwise, everyone treats us pretty good and just the same as the other guys.”

Freeman: “To me, if they’re doing things like that it means they like you. If they weren’t saying anything to you then I think you’d have a bigger problem. Also, I found that rookies that complain about tackles and stuff like that usually are on the bad end of most of them. If you’re tackled badly by someone, you don’t really say anything and kind of walk it off, I think they respect you a lot more. They definitely don’t like rookies saying a lot of stuff and crying about things.”

Barrett: “You can make the same exact mistake or say the same thing as the older guys and you’re the only one who’s going to get pointed out, so the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut.”

Freeman: “In Colorado, our coach told the rookies, “You’re not going to get calls that I give older guys.” There are times when you get fouled and it is blatant that it’s a foul, but their not going to call it. Just for that simple reaction: to see your reaction.”

How was the move to your new city? Finding an apartment, getting used the city, etc.?

John: “We moved to Chicago on February 1st and it is now June 7th and we do not have a place to live. It was supposed to be ready April 16, but it just continually being pushed back. (Chad and I) have been living out of a bag since qualifying, which was in January. Since we went to L.A. to start training, I have not put clothes in a drawer since I took them out from school in December.”

Barrett: “We save a butt-load on rent though, which is nice.”

John: “Other than that, Chicago is nice (laughs).”

Ward: “I have a pretty good family that I’m living with. I’m living with Michael Bradley and his family.”

John: “Tim lives with his coach.”

Barrett: “You get to brownnose everyday.”

Hunter: “Do you have to do chores? Do you mow the lawn?”

Ward: “Ha, no. No chores (laughs). It’s nice because we have our own little part of the house. We have the basement, which was redone. It’s just really nice. Home-cooked meals. The food is always good. I can’t complain.”

Have you guys made any good friends on the team?

John: “I would say my best friends are my headphones because I always have my headphones on.”

Barrett: “Everyone calls him ‘Radio.’”

John: “They call me ‘Radio’ on the team because I always have my headphones on.”

Barrett: “We’ll be in the car with the radio blasting and he’s still got his headphones on.”

John: “My headphones are big enough to where I can’t hear anything and I like it that way because I’m an only child and I stay in my own world a whole lot. A lot of people give me a hard time for that, but I really don’t mind.”

Ward: “Michael Bradley and Eddie Gaven. I’ve known them both for three or four years now since we all lived together in Bradenton in the Residency Program, so we always have someone to talk to. Especially at the beginning of the year it was good to have them because I’m kind of a shy kid sometimes.”

Freeman: “One of the things about Colorado for me was that it was probably the one team in MLS that I didn’t know anybody. I wouldn’t classify myself as a shy person, but it’s always nice to know at least one person. But I got there and we have a pretty young team. Most of all the young guys hang out together. The apartment complex I live in about there are about eight other guys that live there. I live by myself, but at the same time if I don’t want to be by myself, I have Jeff Cunningham as my next door neighbor and like I said there are eight other guys that live in the complex. It was definitely nice that I was well accepted since I didn’t know anyone.”

Has there been a best moment for you?

Ward: “Getting my first assist to Eddie I’d have to say has been my best moment so far. Probably my second best after the assist to Eddie would have to be shutting out the Chicago Fire 3-0 at the Chicago Fire.”

Hunter: “Ooohhh! (laughs)

John: “Wow. That’s cool though. Everybody did see his assist, right? Where he closed his eyes and kicked it towards the goal? Eddie did all the work! You cut back, closed your eyes and it was a bad cross. Good thing Eddie is good. Remember when we beat you 1-0?”

Ward: “You got lucky.”

Barrett: “Both my assists and my goal are real special. The good thing about my first assist was that I was only on for like five minutes and it was in the 91st minute to beat San Jose. That was really special. The crowd just went crazy. I remember myself being in the stands and just waiting and dying for that awesome moment, and that was awesome to be a part of. And then, just before we came here I scored my first goal against Salt Lake, which is real special. It’s always nice as a forward to get your first goal. Hopefully, you want it to be the first of many.”

Freeman: “I haven’t scored any goals or gotten any assists, but I’ve come close. For me, it would just have to be my first game. We were on the road in Kansas City, and they were in the finals and won the Open Cup last year. They are one of the better teams in MLS and actually have a pretty good rivalry with the Rapids. Being a rookie and starting the first game of the season was definitely a goal of mine and a dream come true. I was very nervous at the beginning, but about five to ten minutes into the game I just realized it was just another game. The setting is a little different, the stakes are a little higher, but it is still soccer.”

Do you think playing in MLS has helped you prepare for international competition at the U-20 level?

John: “I think this team has more pros than past U-20 teams and I think that helps us tremendously as a whole. I know for me personally, just practicing with better players, older players, more physical, some faster and better than you is beneficial in all ways. Probably everywhere else in the world the kids are pros as they got in a system where they’re going to be pros very soon, by the time their 18 or 20. It has to help a lot.”

Ward: “I think it has definitely helped me. Just getting that experience of games against guys where the speed of play is so high. I think in MLS if you make a mistake, especially for a defender, it costs you. Unfortunately, for me, I got injured a couple weeks ago and hopefully I can get healthy in the next couple days and be ready for the first or second game.”