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A column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A. If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.
For this go-around, we’re looking at some of the players we know best. Specifically, the eight men’s youth national team players that were on the U-17 and U-20 World Championship rosters in 2005 and moved up to the Major League Soccer ranks this season.
Whether selected in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft, or picked up through a lottery after the draft (see David Arvizu), we pondered the impact each player will have during their rookie campaign. We know all eight are sound investments and will succeed in the league at some point, but what we’re debating is whether they’ll prosper early. Is there a Clint Dempsey or Eddie Gaven in the bunch that will contribute immediately? Or will they have a bit tougher time in their first season of professional ball?
For each player, we’ve provided reasons why we think they will be on the field and reasons they’ll be sitting the pine. After providing our rationale, we slotted the player into one of three categories: ‘Immediate Impact,’ ‘Sooner than Later’ or ‘Wait a Year.’
Don’t agree? Well, tell us your comments as part of the next section – Point/Counterpoint.
Josmer Altidore – Red Bull New York (Second Round – 17th overall)
Why he’s on the field: When the MetroStars (now Red Bull) selected Josi in the second round with the 17th overall pick, the following was GM Alexi Lalas’s statement in the press release: “He is a 16-year-old phenom with the potential to have as big an impact on and off the field as (D.C. United midfielder) Freddy Adu.”
First thought: Nothing like putting the burden on a kid early.
Second thought: There’s no way he could have as much impact as Freddy, especially in his first year.
Third thought: Wait, I guess the actual impact Freddy had could be debated (at least ON the field).
Final thought (and yes, we had all these thoughts): While it might not end up being true, Josi has to be feeling good about the confidence his GM has in his abilities.
And in the end, our final thought is really all that matters, isn’t it? Heck, we think Josi is a talented player, albeit a bit raw right now, but if Lalas was being honest in his assessment, then there’s a good chance the red head will be pushing to see his prodigy on the field to prove him right. One big advantage Altidore has is the fact that the Red Bull's forward spots aren’t locked up. With a departed Ante Razov, unproven Mike Magee and Thiago Martins, and the aging Youri Djorkaeff, Josi has a chance to earn quality minutes if Mo Johnston gives him a crack later in the season.
Why he’s on the bench: The doubters will look to the fact that Altidore lacks experience, is still considered a “green talent” and will most likely struggle with the pace and physical style in MLS. But, really, the biggest obstacle for him is the most obvious - he won’t be with the Red Bulls for most of the season as he finishes up his high school studies down in Bradenton. If Magee or Martins has a breakout year, Josi will have a tough time getting regular minutes when he finally arrives in the summer or early fall.
2006 Impact: It’s difficult to make an impact on a team when you’re not there, no matter how talented your GM thinks you are. Wait a Year
David Arvizu – Red Bull New York (Lottery)
Why he’s on the field: One word: flair. Put it this way: if Arvizu worked at Chotchkie’s he’d have so many buttons the front of his striped polo and suspenders, he’d have difficulty standing up straight. Arvizu has a number of the intangibles and instincts that you simply can’t teach, from his touch on the ball to his one-v-one skills to his ability to pull off the dramatic (see SportsCenter’s Top 10). Arvizu believers point to his coming out party against Italy at the 2005 U-17 World Championship. His performance left scouts and fans alike re-checking their lineup sheet to find out the name of No. 10, and appears to have made believers out of at least some MLS coaches that he can perform at the professional level.
Why he’s on the bench: If flair is one of Arvizu’s biggest assets, inconsistency is his biggest Achilles heel. Sure, he might have been the best player on the field by leaps and bounds in the match against Italy, but the reason so many people were re-checking their lineup sheet was because they probably hadn’t consistently seen (or heard about) Arvizu playing at such a high level. The doubters will also point out that while Arvizu shined against Italy, he didn’t do a forward’s first, and most important, duty – score. The flair looks good, but if it doesn’t put balls in the back of the net, Mo isn’t going to give Arvizu much of an opportunity this year. He also isn’t a big kid by any extent and will probably struggle with a more physical style of play.
2006 Impact: The reality is players like Arvizu that can give MLS a little spice on the field are needed for the league to grow and attract new fans. Unfortunately, David’s not ready to be sprinkled into the Red Bull's lineup. Wait a Year
Patrick Ianni – Houston Dynamo (First Round – 8th overall)
Why he’s on the field: Not too many players taken in the 2005 draft have as much experience as Patrick Ianni. From his days playing competitive club soccer in Cali’ to starting for three years at UCLA to helping anchor the U-20s backline that registered three shutouts at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, Patrick is adequately prepared to make the jump to the professional level. You could argue that he was the best defender in the draft, as he is probably more capable of starting on opening day than Marvell Wynne, who’s athletic abilities and “upside” pushed him to be chosen No. 1 overall. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Ianni is a little bit bigger than Carlos Bocanegra and won’t have trouble getting used to the physical nature of his position.
Why he’s on the bench: When you’re a rookie and trying to win a spot in the starting XI, an injury can be your worst nightmare with a limited amount of time in the preseason to get used to the pace and rigors of the professional level. Ianni’s nightmare became reality when he sprained his MCL, putting him out for four weeks. A month isn’t a the kind of nightmare where Jason Voorhees is chasing you with an ax; rather it’s probably more similar to dreaming your girlfriend suddenly has a laugh like Fran Drescher. Explanation: The sprain isn’t going to end Ianni’s chances of breaking into the starting lineup, but it’s really, really annoying, especially when your trying to impress the coaching staff. The injury will no doubt set the former Bruin back on the learning curve and it will be an uphill battle for him to finally gain enough confidence to believe he can go up against forwards like Eddie Johnson, Jaime Moreno and Taylor Twellman.
2006 Impact: If Ianni didn’t get hurt, the answer here would have been immediate. The injury sets him back, but we still see him making an impact at some point this season. Sooner Than Later
Sacha Kljestan – Chivas USA (First Round – 5th overall)
Why he’s on the field: For the past couple years, Kljestan has gained some valuable experience under coaches such as Manny Schellscheidt at Seton Hall and Sigi Schmid with the U.S. Under-20s. Now, he has the opportunity to learn under Bob Bradley, who’s trying to turn a disastrous first year into a competitive second season for Chivas USA. Not a bad group of mentors to learn from, and you’ve got to assume some of their wisdom soaked in. Kljestan isn’t a flashy player, but he’s confident on the ball, has great vision and could be the best passer from this year’s draft. His major competition in the midfield might come from Ramon Ramirez and Jesse Marsch, who at 36 and 32 respectively, might not be able to keep the 20-year-old off the field for too long. Plus, Bradley knows he needs to inject some new life into a team that finished last in 2005.
Why he’s on the bench: After a year of turmoil at Chivas, the fans will want to see a quick turnaround. That may push Bradley to start Sacha to add some youth and energy, but that could also backfire for the former Pirate. If he’s starting and doesn’t perform up to expectations and the team struggles, he could find himself on the bench. And once there, it could take twice as much effort to get back onto the field. The fact is, Sacha is going to struggle at times during the season and if the fans, and more importantly the coaching staff, don’t cut him a bit of slack during the bumpy moments, it won’t do much for his confidence.
2006 Impact: Sacha might not be everyone’s first choice as an instant contributor, but he’s a very good player in an even better situation as Chivas needs new life to turn a dismal first season around. As their first round pick, Sacha will be on the field to do just that. Immediate Impact
Jacob Peterson – Colorado Rapids (Second Round – 21st overall)
Why he’s on the field: If the measure of a player is how he performs in the biggest games, Jacob Peterson’s cup is overflowing. Over the span of 18 months, Peterson scored three huge goals in arguably the three biggest games of his young career.
- Dec. 14, 2003 – Peterson scores the eventual game-winning goal against St. John’s in the NCAA Championship match.
- Dec. 12, 2004 – Peterson scores the lone goal for Indiana in regulation against UCSB in the NCAA Championship match, which Indiana eventually wins in a penalty shootout.
- June 18, 2005 – In his only start of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, Peterson scores the game-winning goal in the U.S. U-20s 1-0 victory vs. Egypt to secure first place in their group.
Along with these glowing resume bullet points, Peterson has a never-give-up reputation. Growing up in Michigan, the blue-collar work ethic of his state comes through on the field, which may just end up giving him a leg up on players whose work rate may be questioned at times (see Clint Mathis and Jovan Kirovski). What’s stopping Clavijo from throwing in a kid he sees working his tail off in practice every day if the starting forwards aren’t supplying goals? Answer: Nada.
Why he’s on the bench: Colorado isn’t hurting in terms of players that can play up front. Kirovski, Mathis, Jean Phillipe Peguero and Cornell Glen are all capable of filling the forward spot, which makes it difficult for a rookie to get on the field. Peterson might impress Clavijo with his work rate, but in the end, experience will trump hustle. As a rookie, there will be times where he’ll make the wrong run or pass in a situation where a savvy veteran would probably make the better decision. On top of that, Peterson will have to deal with doubters who say the Indiana product slipped so far in the draft because he’s not fast enough or strong enough to have an impact at the top level.
2006 Impact: Peterson has proven he can produce when it matters at every level he’s played and he has the potential to do it in the MLS. However, to prove he can deliver he needs to be on the field, and he’s stuck behind a wealth of experience. He’ll have his moments, similar to RSL’s Jamie Watson last year, but overall we’ll be looking toward year two. Wait a Year
Nathan Sturgis – L.A. Galaxy (First Round – 12th overall)
Why he’s on the field: Nathan Sturgis is a pretty unassuming, quiet guy. His play on the field is similar. You might not remember a single play the defender made during the game, partly because it wasn’t spectacular, but more likely because he hardly makes mistakes. When starting center back Jonathan Spector went down with an injury during the first match of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, Sturgis stepped in and was calm, cool and collected. The U-17 Residency product helped the U-20s pull off one of the most remarkable feats of any U.S. national team by shutting out all three of their first round opponents – Argentina, Germany and Egypt. (We won’t bring up that he didn’t start against Italy and three goals were scored…whoops.) A great passer out of the back, Sturgis was a steal for L.A. with the 12th overall pick and Steve Sampson knows it. After just his first preseason game, a 65-minute performance against the South Korea national team, Sampson drooled, “Sturgis proved he can play in the MLS without question.”
Why he’s on the bench: If you’re going to join an MLS team, joining the reigning champs isn’t the worst place to go. Then again, if you want to play, it just might be. Three of the Galaxy’s defenders – Chris Albright, Todd Dunivant and Ugo Ihemelu – were with the U.S. Men’s National Team at some point this year. And Brian Dunseth and Tyrone Marshall aren’t too shabby. So, it begs the question: just how does Sturgis get on the field?
2006 Impact: Sturgis would probably be starting on any other MLS team, but due to the Galaxy’s depth, he may be learning from the bench for awhile. We figure if he’s smart, Sampson will find a way to get Sturgis regular time as you never know who the injury bug might bite or who will be taken to Germany. Immediate Impact
Blake Wagner – FC Dallas (Second Round – 18th overall)
Why he’s on the field: The best chance to get on the field is to be flexible. A goalkeeper is kind of limited in his options if he’s second in the depth chart, as it’s unlikely he could also play forward. On the other hand, Wagner has the capability to play central defender, left back or left midfielder (he played all three at some point with the U-17s, including central and left back during the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship). While Wagner might not yet be ready to take a starting spot in any of those positions, Colin Clarke can put him in as a reserve or use him in case of an injury.
Why he’s on the bench: Wagner was somewhat of a surprise player to put his name in the MLS draft hat, compared to other U-17 defenders such as Ofori Sarkodie, who opted to head to Indiana. It looked as though he was going to USF before he changed his mind, first about heading to another college, and then deciding to try his luck in the pros. Whether he’s ready, physically and mentally, will be a question during his rookie season. His ability to play the left back position made him a valued asset to MLS coaches, but Dallas is one of the teams that aren’t hurting at that spot with Greg Vanney. B-Wag is versatile, but he still needs to excel in the position he eventually is put in to stay on the field.
2006 Impact: Wagner isn’t yet ready to win a position out right to start the season, but don’t be surprised to see him getting some regular time throughout the season. Sooner Than Later
Marvell Wynne – Red Bull New York (First Round – 1st overall)
Why he’s on the field: You don’t get the nickname Man Child for possessing merely average skills. Wynne’s combination of breakaway speed, scary athleticism and brute strength made him a logical choice as the No. 1 pick in the draft. It’s only a matter of time until Red Bull fans will see those qualities first hand on Saturdays when he wreaks havoc for left-sided midfielders and defenders down the flank. Being drafted first overall and making an impact right away isn’t always a smooth path as MLS history shows, but going from a no-name freshman to one of the most impressive defenders in the world for his age after quality performances at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship gave Marvell the confidence that he can excel in the sport at any level.
Why he’s on the bench: Like his UCLA teammate Ianni, Marvell must overcome an injury, after undergoing hernia surgery in Germany in early March. Even before that though, it was being spilled that the right back was having trouble in a three-back system, instead of the four-back line-up with which he had become accustomed. And despite all the slobbering over his athletic prowess, Man Child still has to work on the soccer aspect of his game. You can bully people off the ball with your strength, burn up the right flank and dribble past everyone, but if you can’t send in a quality cross, are you really helping the team win?
2006 Impact: The injury will set him back a bit and doesn’t allow us to mark him as an immediate impact, but c’mon, this is Man Child! He’ll bounce back quickly. The struggle for him will be learning how to play his position in an unfamiliar system. It will take some time, but Wynne’s ability and speed can cover any mistakes he makes as he learns his trade. Sooner Than Later