Not Acting Like Rookies
To say the MetroStars had a good draft in 2003 is an understatment. Clark and Magee, the second and fourth picks overall, respectively, didn't keep the bench warm and learn from watching during their rookie campaings. The two U.S. Under-20 MNT players got significant minutes (Clark led the team) and contributed on the scoreboard (Magee had seven goals). The two took the time to talk about their first-year experiences and what their looking forward to next year - besides not carrying the veteran's bags.
From start to finish, my rookie season with the MetroStars was more than I could have ever expected. First, getting picked second in the MLS SuperDraft was higher than I thought I would go. Then, I never expected to get as many minutes as I did. Going into the season I figured it would be a situation where I would work my way into the lineup and get more playing time down the road, but by the end of the season I finished with the most minutes on the team during the regular season. No one was more surprised than I was, but I hope it helped the team because I definitely know it was helpful for me.
The toughest thing getting used to was how different the professional level is from college – on the field and off. Not only is the professional season a lot longer, you have to adapt to playing day-in and day-out, which can be hard as a rookie for nine straight months. It was for me, especially towards the end of the season when you feel kind of worn out, but you just have to deal with it and work hard every day at practice.
Like all first-year guys, I also got my fair share of rookie duties. It was the normal rookie stuff like carrying bags and goals during practice. The funny thing is it wasn’t much of a change for me because I had just come off my freshman year at Furman, where I had to do the same things. It’s not that crazy though. The veteran guys are all really cool and don’t give you too much trouble about it.
The older guys were also great about taking time to help me improve during the year. I looked up to all the veterans because they were truly professionals and showed it on and off the field. I know if I want to become a player who is successful in the league, I should follow their example. Eddie Pope was someone who gave me advice during the season. He played behind me and was always giving me a heads up on what would be best to do in given situations or where to go position-wise. A lot of it was just leading by example, and he is one of the best to follow.
The best aspect of the season was probably making it to the final of the U.S. Open Cup. It was my first real accomplishment with the team and even though we lost it was great experience to get a taste of in my first year. A lot of guys haven’t ever made it any kind of championship final during their careers, so now that I know what it feels like, I’ll be pushing harder each year to get back there.
As for next year, I’m really looking forward to getting back out there, this time with a year of experience under my belt. I think we have the ability to make some noise next year and I’m looking for shorter than getting to the MLS Cup.
I knew even before the draft that I wanted to go to the MetroStars and play for Bob Bradley. I told him that I’d love to play for him and it would be great if they had the opportunity to draft me. I figured that would be the best-case scenario for me, somewhere that I’d feel most comfortable.
When they finally did draft me it was awesome and I couldn’t have been in a better place. It might have been nice to be at home in Chicago, but to be under Bob was incredible for my career.
Going into the season, I figured I might play a few games and learn my way into the starting lineup down the road. Then in the first game of the season I played 75 minutes and saw my dreams become reality quicker than I could have imagined. Those first couple games I was doing everything I could, but didn’t feel at ease. I’d start the game with nerves and end the game with nerves. It took until about the fifth game of the year for me to get into a comfort level where I settled down and realizing my capabilities.
Saying that, I still have a lot to learn. I’m still not to where I can be or where I want to be, but the experience I got with so much playing time was indispensable in helping me improve during the season.
The veterans on the team were also crucial in helping me get better. They were always willing to provide insight into the game and were just great about treating me like any teammate, even though I was only 18. There was also some rookie hazing, but nothing major like getting tied to the goal post. I just had to carry bags, pick up goals during practices, and I was always in the middle for 5v2.
On the field, playing professionally is completely different, especially coming from playing with kids your age to guys that are 30 years old. You find out quick that you can’t take any breaks and have to play full out for 90 minutes. You can’t go out there and play at 75 percent and expect to make plays or even continue to have the coach put you on the field. I found out right away that you can’t let up and be strong or they will easily jump all over you.
My favorite moment during the season was going back to Chicago and playing in front of my family and friends. That was the first time I had played in front of even my family in a long time because with the Under-17s and Under-20s, we never really played very close for them to come and watch me. It was great to see them in the stands and all my friends running around cheering like crazy. It meant a lot to me.
My first goal against Columbus was also a big moment for me during my first year. It was a pretty crazy day as it was also my prom night, too, which I had to fly back for. I couldn’t believe I was on my way to the prom after scoring my first goal in the MLS. It was a dream come true.
The most exciting thing for me is that there is still room to improve. I know I’m still young and have a lot to work on, but I think I’ve gotten a lot of the kinks out during the first year and will improve next year. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team get better and win a championship.