A monthly 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.
With all the buzz in MLS focusing on Freddy Adu, Teen Soccer Rookie, this year, what better time than now to look back at the mixed results of past classes of first-year pros. Not so much asking “Where Are They Now?” as we are “Who’s Still Around?,” the Armchair Midfielder checks in on how each group has stacked up over the past nine years, picking out Survivors and Castaways from each season.
Sure, technically, most everyone was a rookie in ’96, but we’ll stick to players coming directly out of college. While Brian McBride (#1 – dispersal) stands as the most successful top pick in league history, busting out of the gates with 17 goals and three assists in his first year in MLS, he had spent part of ’95 with Vfl Wolfsburg and was thus ineligible for Rookie of the Year honors. Former St. Louis kid Steve Ralston (second round - college) took the award as the Mutiny’s midfield workhorse, helping Tampa to a league-best record of 20-12 by contributing seven goals and two assists. Only Jason Kreis (#43 – dispersal), Frankie Hejduk (#67 – dispersal) and Mark Chung (#6 – dispersal) stand out with McBride and Ralston as players still among the league’s best. It’s almost jaw-dropping to look back at the 16 rounds of the Inaugural Draft and find players that are still in the league. We count nine of a total out of 160 selected. Oh, the glory days of Tommy Reasoner (#56), Flavio Ferri (#97), Khalil Azmi (#132) and final draft pick Carlos Garcia (#160)? It seems like only yesterday. If yesterday was 20 years ago. Side note: Where is the MLS Mel Kiper; could’ve used him back in ’96.
The first real rookie bunch was not that memorable, with much of the top college players having been picked over to make up the rosters for Year One. When Mike Duhaney (undrafted) runs away with the top honor, you might have a weak group. Of the 30 players in the College Draft, only Ross Paule (#11 overall), Steve Jolley (#9) and Kevin Hartman (#29 overall) are still around, with Hartman earning Goalkeeper of the Year honors in his third season (’99). The first 10 picks were more or less a wash, with Rob Jachym (#3), Brian Kelly (#5), Temoc Suarez (#6) and Brian Johnson (#7) making only a minor ripple in the major league sea.
Survivors: Carlos Llamosa (#8 – supplemental), Kerry Zavagnin (#21 – supplemental) and current MNT assistant coach Curt Onalfo (#16 – supplemental).
Castaways: Tahj Jenkins (#1), Mike Fisher (#2), Alberto Montoya (#5).
The next class of incoming collegians was perhaps the best in league history and helped fuel the first year of expansion. The original group of 36 players has produced two players that appeared for the USA in the 2002 World Cup – Clint Mathis (#6) and Pablo Mastroeni (#13) – as well as four current MNT pool players in Chris Klein (#4), Jeff Cunningham (#9), Wade Barrett (#12) and Ben Olsen (P-40, undrafted). The rest of the first round produced a number of players who ended up being solid pros for years to come, from top picks Leo Cullen (#1) and Richie Kotschau (#2) to Tyrone Marshall (#11). Pro-40 poster boy Bennie O grabbed the trophy after scoring six goals and appearing in 43 of 44 matches in D.C.’s draining, but bountiful season.
Survivors: Mike Petke (#8), Matt Jordan (#10), Carey Talley (#14), Joe Franchino (#30).
Castaways: Ben Parry (#3), Josh Keller (#7).
1999For every good draft year there has to be an off year, and ’99 was it. While Heaps (#1 overall) lived up to advance billing by taking the award while helping the expansion Fusion make the playoffs, the majority of the wannabe pros ended up just that as not a single player from the second or third rounds ended up sticking around. Current U.S. MNT pool midfielder Richard Mulrooney (#3) was a great find for the San Jose Earthquakes, helping them to an MLS title after two years of maturation. Forward John Wolyniec (#7) has bounced around as a reserve with a few teams, but has emerged with his original MetroStars team as a classy finisher at times and earned some caps to boot.
Survivors: Chris Brown (#5), Bobby Rhine (#6), Evan Whitfield (#11).
Castaways: Jason Moore (#1), Andrew Mittendorf (#8), Matt Chulis (#9).
Another bumper crop for the future of MLS, this collective was full of standouts from the U.S. Under-20 MNT and Under-17 MNT Classes of ’99, as well as Under-23 MNT players that would later play for a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics later in the year. Leading that group today are three former U-20 back line mates and current U.S. MNT defenders in Nick Garcia (#2), who appeared in all 32 games before helping Kansas City to an MLS Cup title, Carlos Bocanegra (#4), who won the award for helping the Fire advance to MLS Cup final that year, and Danny Califf (#6), who stepped in and played all six matches at the 2000 Olympics. Youngster Bobby Convey (#12) became the league’s youngest signing and youngest player to compete, appearing 22 times for D.C. and collecting two assists. Sasha Victorine (#11) and Peter Vagenas (#23) both went on the play important roles for the U-23s as they advanced to the medal round and have been steady performers for L.A. ever since.
Survivors: Adin Brown (#3), Rusty Pierce (#14), Eric Denton (#19), Jon Conway (#28).
Castaways: Steve Shak (#1), Travis Mulraine (#8), Peter Byaruhanga (#15).
2001The 2001 rookie class has yielded some solid players, but hardly the type worthy of All-Star status or National Team call-up. U-17 and U-20 standout forwards Santino Quaranta (#8) and Ed Johnson (#19) showed promise after lighting up each youth level, but have not lived up to expectations. Brian Mullan (#9) broke out last year with San Jose, but saw little action in L.A. Mark Lisi (#3) and Ryan Nelsen (#4) were starters straight away with D.C., but on a team that found comfort in the darkness of the cellar over the last three seasons. A pair of late Fire picks – Jim Curtin (#29) and Henry Ring (#33) – are now making their impact, but the Fire have struggled early this year. Rodrigo Faria had eight goals and two assists for the MetroStars to win Rookie of the Year, but has found it difficult to commit himself as a professional.
Survivors: Jose Burciaga, Jr. (#12), Eddie Robinson (#20).
Castaways: Ali Curtis (#2), Isias Bardales, Jr. (#11)
2002This year was another one where beyond the first round of the draft is a Death Valley of soccer dreams. A trio of U-23s – Brad Davis (#3), Kelly Gray (#5) and Kyle Martino (#8) – showed well in their first year and have significant roles with their respective teams two years later. Martino proved to be a promising playmaker, racking up two goals and five assists for the Crew to win Rookie honors over Davis (4 g, 3 a; 11 pts.) and Gray (2 g, 5 a; 9 pts.), who put up almost identical numbers for their clubs. Defender Daouda Kante (#11) and midfielder Shalrie Joseph (#14) are now in Steve Nicols’ rotation and have helped the Revs get to the playoffs each of the last two years.
Castaways: Luchi Gonzalez (#6), Mansour Ndiaye (#7), Carl Bussey (#9)
It’s tough to judge this class with just a year removed, but a number of players made an immeditae impact in 2003, led by second round sleeper Damani Ralph, who ran away with Rookie of the Year rewards after ringing up 11 goals and six assists to get to the Fire to the MLS Cup. Ralph’s remarkable year overshadowed excellent seasons from potent Revs scorer Pat Noonon (#9; 10 g, 7 a; 27 pts.) and former U-20 stars and current Metros teammates Ricardo Clark (#2; 3 g, 1 a; 5 pts.) and Mike Magee (#4; 7 g; 2 a; 16 pts.). The verdict is still out on top pick Eskandarian, whose three goals and two assists were only disappointing in comparison to the unusually high output of Ralph and Noonan. A third Metro, former U-17 Eddie Gaven (#12) is poised to have a strong sophomore season after seeing little of the field as a rook.
Survivors: Todd Dunivant (#6), Doug Warren (#14), Logan Pause (#24).
Castaways: All of the Top 20 picks are still in the league.
2004No brainer. In what is already looking to be a relatively weak class, Freddy (#1) is the obvious cream of the crop, beginning to position himself as the Rookie of the Year by scoring last weekend and pushing for a full 90 minutes to strut his stuff. U-20 stalwart Chad Marshall (#2) will have to anchor the back line for the Crew if “Down goes Fraser!,” but not until late picks like Josh Gros (#44), who has two assists in three games for D.C., and Jeff Parke (#60, or last overall), who started in place of an injured Eddie Pope in the Metros opener, do we see players that might have an impact on their team’s success this season. But beyond those four and possibly some other to emerge over the year, it could be one of the most disappointing classes in recent memory … but you never know who will grab the opportunity and show they belong at the pro level.
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