Philly native Gargan proof draft can yield fruit
Twelve years ago, Dan Gargan’s wait on draft day wasn’t weighed down by expectation.
The Philadelphia native went through the motions, attending the workouts and the combine. Then on draft day — Jan. 14, 2005 — he got through most of a round before figuring there was no longer a need to tune in.
“We were following along on the Internet when I was at Georgetown,” Gargan recalled last week. “The Internet at my house wasn’t working that well back in the day. I wasn’t following. I think I watched the first round and said, screw it.”
Another three weeks would pass before MLS conducted its Supplemental Draft, then four rounds into that affair, the eighth total round of selections for the year, Gargan’s name was finally called, with the 43rd pick of the Supplemental Draft and the 91st choice overall.
The odds that Gargan and his fellow draftees in that distant round would make a roster were long; the chance of embarking on a lengthy MLS career seemed astronomically more remote. But a dozen years on as MLS approaches Friday’s 2017
2017 SuperDraft, the final round of the 2005 Supplemental Draft constitutes an unusual vein of diamonds in the American soccer rough.
With Gargan, goalie Dan Kennedy, forward Chris Wondolowski and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, the round has yielded nearly 1,000 combined MLS games. It’s produced three players who’ve won MLS Cup, two U.S. internationals and a league MVP. And as the SuperDraft as an institution is increasingly assailed as an outdated fixture, the achievements of Gargan and his draft cohort provide a cautionary counterpoint.
The journeys for each bear obvious similarities. Wondolowski’s is most often discussed, how the native of Danville, Calif., went from tiny Chico State to the 41st pick in the Supplemental Draft to the fourth-leading scorer in MLS history. Soon to turn 34, Wondolowski is in camp with the U.S. national team, for which he has 35 caps and (rather infamously) played in the 2014 World Cup. From his days in the defunct reserve league, Wondolowski is venerated as the quintessential American soccer late-bloomer.
But he’s not alone. Kennedy, from UC Santa Barbara, was drafted by Chivas USA with the 38th pick (86th overall) in 2005. But he never made the roster, briefly surfaced with the MetroStars as injury cover and toiled in the USL First Division and the Chilean second division for three seasons until Chivas reached out in 2008. Four years later, even as the organization imploded, Kennedy was an All-Star.
Now the Galaxy’s backup, Kennedy has played 163 games, his position affording the chance at continued longevity.
Then there’s Gargan and Larentowicz, close friends who attended Chestnut Hill Academy. Their paths diverged in college — Gargan to Georgetown, Larentowicz to Brown — yet the Supplemental Draft reunited their fates. Gargan came off the board 91st to Colorado, Larentowicz 93rd to New England. (Larentowicz, who played just one minute as a rookie, signed as a free agent with expansion club Atlanta United this winter. He’s 19th all-time in MLS games played and has four U.S. caps.)
In their careers, the quartet of fourth-rounders has logged 931 MLS games. For the 2005 draft, they trail only the 1,711 games compiled by firstround picks. Both the first and eighth round of that draft yielded three players who remain active in MLS a decade on.
Gargan, who retired before the 2016 season, recalled relative laxity of scouting and talent identification. He worked out for Columbus prior to the draft; between the session and draft day, Columbus assistant John Murphy joined the staff of Colorado boss Fernando Clavijo, toting with him the valuation of Gargan. At the combine, Gargan played as an outside back for the first time in years, a departure from his center mid position with the Hoyas. After three rainy days of games in Carson, Calif., Gargan retreated with little idea of how clubs pegged him.
Then two days after getting the call from Clavijo that he was the Rapids’ sixth draftee of the month, Gargan was on a plane to Ecuador for preseason training alongside mainstays like Jeff Cunningham and Clint Mathis and former Real Madrid defender Aitor Karanka.
That’s when the gauntlet was really thrown down. The team owed Gargan little more than pay for his time in camp. His first contract was a junior development (nonguaranteed) deal worth a whopping $11,700 that the Rapids could terminate at any time with little financial responsibility.
Being picked was the foot in the door, which for the scrappy Gargan was license to attempt the uphill climb to survive.
“You have to prove yourself every day, every year, whether you’re the 30th man on the roster or there every year,” Gargan said. “That was made blatantly clear walking into a group of men in Ecuador who were fighting for jobs and to put food on the table for their families.”
Gargan, who works as the general manager for Lou Fusz Athletic club in St. Louis, has the perspective to track long-term changes in American soccer. He readily admits being “an athlete who played soccer” in college and is heartened that the pendulum has swung to churning out talents that more often identify as soccer players first. Increased investment in the youth game is hastening players reaching their peaks, more often in their early 20s than the late 20s at which Gargan and many others hit their strides.
The growth of soccer in the States is finding the steadiest flow through the Developmental Academies in which clubs have so heavily invested. But late-maturing talents like Gargan and Wondolowski still exist, at risk of slipping through the cracks never to pay their late dividends. How that population earns its chances is a challenge that will continue to evolve.
“I don’t know if there really is an eighth-round draft pick anymore, but there are guys that kind of trickle in who have a similar mentality and mindset to having to continually prove that you’re more than the opportunities that they’re given,” Gargan said. “The avenues may be different to get there, and you probably would be developed at a little bit different of a rate.”