Philly na­tive Gar­gan proof draft can yield fruit

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

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.”

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