EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He's playing a man's game as a teenager and is getting paid for it, but Eddie Gaven is not LeBron James. Never will be, either. He's also not Freddy Adu, as no one is expecting the 17-year-old MetroStar to be a worldwide commodity or be the type of crossover superstar that helps lift soccer's popularity in the U.S.
Gaven has enough trouble getting his nameplate on a stall in place of the piece of tape with his name written in Sharpie above a chair that currently signifies his dressing area in the team's locker room. That certainly doesn't reflect his value to Bob Bradley's side, though, as the young midfielder was arguably the best player for the MetroStars in the 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution last Saturday night, and will surely be counted on when the playoff series resumes on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
In a match where Gaven became the youngest player to ever appear in a Major League Soccer playoff game by starting the second half for the MetroStars, the Hamilton, N.J., native played with the type of poise and professionalism that's well beyond his years. He added life to the attack by creating his own offense at times, as well as by setting up his teammates from the center of the midfield.
"We needed to be more mobile and more dangerous," said Bradley, "and I thought Eddie Gaven brought that into the game right from the start of the second half."
Just six minutes into the half, Gaven used a step-over and raced down the left sideline before cutting on a dime to free himself from right back Jay Heaps. Without hesitation, the rookie cracked a shot with his right foot that forced goalkeeper Adin Brown to dive to his left and punch the ball away. That sort of offensive mindset -- making something out of nothing -- was exactly what Bradley was searching for when he inserted Gaven into the match for Craig Ziadie.
"Bob said to go out there, take guys on, and make a difference in the game," said Gaven, who broke DaMarcus Beasley's (18 years, 114 days) postseason youngest-age mark from Sept. of 2000 by over one year. "That's what I did. I was trying to play quick, and take men on."
Gaven was also able to spring Chris Leitch up from his right flank position in the 54th minute when he used some fancy footwork in the center of the field to buy time for an overlap by the wide midfielder, which resulted in a dangerous cross into the center of the box.
It was this type of vision and offensive aggressiveness that Bradley was searching for when he named his starting lineup. But from Mark Lisi, not Gaven.
"Mark Lisi's passing has helped us in our attack," said Bradley after the game. "Obviously, he has a number of assists (11). We haven't had an easy time scoring goals as of late, and Mark has had of hand in helping us score goals."
It wasn't the easiest of decisions, as the first-year MetroStars coach wanted to slow down Revs' midfielder Brian Kamler and Steve Ralston on the flanks, which called for the services of Leitch and Joey DiGiamarino, who are more defensive-minded and not known for their offensive production. That left five players to play the other three spots. Amado Guevara and Ricardo Clark were easy choices, and Lisi got the call over usual starter Richie Williams as well as Gaven, who had started the team's last seven matches if you include two U.S. Open Cup games.
"You can't put all those guys on the field," said Bradley.
Being the youngest player in the league and a neophyte to the playoffs wasn't something that clouded Bradley's mind when going over his lineup.
"I try not to let that come into it because he's played well," said Bradley.
Assistant coach Mo Johnston agreed, but also mentioned being wary of putting too much weight on a teenage player, at least at the outset of the match.
"It's very tough to pin something on a 16-year-old kid in the playoffs," he said. "But he's a very smart player for his age. It's tough to bring a kid that young on in the playoffs, but you can see that he can handle it. We always knew that we had that change to make if we needed to."
If Gaven was disappointed by not getting the start, he didn't show it. Instead, the first words out his mouth were how he still thinks his team can get the necessary two or three goals this weekend to either force a 30-minute Golden Goal overtime or overcome the minus-two aggregate goal total and beat New England outright to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
"It's a tough way to start the series, but we can win this thing," said Gaven, who suited up for the U.S. U-17 National Team at the World Championships in Finland this past August. "I thought we had them on the run, at times, to be honest."
He's correct in saying that, as the Metros carried the play for a long stretch of the second half. Several chances, including Eddie Pope's lefty strike from point-blank range that was saved off the goal line by Pat Noonan, were created in the first 20 minutes of the half before Noonan's goal in the 65th minute.
"That goal really hurt us," said Gaven. "We never really played as well after that, and couldn't create too much. It left us frustrated."
Looking ahead to Sunday's second and final match of the home-and-home first-round series, Gaven knows there is room for improvement.
"I think we have to do a lot of things better," he said. "We have to be tougher on defense. Five goals last game, and two goals this time at home doesn't cut it. We also need to finish better."
To accomplish such a feat, changes will surely be made to the lineup. For starters, either John Wolyniec or Mike Magee will surely take the place of Adrzej Juskowiak up front. Whether Lisi comes out or Clark is swung into a wide position for Leitch, it's likely that the team's youngest player will be counted on again.
This time from the outset.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.