Myers' stock rocketed in recent weeks
BALTIMORE -- Can a few days in Florida really improve someone's stock in the draft so dramatically? Apparently so, judging from the first selection in Friday's MLS SuperDraft.
Kansas City stunned the audience at Baltimore's Convention Center by selecting UCLA's Chance Myers with the top overall selection. A relatively anonymous collegian before Friday, Myers suddenly joins Freddy Adu, emerging U.S. internationals Maurice Edu and Marvel Wynne and other splashy names on the short list of MLS No. 1 choices.
While Myers is certainly a promising young fullback, his name was hardly one dancing across the lips of MLS coaches and GMs just a couple of weeks ago.
But along came Peter Nowak's U.S. U-23 national team camp in Bradenton, Fla., in January. Myers broke away from the U-23 workouts for a day to participate in the MLS combine across the state in Fort Lauderdale, where he definitely made quite an impression -- on one team from the Midwest, at least.
Myers' big day at the combine was enough to sway Kansas City coach Curt Onalfo, who essentially traded away veteran defender Nick Garcia in order to scoop up the kid from Thousand Oaks, Calif., just up the coast from Los Angeles.
Myers is certainly a "modern" type outside back in that he gets forward aggressively and knows how to supply a good cross. He gets compared often to Frankie Hejduk, a link Myers' says he always enjoys, having grown up watching Hejduk and modeling some of his game after the longtime U.S. international.
"I just wish I had his fitness," Myers said a few minutes after commissioner Don Garber called his name from the podium.
It was the attacking mind-set that made Myers stand out in the combine. Word was out that he looked good in Bradenton. Then, in Fort Lauderdale, Myers showed athleticism and a heady ability not just to spot the best option, but to hit the pinpoint pass and make the exchange happen.
"I put in a lot of hard work in Bradenton, then we drove down there [to the combine], a four and a half hour drive," Myers said. "So when I got there I didn't try to impress too much. I just did my thing, tried to play my game."
Not everyone was so overwhelmed. Speculation about how Kansas City would use that first pick continued to center on Virginia Tech forward Patrick Nyarko, who dropped to seventh overall in this wildly unpredictable draft. Other top-spot speculation centered on Eric Avila, the UC-Santa Barbara midfielder who fell all the way into the middle of the second round.
The top-pick honors certainly surprised Myers, who was one huge smile beneath a mop of blonde hair in the breathless moments after his selection.
"I would have been happy to go last," he said. "It's just an honor to be here."
Just a month or so back, Myers wasn't even sure he would turn professional this year. Myers played just two seasons at UCLA and was a starter for just one of those. He only recently decided to leave school.
"I had to decide if I was ready as a player, emotionally, mentally, physically," said Myers, who turned 20 just last month. "But I talked long and hard to my coach, Jorge Salcedo, about whether I was ready to play. He gave me the go-ahead, so I was ready to go."
At Kansas City, he'll have a chance to fit in immediately. Onalfo said Friday that he is toying with the idea of playing a 3-5-2 and says Myers could play in the back on the right or as a right-sided midfielder. Or, obviously, he could play on right in the four-man back line.
Myers can also play on the left, where he played at the combine. The Wizards created an opportunity for somebody on that side by trading away Jose Burciaga Jr., who saw his longtime grip on the spot slipping late last year after a couple of costly blunders.
If he does play on the left, the Wizards will be suspiciously young on that side. Michael Harrington is the incumbent, and based on last year's dynamic rookie season, a change appears unlikely. So while the Wizards can certainly trouble teams with pace and athleticism aplenty, there's always the chance that opponents can expose the lack of experience there, too.
On the other hand, Onalfo said Myers may not play extensively right away, which would absolutely seal the 2008 SuperDraft as a weak one, full of "projects" and notoriously low on studs. It sounds like Myers -- the top pick! -- doesn't need to contribute substantially right now.
"They are young players, and we don't want to put a lot of pressure on them," Onalfo said, referring not only to Myers but also to the Wizards' second first-rounder, Roger Espinoza, the 11th overall selection. "We have time to develop them. They don't need to make enormous impact right away. This is an investment in our club for a long time, not just for the 2008 season."
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.