Thursday, April 19, 2007
Trade to Toronto surprises Wynne
This year's Major League Soccer Superdraft was a bit of a tossup, but in 2006 there was consensus on who was going to be the No. 1 pick. No one expected any name other than Marvell Wynne's to be called when New York chose first.
Yet only a year later, Wynne, the defender lauded for athletic gifts of speed and strength rivaled by few, found himself being traded away to expansion Toronto FC, the league's new team in Canada.
It was Bruce Arena, the coach of Red Bull New York, who made the decision, which came on the heels of the team's recent acquisition of Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel. "Bruce said he had to go to a meeting and do the official signing of Angel," Wynne said of the turn of events. Soon after, Wynne was summoned to the coach's office. "He sat me down with the other coaches and said, 'I don't have good news for you. You have been traded.' Then he told me the whole scenario and said that I was going to Toronto." The young defender was floored. "This was completely out of nowhere. There were no talks, no whispers, nothing at all [before the news]." Wynne listened to Arena's explanation for the decision. "In the end, this is a business," Wynne said. "I respect that he told me the way he did. I understand it. I'm just taking this as another learning experience and another adventure -- going to Toronto." There was a slight bit of foreshadowing to the move when Wynne, a regular starter for the Red Bulls, did not appear in the most recent match, a 3-0 victory over FC Dallas. Hunter Freeman manned the right back position instead. "We trained all week with Hunter in the starting lineup, so when it came to gametime, I wasn't surprised, but initially, during the beginning of the week, it was kind of a shock," Wynne said. There are a number of reasons why Arena could have chosen to make the move. The timing clearly indicated that New York might have needed to clear some salary cap room for Angel. The move is also indicative of a recent league trend toward more international stars, rather rely so heavily on the Americans that have defined the league for some time. With the new designated player rule, teams are free to pursue top stars around the world, including ones whose soccer pedigree is steeped in technical ability -- an area in which U.S. stars have often fallen short. In Wynne's case, it was a shortcoming he was trying to address. "In college, I got by pretty well," Wynne said. "Last year in MLS, I realized I could use my speed and physical abilities to a certain point, but I need to work on my technical side. Now I have a year of experience and I'm going to use that to make myself an all-around better player on the field." With another talented young project, Josmer Altidore, developing with the Red Bulls, Arena could have decided to limit the amount of club resources spent on potential, preferring instead to go with the proven experience of veterans like Claudio Reyna, Ronald Waterreus, Dema Kovalenko, and Dave van den Bergh. It was only a year ago that nearly all the current major stars in MLS were developed within the league. Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu, Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson all became accomplished players in their organizations and were rewarded with some of the highest salaries in the league. The recent signings of David Beckham, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and others reportedly on the way dwarf those earnings. More importantly, the U.S. stars could now find themselves fighting for spots on teams that consider them expendable. This is unlikely to affect the established players like Donovan or even Adu, but the trend could take a toll on the newest generation of young players looking to make an impact in the pro game. One of the biggest enticements that MLS was able to offer developing players in the past was the prospect of a lot of first-team playing time. In Toronto, Wynne is reuniting with former New York coach Mo Johnston, who values his talent. "I like Mo as a coach," Wynne said. "We train as a team, and then there's time for us to train individually and improve on what we need. I think it will be a good place to develop." Toronto's lowly position in the league standings, where it currently sits dead last, did not discourage Wynne. "The team can only go up, so I feel I'm going to a good situation, knowing that I can make an immediate impact on the team and hopefully get in a starting position and just make a name for the newest team in MLS." In Canada, Johnston has actually accumulated a small collection of players who have been picked first in the MLS draft. Wynne, Alecko Eskandarian (2003) and Maurice Edu (2007) are all American prospects trying to refine their games under the guidance of the Scottish coach. The deeper pool of skilled players coming into the league may, in fact, drown a few U.S. players. Ultimately, those who survive by striving to meet the higher standards imposed by the league's rapid growth will be the better for it. One thing that is certain now is that no American player can assume that the league will always wait with open arms to nurture their potential. Players are finding themselves pushed out of the comfort of the proverbial nest to either fly or fail. Wynne's father, a former professional baseball player in the major leagues, passed on advice for his soccer-playing son about the realities of a truly competitive entity. "You've just got to go with it," Wynne said his father told him. "It's a new club, a new experience. It's all part of the game." Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com, soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.