A View from the Fort

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/aduamaphotography.com

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/aduamaphotography.com

Running Some Numbers – It’s Drafty In Here plus: An Interview with Andrew Farrell

A VIEW FROM THE FORT by Jim Dow

With training camp only just begun and the start of the MLS season not far away the New England Revolution find themselves in an awkward limbo state; full of potential but missing some important parts with supporters and observers at odds as how to address the latter.

Certainly it is worrisome that a contract contretemps is brewing between last season’s find of the year, the elegant Captain Goncalves and management. Miscommunication it may be but what was hoped to be a smooth start when he was duly signed in November is proving bumpy. Then there is the striker situation. Juan Agudelo is now encamped in Utrecht perhaps being flattered, although more likely being flattened with a rude introduction to the league that invented the “whirl.” But regardless, other than draft choices, Charlie Davies, Dimitry Imbongo, maybe Marko Perovic (back in BOS, who woulda thunk it?) and current whipping boy Jerry Bengtson, how will this hole be filled?

As an interesting sidebar, suppose that Michael Burns came back next week from a scouting trip to say that he had in his pocket a signed contract with a World Cup-bound starting striker from a Latin American country who had starred in the recent London Olympics and was ready to step in for the recently departed New Yorker of Colombian extraction? Likely all concerned would say whoopee, trading like for like, and in fact JB’s portfolio, not potential which is what Stoke spilled for JA, is as good, if not better.

Well, we all know where that went but it does show they tried, and likely signed last year’s loan-a-player (JA) to provide short term cover for an apparently good plan gone awry (JB). Oh well…

On a brighter note, the potential part, last month Soccer America released their annual ratings for the top ten MLS players at each position. The Revs had nine players (Andrew Farrell, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney, Scott Caldwell, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Saer Sene, Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo) rated and two, JoGo and Diego got best in show at left center back and left midfield, respectively.

Just for the hell of it, I assigned a numerical ranking to each rated player, the best got 19, the 10th best got 10, totaled them up and, guess what, the much-maligned Revvies won the league at 171 with Real Salt Lake tipping in at two with 164, the hated Red Bulls third at 163 and New England’s ultimate executioner and champeen, Sporting KC fourth at 153. As a measuring stick for futility hapless Toronto pipped DC for the spoon at 99 to 102, look what they have done since then, to say nothing of Philly.

None of this has much meaning, save to indicate that someone out there thinks the Revvies have some useful horseflesh and if those same editors are right in awarding New England full marks for the just completed draft, the wheels may not come off the wagon quite yet.

Last Sunday in the bubble Jay Heaps couldn’t contain a smile when he was questioned about adding more players. It almost seemed that he was bursting to say something but just couldn’t break the Kraft code. Someone is out there pounding the pavement, and it may be Mr. Burns and he might come back with an announcement better than the one I dreamt up five paragraphs ago. Or he might not.

Within hours of that discussion there was information that one Juan Perotti, 22-years-old from Estudiantes de La Plata in Argentina was trialing with the team. Now this erstwhile number 10 is not the second coming of Leo Messi, and his career in Argentina has not been a star-studded success, but my sources in Buenos Aires say the following. “(He) was on the bench a couple of weeks ago when Estudiantes played River in a Summer Cup. He’s a kid from Carhué, Province of Buenos Aires.” Another reports, “He is from Carhue, close to the farm (my friend has a farm in the country, far from the big city) started in Racing de Carhue and then went to Estudiantes and made his way up. Four years total in the club…he is (said to be) good with free kicks, both legs work well, and despite his height he can give good headers. Last year he had a 3=month lesion in his knee, but seemed to recover ok. Was in (the) River (Plate system) for 6-months but asked to leave cause they didn’t pay him nor give him free housing…He plays Volante on the left, (midfielder with a lot of freedom) before that he was an ‘Enganche’ (classic 8 or some 10 like Zidane or Platini did).”

So, maybe not so far from players like Sene, JoGo, Perovic, Cancela and others looking to jumpstart a languishing career, possibly post-injury. One thing to know about Estudiantes: they have a long winning tradition, they were Libertadores Cup champions in 2009 (equivalent of the Champions League, a great tournament involving teams from Monterrey, Mexico to the bottom of the world) and won the Argentine apertura in 2010. Juan Sebastian Veron plays for them, as did Carlos Bilardo, José Luis Calderón, Alejandro Sabella (now National Team manager), Miguel Angel Russo and Martín Palermo, all top-level Argentine players. They have the greatest nickname, las pincharratas, the rat stabbers.

We shall see but a reasonable flyer, as were Bengston, Cancela, Goncalves, Perovic and Sene and Argentina is facing another huge devaluation, possibly within the week. Training camp will decide on the quality of the rate of return.

Given his background as a history major at Duke, it is no surprise that New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps subscribes to the idea that there is some degree of separation between nature and culture. This came up in a background discussion we had when I proposed to him that going by Soccer America’s evaluations of players his team came up with the highest score. He seemed surprised, then somewhat dubious, but when I pointed out to him that the professional development of the U.S. college player seems to have taken a turn, he was interested.

He pointed out that for some, playing in college offers an intensity of competition and responsibility that might not be duplicated on the bench of a pro team. Knowing when it is time to leave that level is of paramount importance and different for everyone. For Dempsey, Farrell and Rowe, opting to bail early kick-started their professional careers, they had tapped out whatever the college game had to offer. But, speaking for himself, Coach Heaps said he needed those full four years to develop both as a player and a person. He feels that the same thing applied to Scott Caldwell, although it helped that his coach was Caleb Porter, giving that particular program a distinctively professional atmosphere.

Ultimately, according to Heaps, it comes down to the individual and, hopefully, each prospect has good advice when they decide on their development path. One thing is certain: with the academy system in place, plus the potential of some year-round competition for college players (Heaps himself played in the then-Adidas Summer League), the idea of looking for talent through the draft may not be as far-fetched as one presumed. Gaps are narrowing everywhere.

For further illumination on the subject, I spoke with Revolution right back Andrew Farrell to get his point of view.

JIM – This is a team that for the past decade or more has built itself primarily through the college draft, with obvious additions but for the most part that way. Common wisdom among soccer people in the U.S. holds that the draft is not the way to go, for all sorts of reasons. But yet, looking at the level of people coming out of college recently, you included, certainly high draft choices, the quality is pretty good.

Further, if you look at the 2013 Revolution player ratings by Soccer America, assign an admittedly arbitrary numerical value to them, the team comes out as having the highest rating in MLS with many of those players (yourself, Tierney, Rowe) having come through the draft.

You certainly have a unique background, having grown up playing in Peru but yet you ultimately played at clubs here, came through the system went to college and then got drafted. What, from your perspective, has changed for young American college players?

ANDREW – That’s a good question, I think that something that has definitely changed for young American soccer players is the growth of American soccer (itself) here and across the nation. You have players going abroad and doing well there, it has increased the level and increased the dreams and the goals that us, as young kids, have to aspire to and to (try) to reach. I think that seeing guys who were before me and are playing at a high level in Europe and being American is something that I’ve always looked up to and thought, Wow, maybe I have a chance to do that and be that player… Like you said, all those people who know soccer here in America, they don’t…like the draft, they don’t like the kids who come out of draft (but) you know, it is proven there’s guys that are on the National Team that have come through the draft and there are guys who are doing well (in the league) who have gone through the draft.

I think more and more, as the Homegrowns come out, home grown kids as high draft picks and stuff like that, you’ll see a lot more of those guys as generations come through that (more and more) home grown kids are going to make the National Team and stuff like that.

JIM – But now you, as a young kid, were playing almost 365 days a year (in Peru)…

ANDREW – Yes.

JIM – And then you come into the American system where you have, at best, a four- month competitive season…

ANDREW – Yes, exactly…

JIM – How did you deal with that?

ANDREW – It was tough because when I was in Peru I played all the time, everywhere, after school, during school, all the time. But it’s different, you know you have just got to take extra time off outside of college practice and try to improve your game and hone your game. The idea was that over the summers I’d train and play U-20’s and I’d play PDL and stuff like that. I wasn’t a big party (guy), I didn’t party a lot, I just played soccer…

JIM – Well, soccer was/is the party, right?

ANDREW – Yeah, exactly, soccer’s a party, so just doing stuff like that; I’ve loved the sport since I was really young, so I’ve always played.

JIM – Fifteen, sixteen year ago there were players here, playing for the Revolution who never watch European or Latin American soccer, you might mention a player like Kanchelskis, the great winger for Manchester United and they would look at you, “Who’s that”? Now, of course, with television and beyond, everybody knows and sees the great players as well as the very good ones across the globe. Is that something that has made a significant difference, do you think?

ANDREW – Obviously technology has changed that with watching YouTube videos and watching European soccer. I know that I’m not the biggest on watching soccer but I watch a game or two a week and just watching the American players playing in Europe and watching Barcelona and Arsenal, that’s my favorite team, I watch them as much as I can. You are just improving, learning to love the game. I know they did a good job with NBC Sports with the EPL this year and I’m so happy for that but I stream, I watch online, I do as much as I can to watch some games and it is pretty cool to see how it is still growing, everybody says it is growing and you can see how (interest in the game) is progressing.

JIM – What was your team in Peru?

ANDREW – The first team I played with was Semillero, which was a team run by (Guillermo) La Rosa and Jorge (Cesar) Cueto from the last Peruvian team in the World Cup (Spain, 1982), they were my coaches. Then I played with Bentin Bravo and then I went to the Esther Bentin Grande, which is part of (Sporting) Cristal (one of Lima’s three big clubs) and there was a lady (there) who was kind of paying for all these kids to, well it was kind of like school/soccer and while I was going to a different school, there were kids who couldn’t afford to go to school, they’d pay for it and at the end, when they’d sign a pro contract she would get a little portion of that to give back to her. We had a coupe of those guys, one guy he’s playing in Italy, a couple of the guys are playing in the United States, and so it is doing well.

JIM – I’ve been to Argentina 15 times and I’m a big Boca fan, so in Peru where does the country look towards for their stylistic football affinity? Do they consider themselves more aligned with Argentina, Chile and Uruguay or more with, say; Colombia and Brazil in terms of the style Peruvians like to play?

ANDREW – I’d probably say more like Chile but actually, I’d say that Peruvians would claim that they are more like themselves than anyone else…

JIM – I apologize, I know the rivalries run deep…

ANDREW – No, no, it’s all good, they like to do their own thing, you know, they’ve had really good attackers, you know, like Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizzaro, Paolo Guerrero, Juan Manuel Vargas. We have a couple of good goalies, we have Raul Fernandez who plays for Dallas but the thing I think isn’t lacking but that we need to step up is the defense, we always have a good attack but we never keep teams out, and shutout. They have a good attack but wouldn’t be good in possession and we’d get a couple of chances here and there and would win some games because our forwards are pretty good.

JIM – Would you ever be tempted to pull on the famous diagonally striped shirt, I mean they need quality at the back.

ANDREW – I’d love to play for any National Team, that would be pretty cool but to play for Peru, with so much passion that they have there. I don’t know if I can but it would be very cool.

JIM – If you were talking to a young kid, say a 13/14 year-old, a kid with a lot of potential and passion, would you advise going the academy route or choosing college, what would your advice be?

ANDREW – It is a good question because I didn’t do the academy route, I played club soccer after I came back from Peru, I was a sophomore in high school and I kind of got lost because I didn’t hit the academies, they had just kind of started when I was getting back (so) I wasn’t involved in that stuff, I went to club and then college and (of course) I left early (to sign with MLS and get drafted). I think the academies have been pretty good. There are a lot of gifted kids that come out of the academies and it is year-around and playing soccer year around is pretty good. You just have to be committed, you have to make a decision early on about super-social life and if you really want it then the jump into the academy is pretty good but just make sure you enjoy it. If you are going to do it, you might as well enjoy what you are doing and have fun with it.

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