If Tyler Polak finds himself in the starting line-up on opening day at San Jose, the 19-year-old should hardly be caught wide-eyed. The New England Revolution’s second round draft pick has already faced Major League Soccer competition in a meaningful match and trained with several professional clubs.
Polak, perhaps even more so than the Revs number three overall 2012 MLS SuperDraft pick Kelyn Rowe, stands a decent shot of starting on opening day. With Danleigh Borman yet to sign, Polak is the only natural left back currently on the roster.
“For Tyler, without putting too much expectation on him, he fills a need,” Revolution General Manager Michael Burns to RevolutionSoccer.net. “Whether he’s starting or provides cover, we definitely feel like that’s going to help us.”
And if Polak is starting, his experience should help alleviate any rookie nervousness. With the Chicago Fire Premier (PDL) last summer, the Creighton University product started at left back as the Fire Premier won two matches in the U.S. Open Cup to earn a match-up with Sporting Kansas City at the beautiful Livestrong Sporting Park less than a month after the stadium opened.
While the Fire Premier lost 3-0 to their MLS opposition, Polak went 90 minutes on the road against MLS opposition in front of nearly 4,500 fans. If that’s not enough to cure potential opening day nerves, the rookie has also trained in Germany with Borussia Mochengladbach and Hannover 96, in addition to reportedly training with Sporting Kansas City.
With that experience in mind, there is little reason not to take the U.S. U-20 International at his word that he’ll be ready when the Revs open preseason training on Monday.
“It’s all pretty crazy; happening pretty fast,” Polak told the official website of the Revolution. “Not a whole lot of time to adjust, but I’m definitely ready.”
The youngster certainly has an unusual amount of experience for a college sophomore and that should serve him well as he transitions to the professional level. His remarkably high playing time in Creighton’s busy season should also help prepare him for a strenuous MLS season.
Polak started all 24 of Creighton’s matches in 2011, and led all field players on the team with 2,173 minutes, just thirty-six minutes less than the 2,209 the team played. In comparison, only four field players on the Revolution saw more than 2,173 minutes last season.
The 5-foot-8 defender impressed with his ability to add to the attack out of the back, contributing a goal and five assists to Creighton in 2011 while the team won the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship. With Chris Tierney or Darrius Barnes playing out of position at left back last season, the Revs lacked much contribution on offense from that position.
Polak’s remarkable year also saw Creighton advance all the way to the NCAA College Cup Semifinals before falling to Charlotte in penalties. Creighton finished the year with an impressive 21-2-1 record, including a perfect 14-0-0 record at home, while allowing just five goals all season.
His impressive college resume isn’t so different from another standout college full-back who was a top pick in the SuperDraft 13 years ago – Jay Heaps. Heaps, now the Revs head coach, was named rookie of the year his first season, playing 2,511 minutes for the now defunct Miami Fusion. He would earn an All-Star nod the next season, before being traded to his home team Revs in 2001.
Though Heaps was nearly three years older than Polak when he entered the league, he should prove the perfect role model and mentor for the Lincoln, Neb. native. In addition to sharing a similarly small stature, the two also share a propensity to contribute to the attack and both have seen time in midfield.
On paper, Heaps as head coach appears the ideal fit for Polak’s development. Now it’s up to Heaps to decide if Polak deserves the same faith and playing time the 35-year-old received himself as a rookie.