It only took eight years for the Revolution to get Jeremiah White into preseason camp.
White, who spurned MLS for Europe shortly after he became New England’s third round pick 2004, was long gone by the time the team opened camp that year. And even after his contract with Polish side GKS Belchatow expired in 2010, it appeared that the opportunity to don the paint-brushed stars and stripes had long since passed.
That was until this week.
Nearly 3,000 days after the former Wake Forest midfielder/forward left his draft day scarf at the podium, the Revolution welcomed him back this week with the same opportunity it originally presented to him during George W. Bush’s first term: a starting spot on the an MLS roster.
Securing that spot won’t be easy. With Ryan Guy, Sainey Nyassi, Ryan Kinne and first-round pick Kelyn Rowe all battling for playing time on the right side of the midfield, White, who will turn 30 in April, will have to prove himself against younger competition.
One thing, however, that White may have on his competition, aside from experience is the proven pedigree of a dynamic playmaker – one who many projected as a bonafide first-round pick because of his speed, as well as the propensity to put ‘em into the back of the net (37 career goals at Wake Forest).
And it was that form that fueled the rumors of him going overseas in 2004. Amid the uncertainty, his draft stock dropped, thus allowing the Revolution to take a flier on him in the third round. It was a wait and see situation. They wouldn’t have to wait for long.
Shortly after his selection, the 2003 ACC Player of the Year proved the rumors true and signed with Serbian side OFK Beograd. And with that, White was on a plane to Serbia, where he aimed to polish hisalready impressive skills and, with a little hard work and experience, earn a spot with the U.S. National Team.
But if the perfect script is what he had in mind, it wasn’t long before White encountered a rude awakening. Only weeks into his stay in Belgrade, he was confronted by a group of violent pro-Nazi supporters. Although he escaped the incident without injury, his time there would be cut short due to the team’s purported inability to pay its players.
Thus began an eight-year globe trot that would then take him to Holland, France, Greece, Denmark, Saudia Arabia and then Poland before landing back on American shores in 2010. Well-traveled? Yeah, you could say that.
What’s troubling, though is that in 134 career games between six teams, White never seemed to hit his stride. The closest he came to re-establishing himself was in 2008, when Bob Bradley called him up for a friendly against Sweden. It was his first – and last – cap with the U.S.
The stats and reality suggest that the odds are stacked astronomically high against White making the club this winter. As a 29-year-old who never realized his full potential, the painful truth is that players don’t become suddenly better at the edge of 30. Even after he was afforded a trials with Chicago and Philadelphia in the last two years, White couldn’t find a way to latch on with an MLS club.
In fact, in the eight years since he elected to go abroad, White has endured lengthy spells of inaction (he played in fewer than 10 games between 2004-05, fewer than 20 in 2010, and did not play professionally in 2011) that couldn’t have done much to help his form. And after failing to earn a deal with either the Fire or Union, the possibility that his best years have already passed is very real.
But, like many of the players Jay Heaps has recruited since taking the managerial post, White’s upside is enough to warrant a chance. He may not be the same college kid that the scouts salivated over almost a decade ago, but reports suggest that he hasn’t slowed a bit. And it’s been hinted that he can still deliver a dangerous ball.
Although Heaps may not be the most experienced talent evaluator, his focus on technical ability and conditioning may be an indication that White may have something left in the tank. Though the top prospect turned out-of-contract trialist may have failed to find a deal in the two years since his tenure in Poland expired, perhaps his current opportunity – one with a team in the midst of a rebuilding effort – is the perfect scenario for him to rejuvenate his career.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course. As a trialist, there is no safety net to work with. If he fails to make an impression, it’s likely that his pro career is officially finished.
However, if White finds a way to channel the God-given speed, then combines it with his ability to put through quality crosses, and somehow earns a contract out of camp, it would be a comeback of Disneyesque proportions.
Shortly after White left behind the opportunity to play stateside, the “what ifs?” naturally followed. What if White had chosen MLS over Europe? What if he had signed with the Revolution, and found himself in the same midfield as his 2004 draft classmate Clint Dempsey? What if the so-called “missing piece” the Revolution needed to lift the MLS Cup trophy in 2005, 2006 or 2007 was actually Jeremiah White all along?
We may never know the answer to any of those questions. But, who knows? Maybe, with a little luck and determination, we’ll get a glimpse of what might have been.