Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Next Level

The MLS Combine starts tomorrow in Ft. Lauderdale. And, beginning tomorrow, around 70 young men will vie to be among the 54 selected in the MLS SuperDraft next Thursday in Baltimore or the 54 additional selections made by MLS teams in the supplemental draft to be held five days later.

Two Terps leaving school, Matt Kassel and Ethan White, have already found a home in the MLS via homegrown player contracts with Red Bull and DC United, respectively. Another, Zac MacMath, will miss the Combine while playing for the U-20 national team, but has virtually guaranteed that he will be an early selection by becoming part of this year's Generation Adidas class.

Two other Terps, Jason Herrick and Billy Cortes, will be at the Combine along with Loyola Maryland's Geordie Phil Bannister, UMBC's Levi Houapeu, and James Madison's C.J. Sapong.

Of the players representing local schools at the Combine, the most hype seems to surround midfielder Levi Houapeu. But the one I am most interested in is Jason Herrick.

Avi Creditor has penned a nice profile of Herrick in advance of the Combine. The quote Creditor includes from Coach Cirovski is of particular interest:

"He reminds me a bit of a downsized version of Brian McBride," Cirovski said. "He's very good in the air for a smaller guy, very courageous. He's extremely competitive, the kind of player that players like playing with. He's so honest in the way he approaches his game."

I would second all of Creditor's analysis and commentary regarding Herrick. Creditor's piece, although concise, provides a fairly comprehensive review of Herrick's attributes. Nevertheless, I'll add the following: Jason Herrick is very good and will go into the combine as one of the more underappreciated, overlooked elite players in college soccer.

I make this declaration with some stridency because I was not a believer. In 2008, I watched Herrick play alongside freshman sensation Casey Townsend at Ludwig and shrugged. In 2009, I listened to people who know far more about the sport than me talk up Townsend's ceiling and did not fully appreciate a solid year for the red shirt junior. Worse, I developed an irrational disdain for Herrick's on-field persona and performance. Herrick worked hard, Herrick hustled, Herrick was intense. Herrick was the personification of a "coachable," "honest," "industrious" player (read: American) that stands in contrast to the gifted, mercurial, occasionally transcendent (read: foreign) player that puts fans in the seats.

And, so, going into this season, I didn't think much about Herrick and focused my attention on the immediate impact of Patrick Mullins and Sunny Jane and the development of Matt Oduaran and John Stertzer.

I probably was not alone, but I'm pretty sure Herrick did not care. Herrick came into the season a man possessed, noticeably stronger and singularly focused. Herrick cemented a leadership position on the field and responded to opponents' efforts to physically intimidate him and other attacking players by punishing them mercilessly.

My conversion was complete after watching Herrick make an incredible move that showed insane skill and also underscored the culmination of all the time and energy Jason has put into becoming a top class professional soccer player.

Tonight, I watched Michael Lombardi on Inside the NFL explain a Patriots philosophy of focusing on recruiting players that, first and foremost, love the sport and want to be the best at what they do. Obviously, having the skills to be the best is a prerequisite that must be met before the question of a player's drive and ambition is even broached. Herrick has the physical makeup and skill set to be a good player (while Herrick reminds Coach Cirovski of a "downsized" version of Brian McBride, I think a fair comparison is Bolton's Kevin Davies). But more than that, Herrick has the drive to be a great player.

Now all he has to do is show that he is one. Best of luck.

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