Austin Berry, The Soccer Don the first and last time they will meet!
For whatever crazy reason I ended up driving to KC. It wasn't always meant to be that way. At first I was going to fly, then I was going to travel with other like minded lunatics, then that all fell through and here I was traveling on my own during the first real snowfall of the winter season. Awesome.
Things started out well on the road. I made great time to Davenport, Iowa. Had a solid skillet (Ultimate if you must know) at the Country Inn, washed it down with a few cups of coffee and I was back on the road. I felt great about making it to Kansas City sometime around 1 AM. Then it got cold. Fast. Roads iced up and a command decision had to be made. I ended up staying in Des Moines, Iowa with three hours of road to go in front of me.
At this point you would expect me to go on and on about how hard I prepped to attend this draft. The hours of effort I pumped in so I would be able to defend my "journalistic integrity". Screw that. I know nothing about college ball and like it that way. Plus I thought I should go as prepared as 90% of all the other MLS scribes in attendance. Knowing nothing except for what other people had told me. That is THE dirty secret of MLS draft coverage. Only a few people are any good at rating players. Most of those people are scouts that work for MLS teams so public knowledge is even worse than you would expect it to be. Everybody reads Ives, but that guy barely watches most MLS games what makes you think he, personally, can pound out some serious draft prep? Not me.
Another issue is that, historically speaking, the MLS draft is a crap shoot. Go ahead take a look at all the former overall top selections. You will have plenty of "who?" moments in there. Recent memory should tell you all you need to know. Recall the Fire's 2010 draft if you will. Sean Johnson was taken in a round that no longer exists (the 4th) while Corben Bone went in the first. There is a huge difference in those players actual levels of production and it certainly isn't based on where they went in the draft.
So you must be wondering why did you go if this was just two rounds of playing a slightly more educated version of the lottery. Because I wanted to that's why. I wanted to watch the scribes at work, to see the machinery work at one of MLS' show case events. Oh and of course the ever hilarious Hans Backe will he or won't he subplot that always happens for important league events.
I'm up. By 4:30 I'm on the road determined to get to Kansas City. At this point I'm beginning to question my decision making process as the realization starts to set in that I'll have to start this drive all over again later today. Still I'm ONLY three hours away from my final destination and the roads are significantly better. I power through the pre dawn morning hours.
I pull into my original KC destination around 7:30. Pick up James Coston and head for the nearest waffle house. Eggs, toast, sausage, and coffee all follow. It tastes significantly better than it should. James and I talk about the draft, we are both excited for the day at hand. Quick Hot Time trivia note: this is the first time James and I have met in person.
After some minor issues finding parking we finally manage to get into the KC Convention Center. It looks like every other convention center ever built. Conference rooms for miles, blue carpet, and oddly placed ATM's. We have to ask a few times where the ball room is. Both answers can be summed up as "keep walking that way you'll find it eventually". We do. Press credentials are secured and we find a spot behind one of the curtains in the press area.
I fire up my laptop and start with a bit of "prep". In this case prep consisted of going to talk to the Fire contingent that was already at the drat. We talked for a bit and then I went to wander around. The ballroom was laid out with tables for each team. I was able to walk around and see a few of the tables up close. Nothing all that special but the presentation of it was nice with a ball with each team's logo was on the front of the table. I spent some time eavesdropping on the RSL table. There team consisted of Garth Lagerwey, Jason Kreis, and our old friend CJ Brown. Plus there were some other folks there that I didn't recognize. Another ex-Fire player, Andy Williams, was there in some capacity for RSL as well. Nothing much came of the eavesdropping. Things were getting ready to start so I headed back towards my laptop so I could start making bad jokes about the draft.
We quickly realize that Hans Backe has indeed not shown up to the draft. This is really shocking. Every single coach and GM from every other team made it. Where is Hans and why does he think he is more important than everyone else? I'm not kidding about this: a fine and perhaps a suspension should be forthcoming. It is one of the few occasions the league brings everyone together. Yet this middling coach of a slightly below average squad can't be bothered to show. Ridiculous. Look if Bruce and Sigi can show, so can Hans.
As Don Garber was working on his French in front of the ESPN cameras the oddly shaped head (don't worry the rest of him came along too) of Sunil Gulati showed up at our press table. "Is that Don speaking French?" he asks in semi shock to no one in particular. "Hey look its Sunil pretending to be involved with the Revolution how cute" I thought to myself and unfortunately did not tweet. How one of the most powerful men in US Soccer can tolerate being associated with one of the sorriest franchises in MLS I have no idea. Yet it continues to happen and it isn't really much of a topic of discussion. Sunil sort of disappears into the background from this point forward. For a man with such a strange cranium it is indeed odd that he could hide so easily.
The picks start coming. I recognize the names. Things are fun on the twitters. Everything is flowing along nicely. I am thankful that I don't have to listen to anyone with the last name Lalas or Twellman today. The best thing about driving 10 hours one way to go to the draft is that you successfully avoid the ESPN broadcast. To say I am not looking forward to ESPN games this season is a vast, vast understatement.
The Fire select Austin Berry. James is flying around, getting photographs, playing the part of journalist to the hilt. We go up to talk to Berry. He is a well spoken, relatively large man. He exudes a bit of confidence and it is very evident that he is most pleased to be a member of the Fire. His responses are short and to the point. Brevity!
The rest of the first round is a bit of a blur. Nothing real eventful happens. No deals, the only player that people are universally excited about is the kid that RSL picked up late. And only because he "fell". Falling in this draft of course is a relative term. Most of these players are going to be solid squad guys. There may be a few stars that pop out of the woodwork but the best US talent is already long gone by the time college hits these days. Home Grown signings, European and Mexican teams have seen to that. Hard for me to really muster the excitement as we go later in the first round.
Like all professional drafts anything after the first round is more fun. You get the back up guy to the commissioner announcing picks (Dan Courtemanche), you get hilarious names being selected (Lucky~!), no one has any damn clue about any of these guys (outside of the very few). Some guys are actually in attendance and will show up on the podium to talk and they are universally over excited and nervous. It is significantly a lot more fun if you ask me.
For those wondering, this year saw a preponderance of agents being thanked in the post-selection talk. Sometimes God got the rub but in this economy it seems that many young players would rather have good/great agent on their side than God. Can't say that I blame them. Girlfriends were thanked but only a few by name. Make of that what you will. The second round picks were a bit more keen on thanking God than their agents. Which follows as who knows what is going to happen in that round.
After all the Fire selections were made we got a chance to talk to Frank. Frank looked tired. Bags under the eyes and looking in desperate need of a nap. He answered our questions professionally and in depth. Frank is an easy guy to talk to. Ask him a question and he will talk for a few minutes. Ask him a question that could really be a yes or no answer and he will go on for a few minutes. It is surprising when he answers a question quickly. As our time with Frank was winding up James asked him about the supplemental draft. Frank was, surprisingly, caught off guard. He looked befuddled and didn't immediately dive into an answer. It was a very amusing moment.
After the draft ended the press was still around getting their articles typed up and onto the web. Many people were buried under headphones and deep in concentration. Twellman showed up in press row. Yapping loudly at Kyle McCarthy. "Have you seen big red?" he bellows then quickly disappeared into another room. I was thankful.
Shortly after that I packed up and headed out. To long of a car ride yet in front of me to stay and watch James type his article.
Let's just say I made it while only stopping for gas and food. It was long, full of ice and snow but I returned back to my second story apartment hidden in the wilds of Kenosha in one piece. I consider this an achievement of great import but the story is only exciting to me and contains the phrase "and then there was ice on the ground" a lot. Thus I will spare you the details.
I found the draft to be an interesting experience. It was a well produced affair and it comes across better in person than it does on TV. Video packages were shown for most every player (mostly from the combine but edited together with college footage as well) and each team had video packages running before their pick. MLS really deserves some kudos on this.
I'm sure I missed a whole bunch of stuff from that day. My twitter feed, @merwin_6 may shed a bit more light on it but if you have any questions or thoughts on the day feel free to hit me up with them.
I'll be back sometime with an article about something.