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Nyarko, like others, needs time to develop
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist

Freddy Adu is a perfect example of how young soccer talents need time to become big-time players in MLS and elsewhere.

 

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Published: 7/8/2008 3:20 PM

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In the NFL, first-round draft choices are expected to make an immediate impact.

In the NBA, first-round draft picks are likely to be key cogs for their team.

In MLS, first-round picks are just happy to see first-team action occasionally.

Look around MLS this season and you will be hard-pressed to find one first-round pick who has been a key player for his team this season, even including players who spent a few years in college.

Many fans expected forward Patrick Nyarko to be the top overall pick in February's SuperDraft, so when the Fire took Nyarko seventh out of Virginia Tech, the team thought it had a steal.

What it didn't say was it hopes Nyarko will be a productive member of the team in coming seasons - but probably not this season.

So far Nyarko has played in two MLS games for the Fire, a total of 32 minutes.

So why bother going to college?

Aurora native Quavas Kirk skipped college to go straight into MLS. Now in his fourth season in the league, Kirk, 20, has no regrets.

"No, not at all," said the D.C. United forward. "It definitely worked out for me."

He's not starting for United and has only played 57 minutes this season, but at least he's traveling with the first team. More important, he's training with professionals every day.

"This is my fourth year now, and my level of play is definitely raised up," he said.

It was tough being a teenager on the field with grown men, but "you just gotta shake that off and get out there and play your best," Kirk said.

Freddy Adu turned pro at age 14 and is now starting to realize the high hopes many soccer watchers held for him. He is 19, playing for Benfica in Portugal and becoming a regular with the U.S. national team.

Skipping college isn't for everyone. Consider the cautionary tale of Santino Quaranta, Kirk's United teammate. Quaranta, now 23, was 16 when he turned pro.

In the current issue of Soccer America, he talks about how he nearly died due to drug and alcohol abuse. He tried to grow up too soon and wasn't ready for the life of a professional athlete.

Meanwhile, Nyarko is slowly making the adjustment. He didn't join the Fire right after the draft, staying at Virginia Tech to finish school.

"We didn't really have him full time until the middle of May, so it's kind of hard, and then when we got him he was injured, so it makes it a little harder to say he should have more playing time," Fire coach Denis Hamlett said.

So what about college soccer? Are players better off turning pro early?

"It depends. Some players are ready for it," Hamlett said. "It's like every other sport. You have to do your homework and scout these guys. See if this guy is ready to step in and help your club, then you make the selection. There are a lot of kids who left early and went 'Generation adidas' and 'Project 40' and have done well and some that didn't do well. It all goes back to doing your scouting."

Generation adidas players, who enter MLS before finishing college, are popular in the SuperDraft, even if they're not ready to play right away, because they are paid peanuts. They do, like in predecessor program Project 40, get money to pay for college classes.

Does going to college hurt a player's chances in the pros? After all, the NCAA limits the college season, and college rosters aren't necessarily filled with the best-skilled players, a point Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner makes over and over and over again.

"The kids are still playing soccer, and that's what they need to be doing," Hamlett said. "You'd like to see a longer season for them in the fall where they play more games, But for now this is what's there, and hopefully they can in the springtime and summer get on a (developmental) team so that now they get closer to playing year-round soccer."

The bottom line is, no matter the route, it takes time and patience to become a true professional.

oschwarz@dailyherald.com