Sometimes you want to shake some sense into Eddie Gaven, the MetroStars‚Äô 17-year-old MLS All-Star midfielder.
Don‚Äôt you know U.S. soccer phenoms are supposed to brag about making it big in Europe someday? ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think about Europe too much,‚Äù says Gaven, a Hamilton, N.J., native. Don‚Äôt you know you‚Äôre supposed to take that salary and buy some real wheels, not a Pontiac Grand Am straight from the Avis lot? ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to waste money on a car,‚Äù he says with a laugh. Don‚Äôt you want to forget about college instead of slaving away on business-degree papers during road trips? ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want to stop doing the school thing just because I was in MLS,‚Äù says Gaven, who is pursuing an online degree from American Intercontinental University.
Gaven isn‚Äôt your typical soccer prodigy--but he is the player who heads the list of teenage prospects for the 2006 U.S. World Cup team. (The U.S. starts the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in Jamaica on Aug. 18.) ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs got tremendous ability with the ball at his feet, and he wants to learn,‚Äù MetroStars coach Bob Bradley says of the 6-foot, 145-pound Gaven, who had four goals and six assists in 19 games through Saturday. Adds U.S. coach Bruce Arena, ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs headed in the right direction. He could help the national team, whether it‚Äôs this year, next year or in five years.‚Äù
In a league that‚Äôs growing younger--MLS has 13 teenagers, an alltime high--Gaven is fast becoming the model for age-group stars trying to develop into top professionals. Since his MetroStars debut in July 2003 he has steadily improved his field vision, his strength (especially in his legs) and his confidence to take on defenders. What‚Äôs more, he‚Äôs done it without any undue fanfare. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs earning his reputation instead of just telling you how good he is,‚Äù says Kansas City Wizards defender Jim Conrad. ‚ÄúAnd unlike most young guys, he‚Äôs consistent. For him to have that level of professionalism at a young age is impressive.‚Äù
Much of the credit, Gaven says, goes to his daily education in the game. Most mornings Bradley pulls him aside to discuss a particular play that the two watch on videotape. ‚ÄúHe knows I‚Äôve set the bar real high for him,‚Äù Bradley says. Gaven‚Äôs teammates have also embraced him, nicknaming him the Gavel--a play on his surname--which has morphed into the Judge. (Captain Eddie Pope calls him the Professor, after the playground hoops trickster and Gaven look-alike on the And 1 Mix Tape Tour.)
It certainly helps Gaven‚Äôs adjustment that he‚Äôs living at home in Hamilton, where he returns most days to have lunch, listen to some of his favorite punk rock and work on his college degree. ‚ÄúEddie has always been extremely self-motivated,‚Äù says his mother, Janet, who notes that he taught himself to play the piano and writes his own music. Although many college-age players never take advantage of the up to $37,000 that the MLS‚Äôs Project-40 development program offers, Gaven has already bagged 72 of the 180 credits he‚Äôll need to earn an accelerated four-year degree by December 2005. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not too hard,‚Äù he says, ‚Äúexcept sometimes when you‚Äôre on the road, and you need to get on the Internet to do the work.‚Äù (He has a solid 3.58 grade point average.)
After two years in the U.S. under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., Gaven has enjoyed his homecoming, as have his parents, who attend his games at Giants Stadium, the same place his father, Ed, a former Rutgers player, took him to see the 1994 World Cup and stars like Carlos Valderrama and Marco Etcheverry during the early days of MLS. Now Eddie--who made his U.S. debut to positive reviews against Poland last month--is one of the players young fans come to see. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pretty wild, isn‚Äôt it?‚Äù he says. ‚ÄúEverything has happened so fast, I haven‚Äôt taken the time to think about it.‚Äù
Smart kid, that Gaven. When you‚Äôre 17 and shooting up the pro ranks, maybe you‚Äôre better off not asking why.
More in Store
Here are three other young U.S. prospects who could have a role by 2006
Conor Casey, forward (right). Age: 23. Club: FSV Mainz (German Bundesliga). The big (6'1", 170 pounds) target forward set a record for Yanks abroad by scoring 14 goals for second-division Karlsruhe SC last season.
Jonathan Spector, defender. Age: 18. Club: Manchester United (English Premier League). The confident backliner drew praise during Man U‚Äôs recent U.S. tour, and he won the club‚Äôs young player of the year award while playing on its reserve team last season.
Zak Whitbread, defender. Age: 20. Club: Liverpool (English Premier League). The American-born Brit got time with Liverpool‚Äôs first team during its U.S. tour and was solid for the Yanks in the under-20 World Cup.