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Armchair Analyst: Hoping Renken has a happy landing

31 January 8:34 pm

Armchair Analyst: Hoping Renken has a happy landing

By Matthew Doyle

In the history of US youth soccer, there are three absolute stand-outs, guys who were so can't miss that they made coaches, teammates, scouts and – especially – agents giddy at what the future would hold.

First was Claudio Reyna, who turned down Barcelona to play at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s.

Next was Landon Donovan, who won the Golden Ball at the 1999 U-17 Youth World Cup.

And then there was Charles Renken.

(No, Freddy Adu was not in this group. While considered a very good prospect, most serious scouts and managers didn't consider him to be "can't miss.")

Renken was as polished a prospect as they come. In the 2007 Nike Friendlies against Brazil, the midfielder – then just 14 – didn't dribble circles around the Samba Boys. He didn't explode out of the pack at a gallop, displaying a sprinter's turn of pace.

Instead he just feinted, the ball glued to his foot, and slipped a pass to a teammate. Time and again three yellow kits would close around him; time and again he'd slip Joe Gyau or Stefan Jerome through. Renken was possessed of an otherworldly ability to handle pressure, a sort of soccer aikido that you're either born with or not.

This was the American Xavi. Every team in the world wanted him, and wanted him badly.

Then he blew out his right knee in a training session. A year later, he did it again.

It's been three years since that second ACL injury, and now Renken has slipped quietly through the waiver wire to land with the Portland Timbers. 1899 Hoffenheim let him go for nothing, and 18 MLS teams passed on the chance to sign him on a free.

Does that mean he's broken beyond repair? That the Timbers ponied up for damaged goods, similar to how Chivas USA brought John O'Brien in for a cup of coffee in the 2006 season?

I don't know – no one really does, and no one really will until the kid has some time under his belt in the Rose City.

But we can hope. This isn't just for Timbers fans, or US fans; it's for soccer fans. Renken has the kind of talent that everyone can enjoy, the ability and preternatural gifts that make you think "This is why I love this game."

That's what we saw on the field four years ago against Brazil. If the soccer gods are kind, I'd love to see it again.