Connolly: Another road to MLS

Kyle Beckerman and Seth Trembly -- in MLS.

His father Renato was all for his son going pro, as he had played the game professionally in Brazil, Portugal, Canada, Spain and in the U.S. with the Rochester Lancers and New York Arrows. But his mother, Sherri, was urging him to get his degree first. This despite the fact that her father, Bernie Rodin, had been an owner of the Arrows and Lancers, as well as the Baltimore Blast.

Going to college won out, with Duke winning the recruiting war. The Blue Devils were helped right away upon his arrival in the fall of 2000. Yet, despite the fact that he scored 13 goals and added nine assists as a freshman, it wasn't as easy for him as many would have predicted it would be.

"He definitely went through a transition process," said Rennie. "As a college freshman, he was playing against kids two and three years older all of a sudden."

Not only was Cila now playing a game that was much more physical than he was used to, he was playing in a system that was much more direct, which utilized Duke's outstanding speed and athleticism.

"It was a different style than I was used to with the 17s," said Cila. "We moved the ball around and played one- and two-touch. When I got to Duke, there was more of a physical, workhorse mentality. It took some adjusting to."

He was helped by Ali Curtis, then the reigning Hermann Trophy winner and a future MLS pro, and Robbie Russell, who now plays in Norway for Sogndal, both of whom took Cila under their wing. But his biggest adjustment took place off the field. In Bradenton, his whole life was soccer. His classmates were his teammates and his teammates were his classmates. They lived together, trained together, traveled together and hung out every waking hour. They had the best of everything, and were treated as such.

At Duke, soccer is important, but it doesn't even touch the frenzy that exists around campus for the basketball team. Plus, he now was away from the sheltered environment of Bradenton, which made easing into the collegiate world of parties and girls and late nights tougher than what many average high school kids go through each fall. In other words, he now had freedom.

"It was such a lifestyle change," he said. "It's tough when all your friends go out at night, but you can't because you have a game in two days. At residency, there were no decisions like that because we all were on the same page."

Over the next three seasons, Cila was gradually moved from forward to the midfield. At times, he played in the middle of the field. At other times, he played out on the flank. It was during this time that his profile went down. He was no longer a part of the U-20 national team, as he was even as a 17-year-old, and was not being hunted down by MLS officials trying to sign him as a P-40.

"He had been a pure forward his whole career, so moving positions took him a while to adjust his game to," said Rennie. "His goal-scoring went down because of it."

It went down each year, in fact. From 13 goals as a freshman, to eight as a sophomore, six as a junior and three as a senior. But his overall game was aided, as he became more of a playmaker with much better vision than he entered college with, and an improved ability to handle the physical play that is needed at the college and professional levels.

Unfortunately for Cila, the eight assists he recorded in his senior year didn't result in an invite to the MLS Player Combine in January. Not being able to perform in front of coaches from each of the 10 teams really put him behind the 8-ball for being drafted later that month.

"It was really disappointing, because I needed to be there," said Cila. "It was pretty surprising. I had figured that I'd be invited, and I knew that if I got out there that I'd be able to play well enough to get drafted. After I wasn't invited, my name kind of fell off the radar."

When all six rounds of the MLS SuperDraft passed without hearing his name, Cila had his agent call the Rapids. He was banking on Hankinson extending him an invite to tryout since he'd played well with the team when Beckerman and Trembly were able to get him into a few of the team's training sessions over the summer while he prepared for his senior season. The Rapids coach was all for taking as look at Cila, but he would have to pay his own way. More than likely, he was probably just doing the kid a favor without any real interest or inkling that he would make the squad.

However, Cila would soon change Hankinson's mind. From his first day with the club, he had the confidence that he could play at that next level, and was able to shine right away playing in his former role as a forward. In a late February exhibition match in Florida, the 5-foot-10 striker scored two goals to lead the Rapids to a 6-1 win over the U-20 national team. That led to sticking around for another round of cuts and accompanying the team on their preseason trip to Spain in March, and ultimately, a spot on the roster as a developmental player.

"I've played pretty well lately," said Cila. "To coach Hankinson's credit, I had a pretty good week last week. So it's nice to know that if you play well you get rewarded."

With forwards John Spencer and Zizi Roberts hampered by injuries, Cila has quickly moved up the depth chart and once again might have a chance to enter the lineup off the bench this week against Friday. Not a bad deal for a player who wasn't drafted less than four months ago.

Actually, life is pretty good for Cila these days. He's not breaking the bank -- developmental players make around $850 a month -- but he's living with Gary Sullivan, his old club teammate from his youth days in Long Island with Commack United Deerpark United, and in housing that the Rapids make available for a minimal rent each month. And now that his 60-page honors thesis is finally done, Cila doesn't have to return from practice and write every day as he has done for the past two months.

"Now I'm able to focus completely on soccer," he said. "And I've seen an increase in my game right now. I'm looking forward to trying to reach my peak, and a higher level that I was at before I went to college.

"I might have been at a higher level if I had chosen to go pro right away, but that's a sacrifice I had to make."

Cila's graduating with honors from one of the best universities in the country, and is living his dream as a professional soccer player at the still relatively young age of 23.

Doesn't sound like such a bad sacrifice after all, does it?

Four quick ones

Questions for Chicago Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch

Funniest player on your team: Evan Whitfield.

Funniest player not on your team: Josh Wolff, Kansas City Wizards.

Last great book I read: The Wind-up Bird by Haruki Murakami

Where you were when you first got called into the U.S. national team: Cooking in my kitchen.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet. Send any questions to Marc at shaketiller10@yahoo.com.


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