Making the Crew: Not meant to be

My professional soccer career ended almost as quickly as it began. Early Saturday morning my dream began as I made my way to Obetz, handed over my $50 (which goes to the Columbus Crew Foundation) and took part in the Crew's open tryouts. By early afternoon it was all over for me.

Following two sessions under Crew assistant coach Mike Lapper and three of his associates, I was shown the proverbial pink slip. I'm sure John Wolyniec just breathed a sigh of relief. But even though I won't be suiting up for the Crew anytime soon, the experience is one I will always remember.

The day began at the ridiculously early hour of 7 a.m. ET, when registration began. I signed a waiver form, turned in my money and got a lovely bright yellow T-shirt with a Crew logo and the slogan 'Got soccer?' on the front. Instead of wearing printed numbers pinned to our shirts like a marathon runner, the folks in charge wrote a big '42' on the top of it with a magic marker, thus deeming it forever unwearable. Then again, how often do you see anybody wearing a bright gold shirt anyway? If you're outside of Crew Stadium, not too often.

Around 8 a.m. we finally got started. The coaches each took a group of about 15 players and led some casual warm-ups consisting mainly of jogging and stretching. I had a feeling that Lapper had his eye on me already, as I am among the greatest hamstring stretchers in the world.

Just as I suspected, the tryout started with some basic drills. The skill levels ranged from very high to fairly low. It was obvious that some players had been playing the game at a decently high level for some time, while others were more amateur.

We moved into some small-sided possession games after that. It brought me back to my days of U-10 soccer -- you know, the kind where every kid on the field rushes towards the ball and kicks as hard as they can, kicks each other as hard as they can and everyone moves around the field in one big herd? Yeah, it was like that.

When one of the assistant coaches called for a break in the action, I used the opportunity to shout out to my teammates that we needed to try to spread the field and use all of the space. The aforementioned coach thanked me for speaking up and told us all that he was about to say precisely the same thing. It was the highest praise I would receive all day.

Things got a little better, but it was still very sloppy. The field -- being soaked with rain from Friday as well as covered with morning dew -- began to give and before long large chunks of grass were being kicked up and mud patches formed.

To close out the morning session, we were split into four groups for some shooting. With a massive amount of people in each group, we all spent much more time standing in line than actually taking shots. In the entire 10-15 minute exercise, I ripped a whopping total of four shots.

After a break during which I ate a sandwich and defrosted in my rental car, it was time to get back to work for the afternoon session. I was looking forward to it since the coaches said this workout was going to be more about playing and less about drills.

We split into four groups again and each group then split in half and played against each other. Two of the four games were played towards full-size goals with 'keepers, a third had two small goals on each end, while the last one was a simple possession game, but in a tighter space than in the morning.

I thought I played pretty well in the afternoon, though it was difficult to really get in a rhythm. The games were each about five or six minutes long, at which time we would rotate to another station. It felt like once you and your team were finally figured out who was playing where and who was marking which man, the game was whistled to an end.

I saw time in virtually every field position during the afternoon. I felt fine on either wing and up front, but I've never been a great defender. I'm good at keeping a shape and organizing, but 1-v-1 defending hasn't ever been my strongest suit. I served a few nice balls from each side, played simply and quickly and even tucked a couple of balls into the net, Edson Buddle style. I hoped the coaches noticed.

They didn't.

Lapper brought us all back together following the afternoon session and read out the numbers of about 15 guys to return to the last workout of the day. I was a little surprised when '42' was not on his list.

Regardless, I had fun and enjoyed letting the competitive juices flow again. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be for me, at least not this year. Maybe I'll just go into coaching instead. With all the 'interims' in MLS, there might be more spots there anyway.

Jonathan Nierman, to his dismay, is still a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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