Murphy-Clavijo reunion great for Rapids

For each of the three days of the MLS Combine, John Murphy has been wandering around both the rain-soaked fields of The Home Depot Center and the Torrance Marriott hotel lobby wearing simple black adidas warmup tops and jackets. The fact that he has just signed on to become Fernando Clavijo's top assistant with the Colorado Rapids is no secret by any means. But with it not being official yet, he's not wearing the colors of his new club in Denver or from his now former employer in Columbus.

"It just happened last week, and we signed on Friday right before coming out here," says Murphy, who was Clavijo's goalkeeper coach with the New England Revolution for two seasons before Steve Nicol replaced him during the 2002 season. "It all happened kind of fast, so my head is still spinning a bit."

His move to Colorado is the second he's made in two years, as the affable Quincy, Mass., native was hired by Greg Andrulis last January as his second assistant. While Murphy and his family enjoyed the Columbus area and they saw themselves being there for an extended amount of time, getting this sort of promotion was too hard to pass up.

As Clavijo's right-hand man, Murphy will help run trainings and only work with the goalkeepers on occasion, which is a change from his first five years in the league as an assistant with both the Revolution and Crew when his primary duties centered around the 'keepers.

While he's leaving a side that had the top record in the league last season and went an unprecedented 18 games without losing a match during the middle of the campaign, Murphy believes he's walking into a good situation.

"When I came to New England in 2000, they were coming off a poor year," he said. "And when I got to Columbus last year, they were coming off a season where they didn't make the playoffs. This team [Colorado] made the playoffs last year, and there's a lot to build on."

Of course, the first player Murphy pointed out he's excited to now have on his side is Joe Cannon, who he said is probably the top goalkeeper in the league.

"He's the spine of the team," said Murphy, who has been fortunate enough to train goalkeepers such as Juergen Sommer, Adin Brown and Jon Busch over the past three seasons alone.

When looking at the Rapids roster, Murphy mentioned young players like Matt Crawford, Kyle Beckerman and Nat Borchers as players he's admired from afar and thinks can really step to the next level in the league over the next few seasons. But for him, the real treat seems to be working with Clavijo again, as the two see the game the same way and have collaborated on a couple of excellent draft picks during their time in New England.

"When we were together, we got (Taylor) Twellman, Shalrie (Joseph) and Marshall Leonard in the same draft," he said.

Ah, the draft. Now we're talking. When it comes to the annual guessing game that is the MLS SuperDraft, no coach in the league has quite mastered it the way Murphy has in years past. While he was with New England, Murphy ran the team's draft and did the majority of the scouting. In a league where teams do no have full-time scouts, the members of each coaching staff have to squeeze it in throughout the year, which isn't always easy. Much of Murphy's success has come from seeing players perform on several occasions with their college team -- not just once, like many do - in order to make sure he wasn't catching players on either a bad night or in the midst of the greatest games of their career.

"You have to get to a lot of games - there's no way around it," said Murphy. "My wife can attest to it, believe me. It's a lot of blood, sweat and tears at times, but it can be worth it. My job is to get my fingernails dirty and then get a short list to Clavijo."

Considering Murphy can also include the likes of Pat Noonan, MLS 2004 Rookie of the Year Clint Dempsey and a few late-round gems such as Andy Dorman and Felix Brillant to his resume, everyone will be watching what the Rapids do with the seventh selection on Friday at the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.

"It's a top-heavy draft with a lot of quality to be found in that first round, so I know we'll be getting a solid player," he said. "The real key is finding the players out there later on in the day that'll be this year's Stevie Ralston (late second-round pick in 1996) or Kevin Hartman (late third-round pick in 1997)."

Those finds in the later rounds are players that might not necessarily be out here at the MLS Combine, but rather seniors from little-known programs who he scouted in person this season. Since MLS is expanding the rosters and adding the reserve league this year, those type of selections will have time to progress a bit during the spring and be more important than ever both in the third and fourth round of Friday's draft and during the four-round supplemental draft later this winter.

"The reserve league is going to make it more efficient to develop players," said Murphy, who added that the Rapids reserves will be coached by Steve Trittschuh. "Once they get four or five games under their belt during the first half of the season, a lot of those players will come on and make a difference for a team in the second half of the year.

"So it makes the draft even more important this year."

And it makes Colorado's hiring of Murphy all the more timely and something that could pay dividends in less than a week.

Even if he doesn't have a Rapids jacket yet.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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