In college and in MLS, Kansas City Wizards center back Taylor Graham has taken advantage of his playing time. This Saturday he will likely find himself in the middle of a showdown with the Los Angeles Galaxy for supremacy in the Western Conference.
Even though his 6-foot-4 frame is imposing on a soccer field, Graham has never cast an overwhelming aura. He was a walk-on at Stanford University where he became a two-year starter. And it wasn't until the fourth round of the 2003 Major League Soccer draft that the Wizards came calling, making him the 33rd overall pick.
"I just want to play," Graham plainly stated. Indeed, the now second-year developmental player has taken full advantage of his increasingly frequent playing opportunities to raise the eyebrows of Wizards boss Bob Gansler.
Rarely used at the start of the season, Taylor received his first significant minutes when he entered a pressure-filled match against the defending league champs in the unforgiving confines of San Jose's cozy Spartan Stadium.
"I was thrown in vs. San Jose [replacing Shavar Thomas in the 35th minute]. It felt great to be out there. The guys made it easy," said Graham about his June 26 debut, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
It's not easy, however, to make one's way through the professional ranks - especially when one starts near the bottom - but the 24-year-old Graham has learned to be flexible.
"There has been an adjustment period - like college. You have to adjust to the pace and style of play. But being a developmental player is good because we are allowed to adjust," he stated.
Being flexible and blessed with height, Graham already possesses two traits that coaches often relish. But along with that is the approach he takes to the game despite his relative inexperience - something that made him reliable enough to throw into the fray for the final quarter-hour last Saturday in Dallas, despite the Wizards going a man down holding on to a slender lead.
"I try to keep it simple - win the ball and give it to the playmakers. I try to stay in a good position and give the other team no opportunities," Graham said.
Graham started and played the first half in the midweek Open Cup match against Atlanta, and he's the likely replacement in central defense for the suspended Thomas this weekend. But he's aware the weekend league match will provide a much stiffer test as the streaking Wizards try to overhaul the one-point lead the Galaxy hold in the West.
"Saturday is an important match that will require a lot of concentration of me and the other defenders to contain Ruiz and Kirovski. We will need to position ourselves where we won't be exposed."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.