Being versatile isn't just a positive trait for a professional soccer player, it's a life advantage.
For the Kansas City Wizards, developmental player Brian Roberts provides his team an option on the back line for a number of scenarios. He has provided himself with an option for life as a potential medical student and eventual doctor if this soccer thing doesn't work out.
"He's usually our first guy off the bench anywhere across the back line whether you've got to put him wide right to close a game out and move [right back] Nicky [Garcia] in or put him in at center back, whatever it may be. He's versatile," said Wizards assistant coach Brian Bliss.
"He's done it in training, and he's earned that right to be the so-called No. 1 guy off the bench in the back to close a game out. If we ran into some injury problems, he'd still be the first choice. We'd reconfigure, somehow, to get him in there."
Being the top back line sub for one of the strongest teams in MLS is currently sufficient to keep the books at bay for the 22-year-old Roberts, who knows the task ahead of him.
"I think that I'm a little up and down, but I'm working my way into the 18. I'll have a good reserve game one day, then the next day not so good. I need to be more on an even keel at a high level and do the little things right every time," Roberts said. "That's the difference in being in the reserve games and being in the full games."
The four-time All-Ivy League selection from Yale has yet to earn substantial time with the first team (playing only 16 minutes in three matches), but being on the substitutes' bench for the last four games, including two road matches, is an accomplishment.
According to Bliss, Roberts needs to achieve in reserve matches and training before he sees more first team minutes.
"I know he's shooting for the first team, but he's also got to get it done in training and the reserve games," Bliss said. "As far as the reserve games go, it's been a mixed bag for him. I think he'll be the first to tell you. [The reserve match in] New England was a mediocre one for him. We conceded four goals, and three of the four were off of errors of guys in the back rather than New England breaking us down and making us look silly."
The 6-foot-1 Roberts certainly has the physical tools to become an effective back in MLS.
"He's got the speed, and he's got the upper body power. He can handle the tall, lanky guy if it's an air duel, and he's good with the shorter, quicker guy who can cut and turn and sprint," Bliss said.
"His shortcomings would be that he has to be more consistent with his distribution of the ball. He has to be more consistent in making that pass into the midfield third or into the final third that helps us maintain possession or gets us in there with some possession. He just needs to mold the technical with the physical, and I think he'll be fine."
Roberts is a conscientious student of himself, fully aware of his own strengths and areas of weakness, a trait cultivated when earning his undergraduate degree in psychology.
"Defensively, I'm hard to beat one-on-one. I just need to work on other parts of my game," said the Laverne, Calif. native. "[The difference from college] has been speed of thought, reading the game, and positioning. Everyday I get better, so that's been my goal."
Continuous personal introspection is imperative to excel in any field, and that is how Roberts will know when, and if, he will pursue his doctorate.
"I just have to re-evaluate after each year. If it's not going well, then I'll go back to school," he said. "I'm taking my shot here, and as long as I do well, I'll stick with it."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.