While the Wizards international signings get all the glory (and the press), Kansas City’s core of emerging young players may truly decide the fate of this year’s squad.
Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, Michael Harrington and Chance Myers -- all first-round SuperDraft selections -- average exactly two professional seasons each. Only Besler and Harrington have ever started more than 20 games in a season.
But unlike Kansas City’s bevy of offseason international arrivals, all eight are familiar with the structure of Major League Soccer as well as its players, referees and all the other intricacies that make the league so unique.
With all four capable of being on the field at one time and three odds on favorites to compose three-fourths of the defensive line, Kansas City’s developing talent figures to have an enormous impact on the Wizards success in 2010 and beyond.
Matt Besler (D, eighth overall pick, 2009): The youngest of the four in professional terms, but only Harrington is older than the 23-year-old.
After making 26 starts between center and left back in 2009, the Kansas City native will pair veteran Jimmy Conrad in the center of defense until someone unseats him this season. That’s unlikely considering the poise and leadership he has shown during this preseason, just his second as a professional.
Besler fits the mold manager Peter Vermes is looking for: athletic, aggressive and quick with the ball. If Besler can follow up an already impressive 2009 with a similar year this season, there’s no reason not to mention him in the same breath as fellow 2008 selections and defensive standouts Omar Gonzalez and Kevin Alston.
Roger Espinoza (D/M, 11th overall, 2008): If early-season indications hold true, Espinoza will be given every opportunity to make the Wizards left back spot his own in 2010.
To say this is an important season for Espinoza is a gross understatement. The Honduran is battling for a spot the Catrachos’ World Cup roster after making 10 international appearances in 2009 and scoring three goals.
He is also still attempting to establish himself as a professional. A few rash red cards overshadowed a strong rookie campaign, and Espinoza split time between Kansas City and national-team duty in 2009. Now it’s time for the 23-year-old to show his talent on a week-to-week basis in MLS.
If he adapts to his new position quickly, the Wizards will have a true attacking presence at left back and Espinoza will have a summer trip to South Africa to look forward to.
Michael Harrington (D/M, third overall pick, 2007): The third of the precious trio that will partner with Conrad to make up Kansas City’s back line, Harrington has had plenty of ups and a few downs since being drafted three seasons ago.
On one hand, the North Carolina product started and 27 games his rookie season and all 30 matches in 2008, scoring five goals and recording six assists in the process. On the other, Harrington’s starts dropped to 17 last season and he didn’t score, although he did have three assists.
Harrington has looked lively and active pushing forward in Vermes’ high-pressure attack this preseason. The skill is clearly there. Now, he needs to capitalize on the faith Vermes has put in him and catapult himself into the discussion about the league top outside backs.
Chance Myers (M/F, first overall pick, 2008): The wild card of the group. He could be the surprise of the league this year, or he could spend the season languishing on the bench.
Much of it will come down to whether or not the 22-year-old -- and youngest of the group -- can stay healthy. Myers missed most of the second half of 2008 with mononucleosis after making seven early starts. To make matters worse, he made only six appearances last season after being set back by a broken toe suffered in the preseason.
The former No. 1 draft pick seemed to have a chance to start the season as Vermes’ first-choice right forward, but a hamstring injury derailed Myers' chance of seeing the field in the season opener.
He is still not 100 percent, but his speed, skill and passing ability have shone through during the preseason and goals have followed. Myers can also play almost any position on the field, though he figures to compete for Kei Kamara for time at right striker.
The UCLA produce is largely a mystery to most MLS fans, but if Myers can stay on the field consistently in 2010, he'll show why the Wizards drafted him No. 1 overall.