Utility man Warren Creavelle rewarding faith from Houston Dynamo coaches
Five days in Fort Lauderdale last year changed Warren Creavalle's life, yet he almost never made it to the South Florida city for the 2012 MLS Combine.
Creavalle was so banged-up that he was unsure whether he would be allowed to compete in the annual five-day event in January that gives MLS clubs the chance to scout prospects ahead of the SuperDraft.
"At the end of the college season I pulled my hamstring and had an eye injury, it was a little rough," Creavalle told HoustonDynamo.com. "I went into a slide tackle and the defender got there first and drove the ball into my eye... I had to get cleared to go to the Combine, had to get fit for that, so it was a bit [difficult] leading up to that just to get to the Combine. Then I just had to get down there and perform."
Regardless of how well Creavalle could see during the Combine, the Dynamo certainly got a good look at him. The Georgia native out of the University of Central Florida was selected by Houston with the penultimate pick in the second round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
WATCH: Creavalle discusses first MLS goal
The choice has already paid off handsomely. Creavalle made twelve MLS appearances (five starts) last year in his rookie season. This year, he's underlined the importance of squad depth by scoring two key goals. And he's showing no psychological ill-effects from the bathroom mishap that saw him miss an hour of the pre-season.
Filling in at right midfield against the Vancouver Whitecaps last month for a side hit by absences due to international duty, Creavalle's first MLS strike gave the Dynamo a 2-1 win. Last Saturday, he came off the bench to replace the injured Adam Moffat against Toronto FC and headed in a 94th-minute equalizer that puts the Dynamo in buoyant mood ahead of Sunday's home game against the Colorado Rapids.
With the availability of Moffat and Brad Davis in question for the match at BBVA Compass Stadium, Creavalle could be in line to see more action. He's featured five times in MLS so far in 2013, providing an assist as well as those two goals. And the 22-year-old has already taken six shots - twice as many as last year. Both goals were opportunistic close-range finishes from corner kicks.
"On corner kicks we all have a role and on those two instances when I scored I was on the 'keeper and it kind of worked out that the ball found me," he said.
Said Dynamo assistant coach Steve Ralston: "Some people have that [knack], they find themselves in those spots... we put him there to be a nuisance, to pick something up and both times he's come away with very important goals for us."
The former United States midfielder's contacts in the Sunshine State were vital in the process that led to Creavalle joining the Dynamo.
"The first time we ever heard about Warren was through my former college coach [Munga Eketebi at Florida International University]," said Ralston. "I actually called him - we were doing a lot of recruiting - and I said, 'hey, is there anybody out there that maybe we wouldn't have seen or know about that could be a kind of surprise pick that we should keep an eye on?' First name he said was Warren Creavalle, a kid from UCF...
"Every game it was like 'hey, he did OK, pretty good'. He played a couple of positions while he was there, he played right back and defensive midfield and he excelled at both spots, we thought."
Creavalle has brought that versatility to his professional career and has been used in a variety of positions in defense and midfield by Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
"I think the best thing about him is his attitude, his work ethic," said Ralston, drawing a comparison with one of the Dynamo's most important veterans. "I think if you give him more time at right back he would do well there but I think his best position actually is defensive midfield. I think he's a lot in the mould of Ricardo Clark, another Atlanta guy - he just covers so much ground, he's got long legs where he can poke balls away, he works hard every day, he's getting better with his passing and more comfortable on the ball."
Creavalle said he is trying to improve his positional sense out wide. Right now he is just happy to be on the field, no matter where.
"I like being central a lot of time, being on the ball - but wherever I'm needed," he said. "You've just got to be ready whenever your number's called and take advantage of the opportunities you get."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.