Plenty of athletes try to follow in the footsteps of a successful older sibling. Mark Sherrod made one of the smartest decisions of his life when he decided to forge his own path in a different sport.
As a teenager, Sherrod decided he would never be as good a swimmer as his brother and gave it up to focus on soccer. Swapping pool for pitch proved a shrewd move when he flourished as a striker at the University of Memphis. The Dynamo took notice and selected him with the 13th pick of the second round (32nd overall) in this year’s SuperDraft.
After an impressive preseason, head coach Dominic Kinnear immediately called the 23-year-old into MLS action, bringing him on as an 89th minute substitute in each of the first two fixtures, the home wins over the New England Revolution and the Montreal Impact.
Making his debut in the season opener in front of a full house at BBVA Compass Stadium was beyond Sherrod’s expectations. “I was very surprised but I’m really excited that happened. It was like an ongoing thing—walking into the stadium was amazing, warming up was amazing, and everything getting up to that white line and subbing in. That’s a dream come true,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
“He's worked hard in preseason, played pretty well. But no charity, I think he's earned the couple of minutes that he got there and good for him, he's been playing well so far,” said Kinnear last week.
Sherrod said it came as a complete surprise when he was drafted by the Dynamo. “There was tons of mock drafts online and it was always different teams, but not one linked anything to Houston, so it was a huge shock—but it was a great fit,” he said. “I look at all the stats and everything, this team has done so well it’s unbelievable. It’s been a constant winning program down here. Great city, great people, great team. I’m really excited.”
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee—a state not renowned for producing elite soccer players—Sherrod scored 42 goals in 71 games for the Memphis Tigers over four years. He was named Conference USA player of the year after finding the net 19 times in 18 appearances in 2011. There was pre-draft speculation that he would end up with the Portland Timbers, having played for their under-23 side in the Premier Development League.
Standing 6 feet 3 inches and strong in the air, Sherrod figures to be a powerful physical presence and a threat when the ball is played high into the penalty area. That could prove useful for the Dynamo given Brad Davis’ pinpoint delivery on crosses. And while he would readily admit that he is far from the finished article, Sherrod’s work-rate and ability to hold the ball up should make him an asset defensively as well.
His timing is impeccable: two players from 2013 with similar skill sets, Cam Weaver (now with Seattle Sounders) and Brian Ching (retired), are no longer on the scene. Will Bruin and Giles Barnes seem set as Kinnear’s first-choice strike partnership, but if Sherrod continues to develop it looks like he could be a solid option off the bench.
Since Ching is one of the top American strikers of the past decade it is hardly surprising that Sherrod cites the Dynamo icon as an inspiration. “He definitely was someone I always kept a close eye on just because the way he played is similar to me,” he said.
“I strive to try to play like him—someone who’s good in the air, someone who can play with his back to goal, so I just try to emulate him as much as I can. Whenever I was growing up and I first started hearing about the Dynamo, all I ever heard was Ching. So I just kept watching him and it was unbelievable, I learned a lot.”
As for choosing soccer above swimming: no regrets. “I was playing soccer in the fall and spring and in summer I’d swim. Football never worked out, I played a little basketball but it didn’t work out and swimming was the only sport in the summer that you could play and not have it interfere with soccer. I loved it and I did it since I was four or five,” Sherrod said.
His brother, Will, is four years older and swam at the University of Tennessee. “Growing up it was between soccer and swimming for me,” the striker said. “My brother was an unbelievable swimmer in Knoxville and I couldn’t quite live up to his hype so I chose soccer and haven’t looked back.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.