This story appeared in the Oct. 6 gameday magazine. Click here to view the complete magazine.
The adjustment from college soccer player to Major League Soccer rookie occurs rather quickly. Unlike basketball, football and hockey, in which drafted college players have time to rest and prepare between the draft and the opening of preseason, players drafted by MLS clubs have about ten days to move and begin preseason camp. Once in camp, the drafted players fight for a spot on the team against others with similar dreams.
With a contract signed and a place on the team secure, the real work begins: Fighting to gain playing time in a sport in which a maximum of 14 players see the field for each game. For a rookie, playing well in those rare opportunities is the best way to gain more chances. By all accounts, Dynamo rookie Warren Creavalle has played well in his twelve appearances: eight MLS games, two CONCACAF Champions League matches and once in both the U.S. Open Cup (at San Antonio) and the BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup (against Valencia).
In his nine months with the Dynamo, Creavalle seems to have found the perfect balance for a rookie: He is a humble player who works hard, but carries himself in a way in which he knows he belongs.
Creavalle’s impact as a rookie is probably a surprise to many. Despite a decorated college career between Furman University and the University of Central Florida, Creavalle entered the MLS Combine, a four-day showcase in which the best college players in the country play in front of MLS coaching staffs, as a relative unknown to many teams. The fact that Creavalle was able to participate in the combine is a story in itself. With the player showcase drawing near, he received an unexpected message.
“I had a hamstring injury, and I was actually sent an email that said I couldn’t go to the combine (due to the injury),” recalls Creavalle. “I had to talk my way into going. I had to pass a physical and get after it to get into the combine. At the combine, I had to pass another physical, and then I was set.”
Before the combine, Dynamo assistant coach Steve Ralston asked Munga Eketebi, his former coach at Florida International University, if there were any college players he thought may have flown under the radar and could be a surprise as an MLS-quality player.
“Warren was the number one name on his list,” said Ralston. “Going into the combine, I made sure to keep an eye on him, because I have a lot of respect for coach Munga, and he knows what it takes.”
With the Dynamo coaching staff monitoring Creavalle, the player was called upon to play midfield and outside defender and performed well, continuing to do something special in each game.
“We said, ‘You know what? He’s got something,’” said Ralston of the Dynamo staff’s thoughts on Creavalle at the combine. “And he played multiple positions at the combine, so we felt like he was versatile. We thought we would like to get a better look at him.”
Head coach Dominic Kinnear was impressed by Creavalle’s athleticism and competitiveness, which is no surprise, given his athletic family. Creavalle’s mom ran track in Grenada, his dad ran track and played soccer in Guyana and his sister, Ashley, also played soccer at Furman.
“He won a lot of his battles and no one seemed to get the better of him,” said Kinnear of Creavalle’s combine performance. “Every game in the combine, you walked away knowing that he tried, if not the hardest on the field, he was one of the guys that brought his complete effort the entire time, and I liked his attitude.”
Even after a strong combine, Creavalle had not done enough to impress the panel of soccer experts who draw up mock drafts in the days leding up to the SuperDraft. Only Travis Clark, formerly of MLSsoccer.com, projected Crevalle to be picked in the draft’s two rounds.
Creavalle earned his first league start on June 10, a road game at Vancouver in which regular defenders Andre Hainault, Jermaine Taylor and Geoff Cameron were away with their national teams for friendly matches. The Dynamo lost to the Whitecaps 3-1, but Creavalle showed well in his first MLS game.
Two weeks later, Creavalle enjoyed his most active stretch of the season, making three consecutive starts and three substitute appearances in an eight-game span in which the Dynamo went 5-1-2. One of his most inspiring performances came in Kansas City on July 7, when Creavalle entered as a substitute for the final 24 minutes and helped the Dynamo earn a 0-0 draw with several important defensive plays in triple-digit heat.
“It did a lot for my confidence,” says Creavalle of the Kansas City match. “Playing in front of that crowd and to contribute and do well for the team, that was really big for me. It set me up to get more minutes and give my teammates and coaches more trust in me.”
In an ironic coincidence, Creavalle’s strong play in July had some observers comparing the rookie to then-former Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark, who was negotiating a return to the Dynamo during the same period. The comparisons were simple: Clark and Creavalle both grew up near Atlanta, played college soccer at Furman and played defensive midfielder.
Still, in terms of pedigree, it is a stretch to compare a rookie to a player with 34 caps for the U.S. men’s national team, including starts at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Creavalle has heard the comparisons, and finds them partially amusing, and humbling.
“I have heard a lot of the comparisons (to Clark) and it is kinda funny,” says Creavalle. “I have already learned a lot from Rico and have been able to go under his wing and watch him play. I am definitely not upset with (the comparisons). It is an honor. It is good for right now, but I want to continue to make a name for myself.”
The 22-year-old has shared a room with Clark on some road trips since the two-time MLS Cup winner rejoined the Dynamo in August. The two have shared an easy bond, given their shared geography.
“I don’t like to compare another player to myself,” Clark says. “I think it is important for a player to develop his own characteristics and reach his own potential on his own path. Of course there are going to be some similarities (between us), but I think he brings a different style. He is very athletic, and he is starting to read the game well, and I think that will help him reach his own potential and his own style of play. If he keeps working hard, he has got a good career ahead of him.”
Early in his career, Creavalle understands the importance of fitting in among the veterans on the team.
“Being a rookie, you don’t want to be the loud mouth in the locker room,” he said. “You want to come in here humble and work hard and get after it and let your play show.”
Creavalle’s latest contribution came in Houston’s 2-0 win over New England on Sept. 29. After entering as a substitute for Brad Davis in the 89th minute, Creavalle earned his first career assist on Boniek Garcia’s goal.
“I have definitely been blessed to be in this position, but I am never satisfied,” said Creavalle. “I am happy that I’ve been able to make good strides this season, but I want to make more strides before this season ends and in future years.”
With Creavalle’s rookie season winding down, the man who drafted him is happy with his performance.
“I think he has had a good season,” said Kinnear. “I think every minute he has played he has deserved. He works every day in training and pulls the coaches aside and tries to do some extra things to make himself better. If he continues to show determination every day he steps on the field and wants to be open to improving, I think he is going to be a very good player in this league.”