Top picks in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft include members of Generation adidas, the program that offers tuition grants to players who skip college ball or leave before completing their NCAA eligibility.
Roger Espinoza (Kansas City)
YOUTH COACH PAVES THE WAY
He grew up in the Honduran harbor city of Puerto Cortes, playing pickup games in the street and on bumpy dirt fields. But until he was 12 years old, when his family of eight moved to Colorado, Roger Espinoza never played on an organized team.
Colorado Storm coach Rafael Amaya, recognizing an exceptional talent, took Espinoza, who spoke no English upon his arrival, under his wing, guided him to a private school and on to a successful college career.
"I didn't know anything about junior college or Division I," Espinoza said. "He [Amaya] is the one who would tell coaches you need to ask this guy to come play for you. They never saw me play, but they took me because Rafael recommended me."
Espinoza helped Yavapai College and Ohio State to junior college and Division I national championship runner-up finishes, respectively.
"Playing on bad fields in Honduras really helped me with skills," he says. "When I came here and played on fields where the ball doesn't bounce away, it was easy to control it really well."
Espinoza had the kind of skills most coaches would recognize as optimal for a central midfield playmaker, but Amaya figured Espinoza would go farther if he developed into a more diverse player, so he started the left-footer out at left back, then moved him into the left side of midfield.
"Kids like that love to be the No. 10," says Amaya. "But if a young player gets to the pros and can only play in the middle, his chances of breaking in are slim."
Espinoza worked odd jobs and was a constant help on fund-raisers to finance his youth soccer expenses. His mother is a chef at a casino and his father works construction, but he was out of work for three years after an on-job injury that broke his leg in 27 places.
"I went pro because it's always been my dream and because my family needs the money," says Roger, who signed a Generation adidas contract with one year of college eligibility left.
Chance Myers (Kansas City)
PATEDORES AGAIN SUPPLY No. 1 PICK
For the second straight year, the MLS Draft's No. 1 pick came out of Southern California youth club Pateadores. Maurice Edu earned 2007 Rookie of the Year honors playing for Toronto. Now Chance Myers, picked by the Kansas City Wizards, aims to make an impact in the pros after playing two seasons at UCLA.
Edu and Myers played for Pateadores coach Mike Gartland, who also serves as their agent through Proactive Sports Management, although Edu was on an older team. Myers played with Edu's brother, Reggie, who plays at the University of Evansville.
Steve Shak, the top MLS pick in 2000, also played for the Pateadores.
Myers moved into a defensive position when he arrived at Pateadores after playing center midfield and forward for So Cal United.
"The team had a different structure and Mike Gartland put me at right back," says Myers. "But I love to get forward. I love to combine with the right mid, center mid and forward."
Myers says he was totally surprised to be the No. 1 pick ("I'd be happy going last"), but then he's long underestimated himself.
The first time he went to a traveling team tryout, after playing AYSO, he stayed in the car figuring he didn't have a chance until a coach cajoled him to the field.
"After Edu, I feel some responsibility to live up to being selected," says Myers. "But I am just looking to do what I can do."
Ciaran O'Brien (Colorado)
FROM A SOCCER FAMILY
His father's long professional career ended a couple of years before Ciaran O'Brien was born, but he still got plenty of early exposure to the pro game, thanks to his older brother, Leighton, a star of the USL-1's Seattle Sounders.
As a teen, Ciaran hung around with the Sounders and at times trained with them.
"Being around the game with my brother, being in the locker room with the Sounders - the guys were all my mentors -- it shows what a young guy has to do to make it in professional soccer," says Ciaran, who played two years of college ball, at the University of San Diego and UC Santa Barbara. "Now it's down to me."
(Ciaran's older sister Erika played college ball at Florida's Barry University.)
Leighton, 12 years Ciaran's senior, was league MVP with Seattle in 2002 and helped them win titles in 2005 and 2007. Ciaran and Leighton were coached by their father, Fran, an Irishman who played seven seasons in the North American Soccer League and whose three caps for Ireland included an appearance against England at Wembley.
"Everyone says if I'm as good as my dad was," Ciaran says, "I'll be a great pro. And that's the goal."
Fran was a busy, skillful midfielder who scored 32 goals in 175 NASL games after arriving in the league from Irish club Bohemians in 1978.
"Ciaran's a different player than I was or than his brother," says Fran. "but he's a midfielder who scores goals, and that's one of his greatest attributes."
Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
HIS FIRST WORD WAS 'BALL'
Asked about her son skipping college to enter pro soccer, Kirstin Shea-Brekken quickly interjects: "Delaying, not skipping."
Brek Shea, 17, was the second pick in MLS's 2008 SuperDraft, which he entered after changing his mind about attending Wake Forest University.
"The decision wasn't that hard for my dad," says Brek. "My mom, it took her a while." Charles and Kirstin are professor and senior lecturer, respectively, in Texas A&M's Department of Health & Kinesiology.
"It's very tough for me, especially," said Kirstin. "But I didn't realize he was playing at such a high level. I think he knows he's going to go to school later on."
FC Dallas-bound Shea, a 6-foot-3 defender/midfielder who left home at age 15 to join the U.S. Soccer's U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., shone at the MLS Combine before the draft.
Growing up in College Station, Texas, Shea had to commute to Houston to play elite club ball for the Texans, which he joined at age 11 after starting out with local club Brazos Magic. It was a 90-mile drive each way, up to three times a week for practice, plus games on weekends. Charles did the driving.
"Brek would do homework on the way down and sleep on the way back," says Kirstin. "The hardship was on my husband, but he loved it. He was very supportive from day 1."
Brek played baseball, swam and was on his high school football team before joining the Bradenton residency program.
"The first word he said was ball," says Kirstin. "His very first word. Before mom. He always liked to kick a ball around. He excelled at lots of sports, but had a passion for soccer early on."
(This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)