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Making Most of a Cold Chance
Schramm Puts Best Foot Forward, Tries to Make United's Roster

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ricky Schramm was up early yesterday, dashing out of the rowhouse he shares with five Georgetown classmates and into the bitter morning cold to get to campus.

His destination was not a classroom, but a bus stop in front of the dining hall where the university shuttle collects those needing a ride to the Rosslyn Metro station just across the Potomac. Schramm could not, under any circumstances, be late, for if he wanted to preserve his dream of becoming a professional soccer player, he had to get to RFK Stadium promptly.

Without a car, public transportation was his only option. The rush-hour ride on the Blue Line took 21 minutes, the brisk walk from the station to the stadium another five or so.

"I was maybe 45 minutes early," he said. "I didn't want to take any chances, not for this. I got here, that's what mattered."

Selected by D.C. United in the third round of the MLS draft, Schramm will spend the next few weeks balancing academic and soccer pressures as he attempts to earn both a degree in English and a roster spot on the league's most decorated team.

Unlike most other American pro leagues, being a third-round MLS draft pick carries few perks and just as few guarantees. And many players who manage to stick on a roster begin their careers making less than $20,000 a year and will work a second job.

Schramm will commute to RFK every morning this week -- getting to the Metro via shuttle or bike, or by driving straight to the stadium in a borrowed car -- then accompany the club to Bradenton, Fla., for two weeks of workouts and exhibitions.

Although he was the Big East offensive player of the year in 2004 and finished his college career with 39 goals and 15 assists, he faces long odds of making United's 28-man roster. A menacing striker for the Hoyas, Schramm probably will have to prove himself as a competent flank player to make the cut in MLS.

"He's got an engine and can move pretty well," Coach Tom Soehn said. "We'll see. It's still a bit of question mark as to whether he can hang in there and make it."

If he does make it, the payoff will be anything but lucrative. Schramm likely would be offered a developmental contract worth as little as $12,900.

The low salary "does go through my mind, and that's probably the main question I get from all my friends who are going to make almost six figures in their first year," said Schramm, who guesses he would pursue a job in sales or banking if he does not land a pro soccer contract. "I'm just saying to myself, 'Money should not be your first priority.' The realities are pretty harsh, but I've been given a chance and I have to take advantage of it."

Schramm had to work hard just to get noticed. Despite an excellent college career, the Westchester County, N.Y., native was not invited to the MLS scouting combine. To attract interest, he produced a 6 1/2 -minute highlight DVD and shipped it to every MLS team.

"You have to market yourself," said Schramm, whose mother works in public relations. "It's not football or basketball, where everyone knows your name."

United and the Los Angeles Galaxy were curious. Schramm, 21, paid his own way to California before Christmas break for informal workouts with the Galaxy, which in turn promised to select him in the supplemental draft or invite him to training camp if no other team claimed him.

United offered a tryout as well, and was impressed enough to draft him 37th overall on Jan. 12. The club then arranged for him to practice indoors with current players until training camp opened.

"He's been pretty low key so far -- he's putting his head down and doing a lot of hard work," veteran midfielder Ben Olsen said. "It's nice to see."

As he begins his MLS undertaking, Schramm will attempt to finish his academic endeavors. In anticipation of a pro soccer opportunity, he crafted his schedule so he would need to take only two four-credit courses this semester. He didn't have class yesterday, but he'll miss his British Theater class this morning, as well as on Thursday and Friday. He will be able to attend Oceanography tonight.

When he's in Florida with United, though, he'll be studying on his own.

"We ironed everything out after I got drafted, and now it just comes down to teachers not getting too annoyed with me," said Schramm, who has a minor in Spanish. "They are saying they are going to cooperate with me now, but I'm hoping later they're not saying, 'This might not work out.' "

If any other team had drafted him, he said he would have postponed getting his degree to report on time.

"I can't tell you how awesome it is for it to happen here," he said. "There's a lot of class to be missed, but I am so lucky because there are guys who are in a tough situation. It's hard to tell a pro team, 'Oh, is it okay if I show up in June?' I'm trying to pursue soccer as long as I can."

Yesterday, Schramm joined United for a 90-minute workout in frigid conditions on the training grounds outside RFK. He was one of the few to not wear sweatpants.

Having trained with some of the D.C. players in recent weeks, Schramm said he felt comfortable in yesterday's formal setting. "Those workouts helped because you can assert yourself vocally on the field," he said. "You're not some twit yelling at them. They already know you."

So how'd he think he did in his first official appearance?

"I had an okay day," said Schramm, who, during a drill with miniature nets, scored a goal from distance. "I'm fine offensively, but playing out wide, I have to learn my defensive responsibilities. I got better as the day went on."

With that, he got changed and made the cold walk back to the Metro station.

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