Around noon Thursday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber will step to the microphone in the Philadelphia Convention Center’s grand ballroom. Unless a trade occurs, he will announce whom D.C. United has chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
The top selection in MLS will not revive a team like a first pick might in some of the other U.S. sports leagues. Clubs tend to rely on the MLS’s assortment of acquisition tools and the global marketplace to turn their fortunes.
Drafted players are hit or miss; historically in MLS, the No. 1 pick has been a miss. United understands that perhaps better than anyone.
Its previous three top choices have followed challenging career paths: a midfielder who lasted one season in Washington and overcame a personal setback to enter coaching; a striker felled by concussions who resumed his studies and returned to his father’s soccer roots; and a prodigious 14-year-old with worldwide fame who is seeking a fresh start after falling short of impossible expectations.
When Jason Moore’s tenure with United abruptly ended, he switched hotel rooms.
United was in South Florida for preseason in February 2000 when Moore was told poolside that he had been traded to Colorado. The Rapids were staying at the same hotel, so Moore’s relocation, for the time being, meant changing floors.
United had given up on him after one year because he had not developed as quickly as hoped. The club also faced salary cap issues, and Moore and coach Thomas Rongen hadn’t seen eye to eye.
“I thought I would play right away — it knocked me off my pedestal,” said Moore, 35, whose last MLS season was in 2003. “Physically, I was ready to take it on. In hindsight, with my maturity level, I was probably not ready.”
After winning a third MLS title in four years, United dealt him to Colorado for a 2001 first-rounder. Moore played two years for the Rapids before joining Chicago and then New England. His career was fading.
Settled in the Boston area, he got married, became a father and, despite tryout offers, shelved his playing ambitions at age 25.
A quiet life was soon interrupted by a legal entanglement. His wife had stolen more than $500,000 from the law firm where she worked as an office manager. In 2007, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. Moore had cashed some of the checks she had cut. His attorney at the time said Moore did not know they were stolen funds. To avoid trial, he accepted two years’ probation. The couple divorced.
Moore began rebuilding. He entered the sales force, but as his daughter began playing soccer, he rediscovered his love for the sport. He launched Moore Soccer Academy two years ago.
This winter, he was named head coach of Great Lowell United, an expansion entry in the National Premier Soccer League, a 72-team operation on the fourth tier of the U.S. system.
“My passion is to see these players excel,” he said. “Without the exposure, I don’t know if they would have a platform to build their college and pro careers. We’ll learn about each other and discover our potential together.”
More than four years since he last played competitively, Alecko Eskandarian still feels the effects of concussions that forced him to retire prematurely.
“It’s a daily struggle,” he said. “I manage it.”
Eskandarian, 31, says he relies on “positive thoughts and positive energy” and enjoys a normal routine. He lives in New York’s West Village and works as an assistant coach for a second-division pro team, the resurrected New York Cosmos.
Before joining the Cosmos last year, Eskandarian was a volunteer assistant at Virginia while finishing undergraduate work that he had suspended in order to turn pro seven years earlier. Next, he was named the Philadelphia Union’s youth technical director.
The Cosmos compete in the new edition of the North American Soccer League, which sits one notch below MLS, Eskandarian’s home for seven seasons with United, Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy. He posted 30 goals in 125 regular season matches, made two all-star teams and, with a two-goal performance, was MVP of United’s 2004 MLS Cup victory over Kansas City.
His first major setback came in 2005 in a collision at RFK Stadium. He did not return until the following season. Despite Eskandarian’s seven goals in ’06, United dealt him to Toronto to make room for incoming attackers.
His next serious injury came in a Galaxy friendly in summer 2009 when a ball struck him on the face from close distance.
Eskandarian clung to thoughts of resuming his career, but concussion issues steered him into the next phase of life. He re-enrolled at Virginia, and in June 2011, 101 / 2 years after first arriving in Charlottesville from Montvale, N.J., earned a degree in anthropology.
By joining the Cosmos organization, he shares the colors worn by his father. Andranik Eskandarian, now 62, arrived from Iran in 1979 and, for six seasons, was an uncompromising center back for the NASL’s marquee franchise.
“There is a whole lot of history with my dad and my upbringing, and what the Cosmos meant to soccer in the States,” Alecko said. “Being part of it now means a lot to both of us.”
Ten years ago, upon signing with MLS and joining United, Freddy Adu became American soccer’s most famous male player and, at 14, the youngest-ever pro athlete in U.S. team sports.
Collecting $500,000, he was MLS’s highest-paid player. He endorsed soda, soup and sneakers. He was billed America’s Pele.
Today Adu is a man without a team. After playing for nine clubs, the Ghanaian-born, Maryland-raised attacker is training in the Washington area while awaiting the next opportunity.
Adu declined an interview request. His agent, Richard Motzkin, said: “We are looking at various options right now.”
Why has he sputtered?
Those associated with American soccer do not like discussing Adu’s stalled career in public forums. Privately, they disperse widespread blame.
Anywhere else in the world, Adu never would have been tossed into the spotlight at such a young age; he would have been nurtured, without fanfare, in a youth development program for at least two years.
Critics also point to Adu’s handlers for overloading him with endorsements and appearances. They say United inhibited his natural attacking instincts. And they blame Adu for buying into the overblown hype and acquiring bad work habits that hindered development and caused friction with coaches and teammates.
Adu has never remained in one place as long as he did with United (three seasons). He scored five goals and exhibited crowd-pleasing footwork in a rookie campaign that culminated with an MLS title. But over time his relationship with the coaching staff soured and, after the 2006 season, he was dealt to Real Salt Lake.
He reached his goal of playing in Europe in 2007 when he signed a long-term deal with Portuguese titan Benfica. After a year, he was loaned to Monaco, then Aris (Greece) and Rizespor (Turkey).
He gained a fresh start with Philadelphia but failed to impress over one-plus seasons and was shipped to Brazil, where he made just five appearances totaling 135 minutes with Bahia. His contract expired last month.
Hope is not lost, however. As one of his confidants said: “He’s only 24 — that’s the crazy thing.”
Consider this: Ten years after choosing Adu, United on Thursday might select California defender Steve Birnbaum. He is just 19 months younger than Adu is now.