For New England Revolution rookie Andrew Farrell, much has been made of his journey to this year's MLS SuperDraft, and of the pressures of being the number-one pick.
All that is behind him now, though. Farrell has been a Revolution player for 18 days, and he just returned from his first professional camp in Casa Grande, Arizona. After ten days and two preseason games, the young Louisville product has gotten a taste of what playing soccer for a living is really like. According to head coach Jay Heaps, though, it's still just a taste.
"It's been a week, two weeks, so he'd better not be thinking about what kind of camp it was," said Heaps. "He's still in the midst."
For his part, though, Farrell knows he's got a lot to learn. The defender's youth comes through when he speaks, but it's the humility beyond his years that is truly striking. Despite being named the consensus best prospect at the combine, Farrell didn't go the Gyasi Zardes route and brag about his talent.
Instead, Farrell remained focused on honing his craft and learning from the veterans. He obviously has a ravenous appetite for knowledge, something that will serve him well throughout his career, as well as during his rookie camp.
"As a rookie, you just want to go in there and learn as much as you can," he said of his first pro camp experience. "It's been really helpful learning from the center-backs and from all of the players. [A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Jose Goncalves, Darrius Barnes] and all the back line guys, everybody's been helpful."
Farrell wasn't eased into the action in Casa Grande. In the team's first preseason match, he was thrown right into the fire, getting 60 minutes of time at right-back and center-back during the middle and final segments of the game. Farrell was an integral part of the team's efforts to shut down Sporting Kansas City's high-octane attack.
In the second match, Farrell was forced into more action than originally planned. An injury to Soares created a center-back void that head coach Jay Heaps tasked the young rookie with filling. He saw 61 minutes in a tough 4-1 loss, but Heaps was still impressed with his performance.
"He did excellent," said Heaps. "I thought he was a good, calming presence on the ball. Defensively he made no errors, and when he makes a ball forward, it's a smart ball forward. It's never a ball with three guys up a guy's back; he's really smart with how he does it."
The glowing reviews don't phase Farrell, though. His opinion of his own performance was perhaps a bit more critical.
"I think I did all right," he said. "I think there's obviously things I can improve on. I'm just trying to learn every day from the veterans."
Grande Sports World in Casa Grande is set basically in the middle of nowhere. There are soccer fields, well-appointed gym facilities, and a hotel; after that, it's nothing but desert and scrubland. It's not exactly a vacation hotspot, but for a professional training camp, it's ideal to maintain team focus.
For Farrell, it was an abrupt introduction to the realities of the professional level. He was immediately hit not only with the differences in play, but the differences in coaching, too.
"At the end of the day it's about a business," said Farrell. "You want to win, and you want to be successful. But also, [the coaches] teach everybody. It's not just the rookies, but everybody's learning day in and day out. That's what you've got to do to be a successful team."
The Revolution held two training sessions each day, with a focus on fitness and team integration. Apart from those sessions, there wasn't really much for the players to do to pass the time.
Part of that was by design. With no distractions, it was up to the players to find ways to amuse themselves around the complex, something that tends to foster bonding among the players. Plus it was a lot easier for the team to stay focused on the task at hand when the option to go do something else was absent.
"I read and watched movies, but there was basically nothing there," Farrell said. "We went to a movie one night as a team. That was good, though, we got to get away and just play soccer, that's what we're focused on and that's what we're paid to do."
Just under three weeks into his career and Farrell already has that professional mentality, that knowledge that now the game he's played and loved his entire life is a job. That sort of maturity is often rare in a prized athlete, especially a number one pick in any sport.
Farrell's humility and maturity is something that has been touted since before the draft, but it's still striking to see how genuine it is in person. Apparently he had a similar effect on his new teammates and coaches, as Jay Heaps was quick to point out.
"It's never easy being the number one pick and the pressure that can go with that, so first and foremost I like the way he fits in with the guys," said Heaps. "He's a locker room strength. He's humble so he knows that he may get a good ribbing here and there, but he takes it well. And I think that's step one when you're a rookie, is the integration of the personality.
"Step two is now showing your strengths on the field."
After two solid performances in Casa Grande, it looks like Farrell is well on his way to demonstrating that he has what it takes to make an impact on this team in 2013. Tucson will be the real test, but after getting through his first experience as a professional, Farrell seems well-equipped to handle it.