It's been quite the two-month journey for the New England Revolution's two selections in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
Jordan McCrary and Michael Gamble have gone from bright prospects out of the University of North Carolina and Wake Forest University, respectively, to preseason trips in Arizona, to their first professional contracts. In fact, both are still settling into their apartments, with McCrary vying for a spot as an outside back and Gamble looking to earn minutes as an outside midfielder.
While neither made the gameday roster for the season-opening 3-3 draw at the Houston Dynamo, they're in no way struggling to impress.
"They're both guys from really good college setups, but there is a learning curve getting into MLS with the speed of play," said Jay Heaps, head coach of the Revs. "They're both signed guys and have had really high moments and good moments that have stood out, and now it's a matter of us and them working together to make sure they stay consistent. It's continuing to have good trainings to build up the ability to play in games."
Photo by: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
As Heaps mentioned, training sessions are invaluable for McCrary and Gamble, as they're still adjusting from the collegiate game to the professional one. The 22-year-olds have realized the importance of learning moments big and small, too, as they're no longer star players.
Both effuse humility and a willingness to improve, though, so the learning curve is welcomed with open arms. McCrary, a first-round selection, recognizes he can't rely on his athleticism like he did in NCAA play, meaning his focus has to turn elsewhere.
"It's just basically consistency and speed of play," the Georgia native said of what's stuck out the most. "Being able to play at the highest intensity every day with bigger, stronger players who have been in the league for some time already and are already experienced. It's just trying to get my own experience and learn the game more."
Gamble, a second-round selection, echoed the same sentiments, but also highlighted some of the smaller details of his last two months. He confessed the path towards earning a contract was "stressful," as much energy was spent on earning the respect of the players and coaching staff.
The former Deamon Deacon star added there was an adjustment period in transitioning from a life full of class, dorms and practices to one where training sessions, gym work and meetings are the only requisites. A welcomed lifestyle difference, Gamble remarked the biggest change has been learning from all the experienced players in front of him.
He's looking to improve his game defensively and in possession, but said Jose Goncalves, Diego Fagundez and Steve Neumann have all guided him in various ways.
"Jose has always been talking to me about playing midfield and having time to turn because that's what a midfielder's job is," Gamble said. "I'm playing on the same side as Diego and he's been the league for five, six years now, so it's watching him play and seeing how he does. Neumann's always pulling me aside and said, ‘This is the position I played in my rookie year, so here's what you have to do offensively and defensively.'"
Looking ahead, neither draft pick is going to be rushed into the starting lineup, as the Revs have the luxury of depth and experience in every position. And there's also the added bonus that New England has traditionally developed draft picks well, as Andrew Farrell, Kelyn Rowe and Neumann have grown into prominent roles.
Still, that doesn't mean either player is content with waiting in the wings long term, as McCrary said he's eagerly awaiting his debut.
"I'm super competitive, so I want to be on the field as much as possible as soon as a I can," the outside back said. "But at the same time there is a learning curve and I do need to keep on progressing and learning as much as I can. Until that time comes, I'm just going to keep on learning and figuring out my game."
Gamble echoed the same sentiments, as he's not rushing anything. However, if he or McCrary are called upon, they know they'll be prepared for whatever role is asked of them.
"The biggest thing is patience," Gamble said. "I'm a rookie so there's still a lot of things to learn, and luckily there's a lot of great players in front of me. ... It's a long season, people are going to need breaks, there are injuries that happen and whenever my time comes this season or next I'm going to be ready for it."