30 MINUTES OF OPTIMISM
Not too long ago, I wrote about a number of worries related to the development of US Soccer between now and 2010. In the build-up to World Cup 2006, seemingly everyone who had an opinion on the US squad railed on the lack of an answer on the right side of the midfield.
I recently saw a live half hour glimpse of the future, and the future was looking pretty good. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Quavas Kirk.
Okay, I realize it was only 30 minutes. I also realize that it was against a DC United team that looked like it was spending more time wondering when the playoffs were going to start than actually playing any defense against the Galaxy.
Still, I like to think I know the real deal when I see it and the 18-year old Kirk is going to be the real deal.
Why do I think he's going to be the real deal? Well, let's start with the fact that for once, I saw a young American player who didn't look like a strong breeze would blow him off his stride.
Even at 18 years old, the 6'1 Kirk looks more like an aspiring NFL wide receiver than someone whose next most likely athletic endeavor would be as a jockey.
Unlike most of the US players I've seen that have some substance to their frame, Kirk also has some speed to offer.
Matching up against the Energizer Bunny of the DC United midfield, Josh Gros, Kirk was a consistent threat on the offensive end of the AND, even more impressively, he managed to get back and help contain Gros on the defensive end.
Now, if you were hoping that we would find a tricky right wing in the Shawn Wright-Philips or Aaron Lennon mold that is going to break out a bag of tricks and embarrass his defender, well Kirk isn't your guy.
On the other hand, if you were looking for a two-way player who will get to the end line and find a way to get a cross in to what will hopefully be a strike force with some potency in the air, well then, Quavas holds a great deal of promise.
There was some irony in the situation that night. The man Kirk replaced in the Galaxy line-up is the guy who was supposed to be emerging as the answer on the right side of US midfield – Santino Quaranta.
Quaranta has actually done very well since his trade to the Galaxy. Like Kirk, Quaranta is also listed at 6'1 and is blessed with the ability, when healthy, to run at defenders and make things happen.
The other interesting comparison on display on that night was with Gros.
The hardworking DC United midfielder has started to get some recognition, not only for his effort, but for his ability to create havoc by beating his man to the touchline or cutting in at the top of the box and providing service to United's stable of offensive weapons.
The thing that has held Gros back is the perception that he is a nice MLS player with a limited upside. I'm not sure I completely agree with that assessment - if this summer taught us anything, it should be that there needs to be room on the MNT for at least one all-out effort guy.
Think then of Quavas Kirk as the evolutionary Josh Gros, capable of not only patrolling the entirety of the right side of the midfield, but doing so with more athleticism, a larger frame, and hopefully in time, more skill.
If you project him into the Premiership - the European league I'm most familiar with - you might want to use emerging star Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa or Seol Ki-Hyeon of Reading as points of comparison.
Kirk has the potential to be a nice combination of Agbonlahor's speed, work rate and crossing with Seol's size and, in time, hopefully his educated footwork. The South Korean isn't quick but seems to get the job done on a regular basis.
It would be great to see Kirk get a shot with a team in England that needs some width on the right. Unless he has a European relative that I'm not aware of, it might be a while until the Home Office is willing to approve his work permit.
In the meantime, if you think about what the opportunity for a tall, powerful, fast right winger in the Premiership: Boro, Charlton, Fulham, Manchester City, Sheffield United, Watford and Wigan all may have a need that Kirk might be able to fill after a year or two of regular starting at the MLS level - and, fingers crossed, the resultant US call-ups.
If you're a fan of US Soccer and want to catch a glimpse of the future, I urge you to catch the Galaxy live or on TV if you get a chance.
I know I'm prone to jumping on bandwagons early (I also like David Arvizu and Marvell Wynne), but with a proliferation of smaller guys (Adu, Beasley, Convey, Donovan, Nguyen, Feilhaber, et al) likely competing to fill out the US midfield, it seems critical that Quavas Kirk join the group of successful alums of my bandwagon jumping habits.