Feb. 27, 2013
By TY OSBORNE
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
If you weren't one of the 164.1 million to tune into Super Bowl XLVII earlier this month, know that you missed witnessing a former Marshall football player, Omar Brown, complete the rare feat of earning a championship ring in his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens.
Brown rounds out an elite class of former Herd players who have moved on from Huntington, W.Va., to play professionally worldwide. In the past two years, Marshall has had two football players, four men's basketball players and 10 baseball players signed to play with professional organizations around the globe.
Looking to add to the mix in men's soccer is Daniel Withrow, the 2012 Co-Conference USA Player of the Year. A goalkeeper, Withrow became the third Marshall player to be drafted after being picked as the 28th selection of the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft (66th overall) by the Columbus Crew.
It was a blur of a day for Withrow, who became the first Marshall player to be selected in the draft since 2006. Jeremy Ashe was selected 46th overall by the Chicago Fire in 2006, while Byron Carmichael was taken 60th overall by the Kansas City Wizards in 2003.
"It's a tough day," Withrow said. "You don't know if or when your name will get called. The supplemental draft happens so fast. A guy gets picked and then 30 seconds later another guy gets picked. You just don't know ... there is so much being in the dark involved with it, but then there is so much relief that comes off when you finally see your name picked."
It's relief that comes not only from being picked to play in the highest-caliber professional soccer league in the United States, but also to being selected by the team that he wanted.
"For me, Columbus was the perfect spot," Withrow said. "It was unbelievable to see that they actually gave me a chance. It's three hours from my house in suburban Detroit and three hours from Marshall. Two of the most important places in my life are well within distance if I ever need to get to one of those places.
"I can still see my family and still go back and see my friends at school. That was really important to me. I didn't want to be all the way in Vancouver, for example, miles away from anybody I knew. Having a little comfort zone is really nice."
A native of Rochester Hills, Mich., Withrow was in transit between his two favorite places when he heard the news. It turned out to be the most exciting drive back home he had ever had.
"I was actually in my car driving back to Detroit from Huntington," he said. "I spent the weekend in Huntington, just hanging out with some friends after the MLS Combine, unwinding and having some fun after a long week. The draft was on Tuesday so I was driving home and following it on my phone. It had a live feed and I was listening to it as I was driving. I heard my name get called and I was like `finally something went well.' After that I got tons of phone calls and text messages and all sorts of stuff from friends and family."
Just as quickly as the day flew by, Withrow turned around and was on a plane heading to Orlando, Fla., to start preseason training with the Crew. Spending 18 days in the Wide World of Sports complex located in the heart of Disney World, Withrow is fighting for a spot as one of three goalkeepers on the Crew roster.
"There are two goalkeepers on the roster and then there is me and another guy trying to get the third spot," he said. "This preseason trip is a big tryout really. I'm not a signed player yet, so hopefully things work out."
The beginning of training consisted of two-a-day sessions, but as the team sums up preseason with exhibition matches in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, Withrow has been able to take more time to relax and build relationships with potential team members and reflect on the whirlwind of this past month.
"It's been a pretty easy transition," the former Marshall star said. "I'm one of 10 rookies. I don't stand out and the older guys -- the veterans on the team -- have been really warming to everybody new and old on this team. It's a family atmosphere, everybody likes each other and everybody gets along. It's not like being a freshman in college. We have to carry all the equipment and all that stuff, but as far as everyone getting along, it's been really easy and made for a fun trip to Orlando so far.
"Now since we are playing games, we will have one training in the morning and then have a lot of downtime. There is a lot of team bonding on these trips, which is good because we had a whole new crop of guys added to the team and you have to be able to like the guys you play with it. It's important and a key ingredient to a good team."
It seems the team's bonding is paying off because the Crew is clicking in the Disney tournament, going 3-0-0 in the event and 5-1-0 in preseason play overall. Withrow has seen the field on two separate occasions in the preseason, playing second halves against the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls.
As preseason training starts its last leg, the three-time All-Conference USA selection has picked up the daily routine with ease, but said the change of pace in practice sessions has been one of the biggest surprises.
"It's really intense, but as far as goalkeeper training, it's a lot more about technique and everything is not 110 percent and a thousand miles an hour -- which is good," Withrow said. "I'm not complaining about that, I just thought it would be a faster pace. But that's not what they are about here.
"They figure everyone is coming into shape. Everybody can do what the other guy can do. It's about perfecting and working on the little things. If you had a game the day before, you try to take something from that game. You try to tweak it and try to perfect it in the next training session."
But perfecting the small things is something Withrow appreciates. He has been privy to the same style by what seems to be his greatest secret weapon entering roster selection time -- Marshall coach Bob Gray.
"Every drill that we did as a team, whether it be at school or here, has been the same thing," he said. "Bob [Gray] has been around the game for many, many years and he knows all the MLS guys. What he does for us in training at school, you know you're going to see that at the next level.
"It's hard to know that if you don't get to the next level, but now that I'm there, I know that we do the same things. We learned the same things and he is preaching the same things. Just perfecting the little things - it's a lot of talk, a lot of technique, and just training over and over again."
Now it seems the waiting game has begun again for Withrow as roster selection looms near. The Crew will be playing in the Disney Pro Classic Championship on Feb. 23 and round up preseason training season with a friendly in Greensboro, N.C. against the UNC Tar Heels. After that is the start of the MLS season, with a match on March 2 against Chivas USA -- and hopefully on the road trip will be one Daniel Withrow.