March 8, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – For Dan Withrow, it’s a dream come true … but it only happened after some nightmares.
In late January, the former Marshall star goalkeeper was only the third former Thundering Herd player to be selected in a Major League Soccer draft. But being drafted and really making it in the MLS are two very different matters.
“I tried not to think about it going through camp,” said Withrow, whose contract signing was announced Thursday by the Columbus Crew. “It was a nervy time. I didn’t know from one day to another whether I was going to make it.
‘”It was me and another guy (Samir Badr) battling for one spot, as the third keeper. I’d see him do something wrong and think I needed to do something right or make sure I didn’t do something wrong. It was a whole lot of nerves for me.”
Withrow had been a supplemental draft pick (No. 28, and No. 66 overall by the Ohio capital club). He was the 2012 Conference USA Player of the Year after a Herd-record 9 1/2 shutouts in an 11-5-1 season for veteran Coach Bob Gray.
The Rochester Hills, Mich., resident was invited to the MLS Combine (one of 54 players) in mid-January in Florida. He impressed there, and the Crew was looking for a potential third keeper behind Andy Gruenebaum and Matt Lampson.
Withrow actually signed his contract 10 days ago, but said it had to go through MLS-approval process. He wouldn’t reveal terms, but did say the deal “has options for multiple years.” Withrow’s agent is Patrick McCabe. The Natick, Mass., agent represents several top MLS players.
He’s only the second former Herd player to make an MLS roster, joining former keeper Taly Goode, who was a backup with the Kansas City Wizards from 2001-03. Withrow broke some of the MU records that had belonged to Goode, who is headed toward his fifth season as an assistant coach at Ohio State.
And while the Crew opened the season last weekend in California with a win over Chivas USA and stayed on the West Coast for Saturday’s game at Vancouver, Withrow has remained in Columbus “where 12 to 18 of us are working out every day. You can only travel 18 players.”
He said it’s been something of a whirlwind, reporting to Bradenton, Fla., right after being drafted, then going to Columbus, then returning to the Sunshine State – Orlando this time – for a couple of weeks of camp.
“I think what really helped me was my attitude,” Withrow said by phone from his Columbus apartment. “I got along well with everybody. I bonded with my teammates. In the locker room, I tried to be positive, because you hear how some guys can be a problem. I liked to see other guys do well.
‘I showed I could really be a good teammate.”
Withrow said he thought that Gray’s deep soccer connections really helped in that the Herd coach lined up Withrow’s training time last summer with D.C. United. “That kind of gave me a feel for what the MLS was like,” said Withrow, who finished his Herd career with 21 1/2 shutouts.
He said he never thought about his chance to be a Major League player until after his junior season, when he was an all-conference first team pick for a second straight year.
Now, he’s in the MLS, where the season runs March-October. But while Withrow likes where he is with the Crew – his new base is conveniently located between his Michigan and collegiate homes – he grasps his place with the Columbus club.
“It was almost, ‘just like that,’ I’m here,” he said. “But I’m kind of like the player-in-waiting. I understand that. I’m a No. 3 goalkeeper. I’m a guy who will let the others take me under their wing. We have a very established No. 1 guy in Andy, who’s great, and a solid No. 2 in Matt.
“I’ll stay home for all of the trips. I’m kind of like the emergency guy, but it’s a long season. Any foul, I might have to toe the line. I really have to pay attention.”
Withrow, 22, said the transition from Marshall and C-USA – a solid league in men’s soccer – reminds him of going from high school to college.
“I think you have to be able to slow everything down,” the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder said. “Honestly, it can be overwhelming, if you let it. It’s like going from high school to college, the game grows exponentially.
“It’s faster, very fast, and very big. This league has guys who are 6-5, over 200 pounds.
“You have to go in and tell yourself, ‘Don’t be afraid. You can do this’ And I talk to everybody. I’m here to learn.”