Figuring Out Jeb Brovsky

With apologies to Jeb Brovsky, this is literally the only picture of him I have. He really is a mystery man.

I don't know about Jeb Brovsky. I really don't.

On one hand, I don't like the kid. He's not particularly athletic, which isn't a huge problem in central midfield but is something you notice. He's not quick, not agile, doesn't jump terribly well. A whole lot of "average" right down the board for him, physically. And this might not be so glaring if his positioning wasn't so irredeemably awful. In two games as a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps, the rookie has shown an almost uncanny ability to be in exactly the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. It's getting to the point where I want to give him one of those ankle tracking collars they force on paroled criminals just so I know where the bastard is.

Then, just as I'm ready to leap out of my chair and go to work on his knee like he's Nancy Kerrigan, Brovsky will get the ball, step past an opposing midfielder with surprising smoothness, and knock a pass to a forward I didn't even realize was open. Not huge, defense-splitting passes, but sly little touches that keep the offense moving. Terry Dunfield passes, you might say, except with a little footwork that means he can get into slightly more effective positions. And I say oh, I understand now. Jeb Brovsky isn't Jonathan McDonald, he isn't Cody Arnoux. He has a point. He has eyes and feet and even if he doesn't quite know how to use them yet, it seems like there might be something there. The beginnings of quite a good soccer player.

Then the ball starts coming the other way and Brovsky's in Coquitlam, throwing me straight into murder mode.

What am I supposed to think about a kid like this? Seemingly plenty of technical possibilities, moments of quite impressive play, but then he'll completely balls it up and be unable to recover. He tackles like a maniac and I don't mean that as a compliment; partially because he's so desperate in terms of his positioning but partially because I think that's just how he rolls. I can't decide if he's a poor young player who will someday be a good one, or if he's a decent young player who'll never get any better. I just don't know. More than any other Whitecap, Jeb Brovsky just confuses me.

In an ideal world, this wouldn't be an issue. Brovsky would be playing reserve games and learning the ropes in a somewhat less pressure-filled environment while guys like Terry Dunfield, John Thorrington, and Gershon Koffie did the work. But this is not an ideal world; this is a world where everybody is apparently made of glass. Brovsky has started both of the last two games and, even with Dunfield expected to return against FC Dallas, is odds-on favourite to start on Saturday as well.

Moreover, like most ex-collegiate players, Brovsky has an unusual development curve. He's twenty-two years old; an old man compared to Koffie or even the forgotten-by-all-but-me Philippe Davies. On the other hand, this is Brovsky's first shot at serious professional competition. We can't expect Brovsky to mature much more physically, but he still has a mental learning process every bit as long as Davies's or Koffie's.

Indeed, that's one of the great tragedies of college soccer. Imagine if a player with Brovsky's obvious assets had come into a professional academy as a teenager. If he'd been working with the Whitecaps Residency team since he was 15 (or even 17!) rather than coming in as a twenty-two year old after having spent the best of his formative years playing part-time. We might have really had something there, a future United States international maybe. Instead, Brovsky is a limited player who's shown real signs of potential and promise but most definitely isn't at the level of some of his younger peers.

But we can't deal in what ifs. What we have is a Brovsky who wasted some prime development years and has picked up some bad habits. Some of them, I think, he'll grow out of. He'll refine his abominable positioning as he gets more used to MLS speed; Brovsky is, by all accounts, a clever kid and it won't be long before he figures out that what worked against NCAA pluggers isn't going to work against professionals. It's hard to imagine that he'll be able to totally remake his game, of course, but hopefully we'll see some improvement.

Will he be able to get out of his habit of suicidally reckless two-footed challenges? Frankly, I was a bit surprised Brovsky didn't get sent off in the New England game; it takes some doing to look like the dirtiest player in midfield when you're playing beside Kevin Harmse. He'd go in for the ball two-footed, he'd go after a guy's ankle two-footed, I think he spent more time on the carpet than on his feet. I love a rough tackle so bear that in mind when I say that I was actually alarmed by Brovsky. He cut loose a few times too many against Houston, too, but this was on another level.

Those are just the major bad habits. It's too much to hope that a 22-year-old will be able to iron out every quirk in his game. But, then again, I see him passing and I desperately hope he can beat the odds because Brovsky has a sublime playmaker's eye when he has the chance to use it. The Whitecaps know very well that Brovsky needs ti improve; that's why they didn't play him until they had almost no other options. Given time the organization seemed to want to give him, maybe Brovsky could really be something.

But maybe not. I can't figure this kid out. Whether he winds up brilliant or brutal, I know he'll frustrate and bewilder me either way.

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