Photo courtesy SportingKC.com
Jack Jewsbury was drafted by the Kansas City Wizards in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft with the 43rd overall pick out of St. Louis University. He played extremely sparingly in his rookie season, (just 61 minutes) but from his second season on, he saw his playing time steadily increase each year until he eventually started every game of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. That all came to a screaching halt in 2010 when Jewsbury lost his starting spot in the second half of the season, amid team-wide struggles, to Craig Rocastle.
Suffice it to say, Jack isn't the type to go away quietly and he's back in preseason training camp ahead of the 2011 season looking as hungry as ever, working extremely hard to earn back a spot he believes to be his own. With the first week of preseason training now in the books, the team has the upcoming weekend off before departing for a month in Phoenix on Monday. It is likely that the Grand Canyon State will play host to a very pivotal turning point in the career of one of Sporting Kansas City's longest tenured current players.
As of present moment, Rocastle and Stephane Auvray currently occupy the two spots in head coach Peter Verme's high pressure 4-3-3 formation that Jewsbury is best suited to play - the box to box midfielder role and the true holding midfielder, respectively. Also, incoming is a very similar type player in Luke Sassano, acquired via trade following the re-entry draft, and a fleet of promising looking rookies - including Sam Scales, Konrad Warzycha and Michael Mravec - all looking to supplant him
"They're a good group of kids, though," said Jewsbury after Friday's Kansas City training finale, "and they're willing to listen, and that's important,"
If it's not the rookies that he's currently trying to stave off, he's working (admittedly) harder than he ever has before in preseason to surpass Auvray and Rocastle come March 19 when the club opens their 2011 campaign against Chivas USA. "It's been intense, but it's been pretty short sessions," he said of the surprisngly high intensity for the first week of training. "I'm pretty sure once we get to Arizona, they'll step it up a little and the sessions will be a little longer, and we'll have two-a-days," knowing that is where the real battle is to be waged against his competition.
But, with Jack, it's not all about him and his playing time. With the recent departures of long-time stalwarts Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff during the offseason, Jewsbury and captain Davy Arnaud are now by far the longest tenured players on coach Vermes' roster. As Jewsbury prepares to enter his ninth season in the league and Arnaud his tenth, they both realize it is now time for them to step up and be the main leaders of the team - both vocally and in their actions.
"It's interesting," Jewsbury said of he and Arnaud now being the grizzly old veterans on the squad. "I think it's up to us to make the young guys feel welcome, but at the same time, to help them along the way. There's little things that we've seen over the last seven, eight years that we can help them with to make them better day to day. And we're trying to do that as we move forward."
Whether he ever fully regains his place as a regular starter or not, the experience and all the things he's been through as a professional will undoubtedly prove invaluable on a team that's got an average tenure time in Kansas City of an astounding 1.7 seasons.
Yes, 1.7 years average tenure time among the 26 players currently listed on the team's official roster. It's a good thing those young kids are so willing to listen, because they've got a lot of learning to do, in a hurry, to fill some voids in the possibly not-so-distant future.
While some of those young players, and fans alike, have concerns over the long road trip the team will have to endure to start the season, leave it to someone who's been around the block a few times to not get caught up in the unnecessary.
"The way we look at it is: we have 34 games and there's 17 on the road, no matter how you break them up." Fair enough, Jack. "Is it ideal to have them all right in the beginning? Probably not, but I think this group is mentally strong; the guys that we have here from last year, and that's something they'll continue to ingrain in the young guys coming up. We know the task ahead; we know if we get off to a great start on the road, it's going to make it even better for us when we come home."
So, can a largely same group of players that struggled for a large part of 2010 learn from those trials and come together as a cohesive unit and pick up an optimal number of points before a backloaded home schedule? That's the $180 million dollar question on everyone's mind.
Given his serious dedication over the offseason, one can't conceivably imagine Jack Jewsbury being left out of the gameday eighteen on March 19, assuming good health. Will he excel enough over the next month of training and nine exhibition games to return to the starting eleven? Only time will tell. But, if he doesn't, it won't be for a lack of effort on his part.