Metro at the Millennium: Steve Shak sucked
October 10, 2007

After all is said and done, the 2000 season turned out pretty well. Of course, it didn't end with a championship, and we can't help but think of what could have been done to give Metro that little nudge to push them over the top. And one thing that keeps popping in our mind is the colossal mistake the MetroStars made by taking Steve Shak with the number one pick of the MLS SuperDraft.

In 1999, the MetroStars finished with the worst record in league history, and were rewarded with the first overall pick in the upcoming SuperDraft, which was in its first year after the merge of the College and Supplemental drafts. Looking back, the draft class was full of future MLS and even national team stalwarts -- Nick Garcia, Adin Brown, Carlos Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Sasha Victorine, Peter Vagenas, Kerry Zavagnin, Nick Rimando. Even current Metros Jon Conway and John Wolyniec were drafted. It could definitely be considered the best overall draft class in league history. Of course, it did the Metros no good, for with the first overall pick, they didn't take any of the above-mentioned players. They took Steve Shak.

One remembers the weeks before the draft, when Garcia was everyone's #1 on the board. A highly-touted youth international defender coming off a hugely successful college career at Indiana, where he led the Hoosiers to back-to-back national titles, he seemed to be an obvious pick. When asked about potentially suiting for Metro, he raved about playing with Lothar Matthaus. And Metro fans were more than happy to welcome Garcia into the fold.

A good plan it seemed, but Octavio Zambrano was not a big fan of Garcia. A little before the draft, he mentioned Califf and Bocanegra on top of his board, together with... Shak. Shak? Who the hell was Shak?

A walk-on at UCLA, where he partnered Bocanegra, Shak was "rated highly by scouts for his speed, technical ability and composure under pressure," according to SoccerAmerica. Still, he was not a Project-40 signee and would count against the cap, unlike Garcia, Bocenagra, and Califf. And he was cut from the US Under-20 national team that played at the 1999 World Youth Cup, the same team the three players mentioned above were part of.

"This is probably the biggest surprise I've ever had in my life," Shak said after being drafted. He was not alone in that sentiment. But after the initial shock, we were willing to give Shak a chance. After all, Zambrano believed in him. "I know what his pedigree is," he said, having coached Shak as a 15-year-old on a youth team in California. "I think technically, he is the most rounded player in the draft." The sentiment was echoed by new Metro GM Nick Sakiewicz, who added, talking about the player combine, "I think Steve is a good example of why it is important for players to come play in these games. I think Steve was unequivocally the standout player in this combine."

Zambrano's supposed ability to scout talent was also a fresh change of pace after the debacle that was Bora Milutinovic. And the new Metro coach was up-front about it. "I believe there are certain people who have an eye for talent," Zambrano told SoccerAmerica. "Without sounding arrogant, I'm thankful that I have that ability. Not everybody has it, but I'm not the only one that has it. I can, in a short period of time, look at a player and find subtleties that tell me he can become a bona fide player."

So Zambrano believed in him, Sakiewicz believed in him, and we tried to believe in him. Oh, did we ever try. Shak started the season opener, and ended playing in 27 games in 2000, starting 15, mostly at right back and right midfield. But believing alone would not do the trick.

Speed? Composure under pressure? Pedigree? Technically rounded? No. No. No. No. For the lack of a better word, Shak... sucked. Soon, opposing teams realized that, leaving Steve all alone on the right flank. The phrase "no man is an island" could not apply to the youngster, as the oodles of space Shak was given game after game were of no use; his teammates would not pass him the ball, knowing he could do nothing with it. And his opponents left him alone, knowing the same.

Meanwhile, Garcia, drafted with the second pick, was starting every game in the middle of the best defense in league history for a Kansas City team that ended up winning MLS Cup. Bocanegra, taken with the fourth selection, helped Chicago beat Metro in the semis, a start to a great career that saw him win two MLS Defender of the Year awards, move to the Premier League, and play in the World Cup. Shak? One goal, one assist for Metro in 2000. A diminished role, with only nine games, four starts in 2001, and a late-season trade to Colorado for Ross Paule. A year later, he was out of MLS, then played in the USL, for the Minnesota Thunder, Virginia Beach Mariners, and most recently the Charlotte Eagles. Shak also saw time with Bodens BK in Sweden's lower tier, and was briefly a replacement player during the US national team labor dispute in 2005. Garcia? Bocanegra? Even Orlando Perez, drafted by Zambrano 48th overall, had a better MLS career than Steve Shak.

What's worse is that Metro had multiple offers to trade the number one overall pick for multiple selections. In the same draft, Bob Bradley pulled a deft move, acquiring DaMarcus Beasley from Los Angeles for two first-rounders, #6 and #11. In the classic case of win-win, the Galaxy took Califf and Victorine, who helped them to a couple of domestic titles. Beasley blossomed into a star. Of course, we cannot be sure what exactly was offered to Metro and if Beasley or Califf/Victorine would have been an option. But we do know that at least two teams, Chicago and Colorado, were very aggressive in pursuing that #1 pick, with Metro being offered at least two first-rounders. And we also know that Shak's value was not perceived that high by other teams, so it's very likely that Metro would be able to grab him with the additional pick they would have acquired. But the Metro brass chose to stay pat. "All of the trade scenarios involved some kind of risk, and we didn't want to take those risks," Sakiewicz said.

So they didn't take risks. They took a bum instead.

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