Obscure Metro Files: Pablo Brenes and Tim Ward
September 22, 2008
To say that the left back spot has been a problem in Metro history is an understatement. Witness last year, when Dave van den Bergh, signed as a midfielder/forward, was forced into the position due to necessity. Starting Metro left backs of the past include such luminaries as John DeBrito, Mike Duhaney, and Joey DiGiamarino. Wake us up when the nightmare ends.
The two left backs we'll discuss today do not share a D-lightful prefix (pardon the horrendous pun), and, unlike the aforementioned trio, actually showed some promise in a Metro uniform. Well, calling it promise might be an overstatement, for you will find few fans pining for the days of Pablo Brenes and Tim Ward. But considering this is Obscure Metro Files, Brenes and Ward it is.
Bob Bradley's first year with Metro, 2003, saw the left back slot shared by the aforementioned DiGiamarino, Edgar Bartolomeu, and Chris Leitch. DiGi was putrid, Edgar did not make it out of the preseason, and Leitch was better suited for right back. So Bradley decided to sign Costa Rican youth international Pablo Brenes from a club named Perez Zeledon; DiGi was shown his walking papers on the same day.
So we had a left back? Hardly. Brenes was a left wing, an attacking player. However, to the delight of some fans, Bradley attempted to convert him to a "flying wingback". It didn't really work. All the flying amounted to aimless runs up the left wing, and the defending that is required of a left back was just not there. Brenes ended up making just five regular season starts (he did start both playoff games), but most of those came in the left midfield, as the left back experiment was scrapped. Bradley ended up using Leitch for most of the season, with Tim Regan sprinkled in.
The middle of Brenes' lone Metro season was interrupted with a trip to the Olympics, when he became the first current Metro to score in the Summer Games, scoring the vital goal that set the final 4:2 margin against Portugal and gave the Ticos a second round berth. But whatever success he had on the international stage, Brenes couldn't translate to MLS. An easy choice for the expansion draft unprotected list, he was nabbed by Real Salt Lake, and then, in a complex multi-league three-team trade, was sent back to Costa Rica and Deportivo Saprissa. Since then, he appeared for the senior national team, and was a non-playing member of the Saprissa squad that finished third in the 2005 FIFA Club World Championship.
So we move forward to 2005, with still the same problem at left back. Jeff Agoos is acquired, but he is better suited to grazing the backline, not attempting to go forward. Leitch is still there, but he's better on the right. So, Bradley trades Cornell Glen for a first round draft pick, used to take US youth international Tim Ward.
Ward, 18 when the 2005 season started, spent just a year in college, but since he was slated to play for the US Under-20 team at the World Youth Cup, many were excited with his addition to the squad. The Youth Cup never happened, as a hamstring sprain in an early Metro match forced him to miss it. Ward did end up starting 11 matches, and tallied three league assists. He actually knew how to cross the ball, a rarity for Metro left backs. One of the assists came on Eddie Gaven's huge goal that beat Kansas City on the road 1:0 and ended up being so important to Metro making the playoffs.
So, unlike Brenes, Ward made some offensive contributions, but, like Brenes, he couldn't hold his own on the defensive end. Still, who are we to give up on an 18-year-old who already had a valuable year as a pro under his belt?
Well, we are not Mo Johnston. For the former assistant, who took over for Bob Bradley late in 2005, dumped Ward over the offseason to Columbus for the ancient Chris Henderson. "This move makes us a better team," GM Alexi Lalas said at the time.
A better team indeed. But this is Obscure Metro Files, not Alexi Lalas' Greatest Hits, so let's move off that and follow Ward, who, sadly for him, saw his progress stumped in Columbus. He only made 12 starts for the Crew over the next two seasons, was underwhelming at the 2007 World Youth Cup (but at least, he made it), and was dealt over this past offseason to Colorado... Where he is yet to play a league minute.
And since Ward's departure, Metro's left back carousel has kept on spinning, before settling on Kevin Goldthwaite. Which, if you black out his 2007 performance, is actually not that bad when you compare historically... And not that obscure.