Yanez makes the cut at Columbus

The 61st SuperDraft pick is a last-minute roster addition

OBETZ, Ohio — A thought occurred to rookie midfielder
Othaniel Yanez as he exited off Interstate 71 and headed toward Crew
Stadium for the season opener on Saturday.

“Oh man, I used to
pay to come to these,” he said

This time, instead of Yanez and
his friends from the University of Louisville shelling out money to
watch the Crew, he got paid to watch his new employers defeat Toronto
FC.

It may be a while before Columbus' 61st pick in the MLS
SuperDraft sees the field in a league match, and Yanez knows that trying
to crack the lineup of the back-to-back Supporters’ Shield winner will
not be easy—“You can’t expect to come to a team like this and get
playing time right away,” he said—but the fact he is even on the roster
might come as a surprise to many given his late-round selection.

A surprise to many, maybe—but not to Crew coach Robert Warzycha.

“We can talk about whether he’s a sleeper or not probably a few months
from now,” he said. “I like what I see so far. The games that he played
in the preseason he did very well. Every time he was on the field, the
team was playing better. That’s why we decided to keep him.”

Yanez drew Warzycha’s attention at the MLS Combine in January when he
scored on a 45-yard strike that maxed the "wow" factor at 10. Warzycha,
who was known to powder a shot or two in his Crew playing days, was
impressed—to a point.

“A goal’s a goal,” he said. “He took a
nice shot and scored. More than anything he covered a lot of ground.
He’s always in the path of the pass. He worked very hard in the
preseason.”

Still, Yanez was a long shot to make the team. Of
course, fellow 2010 draftee Shaun Francis was selected by the Crew with
the second-to-last pick—two spots behind Yanez—and he also made the
roster, but it was under different circumstances: The Crew were looking
for a left-footed defender, and Francis filled the need.

Yanez,
however, was coming to a team with an already stacked midfield.

“It was difficult training sessions at first,” Yanez said. “I’m
starting to get the hang of it now. The speed of play is what you notice
right away. Everyone is making better decisions. It’s an all-round
better game.”

When it came time for the media relations staff
to finish the media guide before the final roster was set, Yanez didn’t
make the cut. The other four draftees did.

Yanez, Francis and
eighth-overall choice Dilly Duka were signed to contracts. Bright Dike
(12th) was cut to make room for Yanez, and Kwaku Nyamekye is finishing
school at Harvard.

Warzycha knows Yanez’s growth will be stunted
if he doesn’t get games. That’s why Friday’s exhibitions against
Marshall and Michigan State are important for the midfielder.

“We have some talent here, and hopefully he can learn from the guys on
the field,” Warzycha said.

Yanez has made up for lost time
before. He didn’t take to soccer until his mom signed him up when he was
10-years-old. Prior to that, wrestling, football and baseball occupied
his time while growing up in Moreno Valley, Calif.

When he
began getting offers from colleges, he took to heart advice from his
club coaches.

“They said, 'If you want to stay in Southern
California, the harder it will be to find a school or get a
scholarship,'” Yanez said.

Louisville head coach Ken Lolla sold
Yanez on the Cardinals, and the 22-year-old became the program's MVP in
two of his four seasons there, scoring five goals and adding four
assists in 66 games. One of the Louisville assistants at the time
happened to be a former Crew veteran Brian Maisonneuve, so a connection
was made.

“I talked to him about playing pro, [though] not
really in Columbus,” Yanez said. “He wanted me to come out and train
[with the Crew] in the summers, but I usually stayed in school—and the
few weeks I did have off, I’d go home to see the family.”

Yet
he often made the 205-mile trip north on I-71 to see the Crew's home
openers, the most recent being a 0-0 draw against New York in 2007.

Now he has a better seat and doesn’t have to worry about parking.