By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (May 2, 2014) US Soccer Players - At some point over the course of the last couple of decades or so, the accepted definition of the word “journeyman” multiplied in the world of American sports.
Though the word traditionally means “experienced and good, but not spectacular” in the USA, Americans are beginning to integrate the British definition into the language. In addition to the old usage to refer to an experience, unspectacular player, the word came to also applies for any player who bounced around from team to team, regardless of how good or spectacular he might be.
An experienced, good player who comes somewhere short of stardom was once a “journeyman.” Now, the word means players who rarely stay in one place for very long and rack up a list of clubs over the course of a career.
Think Jeff Cunningham, the all-time MLS goal scoring record holder. Cunningham, for all his club-hopping, rose well above the level of “journeyman” by its strict definition. Nevertheless, Cunningham takes the “journeyman” because he played for five different teams over the course of his fourteen-year MLS career.
It’s nice, then, when the two uses of “journeyman” come together to describe players who are helping their latest team succeed through their notable, if unspectacular, experience and consistency. No need to determine when meaning applies, because the player in question fits both.
Take LA Galaxy defender Dan Gargan, now with his sixth MLS team (a history broken up by a stint with the Puerto Rico Islanders in the NASL). The Galaxy picked up Gargan in March. The versatile fullback immediately saw time thanks to injuries along the LA defense. Five games into the season for LA, Gargan has started three games and appeared as a substitute in a fourth.
Gargan’s not just filling a spot, however. His play has been good enough to draw the attention of scribes across the country and given Bruce Arena another option to use during a hectic schedule. It’s not that the Galaxy didn’t miss Todd Dunivant, the player that could bump Gargan out of the lineup. It’s that they missed him less thanks to the work of Gargan. A veteran of Gargan’s experience is an invaluable asset for Arena because he’s good enough to have lasted this long in MLS, meaning the likelihood he’ll make mistakes is lower than it might be for a younger player.
In Dallas, for much the same reason Gargan is featuring as part of the Galaxy lineup (injuries), Stephen Keel is doing his part to help FC Dallas to a first-place start in the Western Conference. Keel is on his third MLS team in eight seasons. He previously played for the Rapids and the Red Bulls before arriving in Texas.
If FC Dallas had their full complement of players, Keel might be rooted to the bench. Instead, he has started all seven games under Oscar Pareja, already bettering his minutes from 2013. As long as Dallas needs him, Keel is a more than adequate fill-in for the likes of George John, who is out of action with a knee injury.
Quincy Amarikwa fits both definitions of “journeyman”, with the caveat that he could rise to the “spectacular” based on his early season play in 2014. Still only 26 years old, the Chicago Fire forward is with his fourth MLS team after time in San Jose, Colorado and Toronto. Amarikwa’s itinerant career is symbolic of both his potential and his inability to put together long runs of quality play. Plenty of teams are willing to take a chance on him, but he hasn’t stayed long with those who do.
Maybe Chicago will be different. Though the Fire are still winless on the season, Amarikwa has been a bright spot, scoring four goals in six games. He has already bettered his games, minutes, and goal totals from 2013, a sign that Frank Yallop (who Amarikwa played under in San Jose) believes in the striker. Whatever Chicago’s shortcomings in 2014, Amarikwa can’t be said to be one of them. This particular journeyman forward is making good at his latest stop.
Players like Gargan, Keel, and Amarikwa are the backbone of MLS rosters, value players with good ability who can help teams when circumstances warrant. Their acquisitions rarely make a peep in the increasingly busy and noisy news cycle, and fans are rarely outwardly excited to hear they’ve joined the cause.
Because of their numbers, their relatively low cost, and the priceless nature of experience, finding them among the host of names let loose or available in the time between the close of one season and the start of the next is crucial to MLS success. Injuries happen. New signings fall short. Packed schedules and limited resources mean every player beyond the obviously first eleven capable of doing a job is worth his weight in gold.
Before the 2014 season is out, plenty more names will join the list of “journeymen” playing significant roles for their teams around MLS. They are “journeymen” by the old, American definition. It’s not a slight. Their reputations as good, experienced, but unspectacular players means they’ll always have a job somewhere playing for a coach who understands their value.
Which, of course, explains why they’re “journeymen” by the new definition.
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