It is fair to say that the Colorado Rapids striker, Deshorn Brown had a pretty impressive rookie year in 2013, as the following stats confirm:
- Finished his first professional season as the Rapids' leading scorer (10) - twice as many as the three players tied for second.
- Led all MLS rookies in goals, and finished just one short of tying the rookie record, set in 2003 by Damani Ralph.
- Was runner-up in the voting for MLS Rookie of the Year.
- Earned his first caps with the Jamaican National Team.
- Scored what is currently the third-fastest goal in MLS history, against the Seattle Sounders on October 5, after 15 seconds.
Heading into 2014, though, Brown was not content to take it easy. Instead, he spent his offseason analyzing his game, looking for ways to improve, and even taking a trip abroad for a unique experience that could pay dividends throughout his career.
In late January, just before Rapids preseason camp opened, Brown traveled to Barcelona to participate in a special program with the Sport Networking Spain (www.sportnetworking.es), a global sport consultancy group that offers individualized coaching to professional soccer players from anywhere in the world.
"We started thinking about this six months ago, using it as technical and tactical advising for Deshorn," said Patrick McCabe, who, along with Brown's role model Damani Ralph, is one of the forward's agents at Global Premier Management. "It's less about doing work on the field, and more 1-on-1 coaching with video, and we were interested in having our players do that kind of work. Deshorn had a great first year but we thought of this as a way to make sure he didn't lose momentum."
Rapids Technical Director Paul Bravo was quick to seize the opportunity, since the program would help both Brown and the club.
"We're a club that values player development, and that's evidenced by us sending a lot of our younger players out for training, trials, or a more creative development initiative in the case of Deshorn," said Bravo.
"When this was brought to us, it made sense to invest some time and resources into helping Deshorn get to the next level, which ultimately helps us as a club."
So the Jamaican traveled to Barcelona for a week, heading into a new country to try to pick up a few things that would give him an advantage coming into his sophomore season. The program at Sport Networking Spain consists of detailed video analysis, a good deal of conversation with the player, and goal-setting, all done under the supervision of experienced and accomplished European coaches.
Jaime Vidal is the co-founder of Sport Networking Spain, a growing young company which fills a developmental need for professional players. In the U.S. the company collaborates with former New England Revolution GM Craig Tornberg, who recognized the use that American soccer players could have with the company after traveling to Barcelona last year to learn about the program.
"The service came about as a result of elite players in La Liga looking to improve themselves," says Vidal. "Developing individually can become complicated once you get to a certain point in your career.
"When training becomes very team oriented, coaches don't always have enough time to develop the individual players, because, as it is normal, they need to focus on the group. So what we are doing is to offer them the possibility to improve also on the individual aspects."
The process began with analysis of MLS match videos sent to Vidal by McCabe and Ralph several months ago, from which the Sport Networking staff, headed by coach Ferran Vila, made select cuts to be able to show to Brown. Once he was in Barcelona, Ferran and his staff worked with him to discuss these clips, talk about tactics and techniques, and find places to move forward.
“In order to improve, players need to understand inside themselves in what they are good and bad, which soccer fundamentals they are mastering, because then they can create situations on the field that will allow them to show their abilities," says Vidal.
"The need to know in what they do well in order to improve. We want to create intelligent players. We want them to know how to read a game perfectly. There was a lot of feedback with Deshorn. We asked him questions, and he asked us questions, and that is the most important part."
Finally, the coaches and Brown looked to the future by setting specific goals - both incremental and overarching goals, concocting a plan to move forward. For his part, the young forward took a great deal out of the experience.
"They showed me some ways to create space for myself and for my teammates," says Brown. "I learned a lot of stuff, especially with vision, looking around your environment, to know where to go at the right time to make the right play."
The opportunity came with perks, as well. Brown left with a personally inscribed shirt with Lionel Messi's autograph, thanks to his coaches in Spain.
Brown also got to see an FC Barcelona match up close, enjoying the game while analyzing it alongside Sport Networking staff. Plus, the forward got his first chance to see one of the world's most famous cities.
"It's a beautiful city. I really liked it," said Brown. "The people were very friendly. I enjoyed that a lot, and to see soccer in a different environment was a great feeling."
While Brown returned to Colorado on the eve of preseason training, the things he learned in Spain will remain with him. And Vidal, McCabe and Bravo all pointed out that Sport Networking's service includes continued counsel and analysis throughout the year, via Skype and over the phone. Brown, though, expects to be putting the coaching to work constantly.
"I'm trying to work on it, and as the season progresses, I'll keep doing it every day and try to be aware of those lessons," he continued. "I'm trying to look around to where I can move, where's the right pass and stuff like that. I learned a lot, and I'm going to try to use it throughout the season."
After one of the best seasons in the history of MLS rookies, and with even more potential still, all eyes will be looking to see what Brown can achieve in 2014.