Thomas McNamara was the first pick of the second round in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by Chivas USA, and the club's first draft pick of the year after trading away their first round pick in one of the worst trades in MLS history the year before. A midfielder who had played at Brown University before moving with his coach to Clemson for a final year of eligibility in 2013, McNamara was a wide-bodied player who seemed to have a hidden level of skill, not to mention an eye-catching hairstyle.
Starting the first six games of the season, McNamara's rookie year was off to a promising start, as he notched a goal in the Goats' opening-day win over the Chicago Fire, and was obviously very much in coach Wilmer Cabrera's plans, when the turf monster jumped up and bit him in a start against the Portland Timbers in mid-April, as he tore his ACL and was out for the rest of the year.
It was a real shame for player and team alike, as the 23-year-old slotted into MLS right away, and appeared to be a very early candidate for MLS Rookie of the Year. He also became a fan favorite right away, winning the first Chivas USA Player of the Month award on this site for 2014 and getting plenty of attention for his workrate, on-field intelligence, skill, and inimitable style.
Here were McNamara's statistics in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||6||6||467||1||0||6||3||1||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
The impossible question to ask, of course, is whether McNamara could have sustained his strong start to his pro career if he had been healthy all year. Obviously, it's impossible to say, and really pretty tough to conclude one way or another. Nearly every MLS rookie hits the "Rookie Wall" at some point, and I think that's pretty likely. I don't think he would have played 34 games, and I don't know if his production would have been maintained. Still, losing him, especially so early in the year, left a hole for the team, no question about it.
I think the best component of McNamara's small sample size is the versatility he showed with CUSA. An attacking midfielder in college, Cabrera gave him the surprise start alongside Erick Torres at forward in the first two games of the season, and by the second game, the pair appeared to be getting some chemistry together.
But when the context of the second game, against the Vancouver Whitecaps, meant McNamara had to move back to holding midfielder when Agustin Pelletieri was sent off early, he showed he was pretty solid there as well. I think he's better as an attacking player, but an ability to adjust to a role farther back on the field (not to mention pushed up all the way up top) gives him an ability to slot in where a coach requires it, and should help his prospects.
McNamara was selected by D.C. United in the Dispersal Draft, so he'll be headed back east for next season. For what it's worth, I think D.C. should be a great fit for him, and he should find some minutes next season, if not necessarily a regular starting role from the beginning.
Again, his MLS sample size is tiny, and he's coming off a major injury. But speed wasn't McNamara's real strength anyway, so as long as his repaired knee is not completely balky, he should be capable of hitting the ground running in preseason. I hesitate to oversell his ceiling, but I think he is capable of being a good MLS pro, probably not a star but a regular contributor, somebody who can have a long and successful career.
And I get the impression that if the box-to-box midfielder comes back in vogue in MLS, it's a position he could probably do very well at. Obviously, it will be interesting to see how's he deployed by Ben Olsen in 2015 and beyond, but I think he has the ability to play both sides of the ball in midfield.
He could have been a building block for Chivas USA's lineup for years to come. That wasn't meant to be, but it looks like McNamara could be in good shape moving forward in his career.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!