TUCSON, Ariz. – Listed at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, central midfielder Scott Caldwell was always going to have to answer questions about how his lack of size would translate to the physical world of MLS.
Caldwell put many of those questions to bed during Wednesday night’s meeting with Seattle Sounders FC, showing skill, composure and even a bit of grit in what became an increasingly spirited preseason encounter. Matched up against bigger, stronger and more experienced opponents, the Homegrown rookie held his own with an equal mix of smarts and technical ability.
“He’s not a big player and he’s not a physical presence, but I think his smarts and his ability around the ball, his ability technically and tactically are what make the difference,” head coach Jay Heaps said of Caldwell. “He’s just a little bit different. He’s just not as physical as a lot of players in this league. But every day in training he shows that he has the speed of play, he has the awareness at this level tactically and technically.”
Perhaps Caldwell’s most valuable attribute is self awareness. While he’s not afraid to mix it up when battling for a loose ball, he knows his size puts him at a decided disadvantage in those types of individual physical challenges. To compensate, Caldwell uses anticipation and superior technical ability to avoid such confrontations.
“I have to try to think a step ahead and try to be in the right places before [my opponents] are,” Caldwell said. “But if it does come down to it, I’ll still try to win the ball over a bigger guy. I just try not to get into those matchups. I try to play quick when I have the ball and if it’s a loose ball, I just try to get a toe-poke on it, something so I’m not in the challenge with a bigger guy.”
Caldwell has earned high marks for his preseason performances and has shown exactly why he was so highly touted coming out of the prestigious program at the University of Akron. Teammates and coaches alike have praised his vision, control and soccer sense while applauding his workmanlike approach.
But until Caldwell proves himself in a regular-season match, questions about his size are likely to persist.
Caldwell just won’t be listening.
“[Size] has always been a question mark for me, but I just try to stay away from it and really just don’t think about it,” he said. “I just play the way I can play, just try to play to my strengths.”
Early signs indicate those strengths are translating to MLS just fine.