No Hollywood ending for Lee

CARSON, Calif. — Last week the best back lot tour in California was not in Hollywood, but here at the Home Depot Center, 20 miles north of Tinseltown.

The same storms that caused a deadly landslide in La Conchita, Calif. and an estimated $30 million of property damage transformed one of the 10 fields at this shrine to soccer into a holding pond that resembled the set of "Waterworld."

For those who couldn't brave the rains — 16.97 inches fell between Dec. 27 and Jan. 10, the wettest 15 days on record in Los Angeles — the indoor velodrome offered racing action that rivaled anything seen in "The Fast and the Furious."

By Tuesday the heavy rain storms were gone, but cool, gusty gales took their place, making it feel like the shoot for "Twister."

And those who wanted to see a drama were in luck. Marquette senior Chris Lee played with a partially torn PCL in his left knee while at the 2005 adidas MLS Player Combine.

Due to high demand for the scarce number of playable fields, the start time of the first scrimmage was pushed backed five hours and for Lee, who according to his father, Dana, had been "like a cat in a cage" in the days leading up to the combine, the tension mounted.

However, it didn't show in his performance.

Despite a steady downpour that intensified as the game progressed, and defensive dominance — "These are deplorable conditions for a football player, but great for ducks and defenders who like to slide around," said Steve Adlard, Marquette men's soccer head coach – Lee managed to make an impact on the game once he was subbed in midway through the second half.

The senior forward, who netted 35 goals during his four-year career for the Golden Eagles, got a shot off in the box and created a few good scoring chances.

"One compliment is they pulled him down twice in breakaway situations, which means he is doing something right. He was posing a threat in a good situation," Adlard said.

"I would have liked to have seen him in the open field because he's very quick. That's what his gift is. They probably wouldn't have caught him to foul him."

That highlights another challenge at the combine: Lee didn't get the ball in the open field because his teammates were unaware of what his strengths were.

Players are selected for the combine based on their accomplishments with teammates who they've practiced and played with for at least one season. But at the showcase, they are evaluated on their performance with 10 other guys they've never met.

"I was with players I'd never practiced with before. That made it especially difficult," Lee said.

"I think realistically he could make a good run and the other fellow may not appreciate it," Adlard said. "It might not be a run he's used to seeing in his own club environment or university environment, it's difficult, difficult. It'd be good if you had two from the same team side by side."

The coaches and general managers are aware of the shortcomings, but also find value in the combine.

"You have an idea of what you're looking for," said Bob Gansler, a Marquette men's soccer assistant coach from 1964-'67 and now head coach of the MLS Kansas City Wizards.

"You're looking for confirmation both positive and negative. You're looking to see who steps up, it's a pressure packed situation. You're looking for who learns and who goes bop, bop, bop" — as Gansler drew a diagonal line with his finger that looked like a profitable stock's line graph — "and who goes the other way."

He added: "It's a three day audition and it's certainly imperfect to evaluate but it augments the impressions you come in with."

The limited evaluation period prevents players from getting a number of touches on the ball and makes a player's off the ball movement that much more critical.

"You can evaluate someone a lot based on movement off the ball," Lee said Jan. 10. "If someone checks to the ball I'll run in behind him and on defense you need to channel (force) the ball (to the side of the field) it needs to be channeled."

Lee knew it from first-hand experience. During his team's scrimmage earlier in the day, he played the entire first half and a portion of the second and spent most of his time running around in the rain without the ball.

He managed two shots during the scrimmage: the first a bullet from in close that ricocheted off the keeper and the second an off balance attempt from the edge of the goal box.

"He got a couple of good shots off today, but he's been unlucky," Adlard said. "He made a couple runs and if he'd gotten the ball at the right time he would have shown his best gifts."

Unfortunately for Lee, the scouts never got to see that. On the final day of the combine the opportunities weren't as plentiful.

Without netting a goal, Lee failed to leave a lasting mark on a coach and wasn't picked up in the MLS's four-round draft Friday.

There's the possibility Lee could get selected by a MLS squad to fill their reserve team roster, but with a strong desire to graduate this spring and a knee that isn't healed, Lee is leaning toward hanging up his Umbros.

"I've been working at this my whole life, and it was a good way to close out my soccer career," Lee said.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 18 2005.