Thursday, August 02, 2007

Larentowicz looks back while marching forward

In the most unlikely of scenarios for the most unlikely of heroes, a kid picked in the supplemental draft two years ago took center stage during Saturday night’s match at Real Salt Lake.

The game clock approached minute 82, and the Revs were looking for the clincher. Score tied by the home team just minutes previous on a devastating penalty taken by Real midfielder Carey Talley, Revolution forward Pat Noonan spearheaded a counterattack with less than ten minutes left in regular time. En route to a clear shot on goal, the striker was unceremoniously brought down before the box. Referee Michael Kennedy promptly awarded a free kick from the spot, and, seemingly out of nowhere, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz took charge.

“Sometimes, things just happen,” said Larentowicz, reflecting on the moments leading up to the free kick. “Some players call it ‘being in the zone.’ When the foul happened I grabbed the ball. I wanted it, and I put it down.”

Typically, in such free kick situations, the go-to guy on the Revolution is veteran Steve Ralston, who’s taken the bulk of the free kick chores this season. But with the full moon hovering above Rice-Eccles Stadium, the unexpected occurred.

“Obviously Steve’s the more senior player and he went up and looked at the situation, and let me have it. I mean, it was nice of him - it’s probably the first free kick I’ve ever hit for this team.”

What happened next was borderline sublime. With the match tied 1-1 and time becoming more precious by the minute, the tall, redheaded midfielder stepped up and launched an absolute missile that hovered just two feet off the ground and didn’t stop until the net harnessed the hard shot.

“I didn’t think about it, and after it happened, it took me a couple of times to watch it (on the video replay) to realize what had happened.”

But don’t let the former Brown Bear’s spectacular shot make you think that all of it has gone to his head. For it wasn’t too long ago that the third-year player was patiently biding his time as an unproven rookie, riding the bench and seeing the bulk of his time with the reserves.

“It’s not something I take for granted,” said Larentowicz of his current role of starting defensive midfielder. “Complacency can kind of creep in if you’re playing day in and day out.”

It wasn’t an easy road for sure. MLS supplemental picks often have the shelf-life of a Lindsay Lohan rehab stint. Unfazed, Larentowicz fought through the reserve league matches, bench assignments, and the unsettling job security of a developmental player to attain a highly-coveted senior roster spot with the local eleven.

“It took a long time (to win a starting spot). I’m not going to say I wasn’t helped out by (National Team) call ups and injuries last year, but the confidence I have in myself has grown. The confidence the coaching staff has in me has grown, and mainly I’ve gotten confidence from my teammates. They make you feel comfortable on the field, and that’s basically the way it’s developed.”

Nevertheless, the man they call “the Kaiser” has obviously not forgotten his journey from battling his way into the starting eleven.

Yet, despite the odds, this season has unmistakably been quite the opposite of previous editions for the midfielder. Thus far, he already has chalked up two sensational, highlight-reel goals. When asked to compare his Saturday night special to the memorable diving goal he struck back in May versus Chicago, Larentowicz chuckled and said that the go-ahead at Real Salt Lake was “his favorite.”

He certainly won’t dwell on his most recent goal for long. The Revs have quite an undertaking before them, as they commence a grueling six-game, seventeen-day stretch tonight vs. Kansas City. And how does a player go about preparing for such a demanding stretch?

Larentowicz replied, “You have to be able to control yourself on and off the field. We’re in here for training, it’s hot, and you do what you have to do, and you go home and rest because it’s two-to-three days between games now versus (the usual) six days.”

Certainly, paying careful attention towards training habits and conserving one’s energy weighs on the mind of a full-time starter like Larentowicz.

“It’s something you have to think about, and as a professional, you have to take care of yourself.”

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