In 2003, the MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) took three highly touted players among the first dozen selections in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft — Mike Magee, Eddie Gaven and Ricardo Clark. On May 23, 2013, Michael Lewis, then the editor of BigAppleSoccer.com, kicked off a four-part series on the three players. This is a reprint.

First of a four-part series

By Michael Lewis

Just what are the odds of one player being taken in the MLS SuperDraft a decade ago and still playing at a high level of soccer?

10-1? 50-1? Or perhaps 100-1?

That being said, what would be the odds of three players drafted by the same team among the top dozen picks in 2003 who still are in the league these days?

100-1, 500-1, 1,000-1?

Some 10 years ago, then MetroStars coach Bob Bradley began rebuilding his new team in dramatic fashion, by drafting three promising teenage players. You might have heard of them:

* Midfielder-forward Mike Magee, who was traded by the LA Galaxy to the Chicago Fire on Saturday, has become known as Mr. November for his goal-scoring feats during the Major League Soccer playoffs.

* Midfielder Eddie Gaven, who will perform for the Columbus Crew against New York at RBA on Sunday at 5 p.m., has become a solid attacking midfielder.

* And midfielder Ricardo Clark, who will return to the area with the Houston Dynamo to play the Red Bulls on June 30 at 2 p.m., has become of the top defensive midfielders in the league, Clark played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“All three of these are young guys who came into the league, had the right mentality, good soccer qualities and I think all three have moved themselves forward,” Bradley said in a recent interview from Egypt, where he is coach of the Egyptian national team. “The contribution for each one — Rico now back at Houston, what we’ve seen of Mike at the Galaxy and what we’ve seen with Eddie at Columbus. I think it will all continue.

“When you see these guys grow, mature, when they become fathers, as time goes on, for sure, you see their maturity. That’s important to move yourself along in your professional career. I think that’s happened to all of them.”

As it turns out, none of those players reached their potential until they were traded by New York. First, Clark was dealt to San Jose in 2005, followed by Gaven to Columbus the next year. Magee asked for a trade after the 2008 season and he received his wish as he joined Los Angeles in 2009.

All three players have been apart of at least one MLS Cup champion. Clark played for Houston’s two championship sides in 2006 and 2007, Gaven for Columbus in 2008 and Magee for LA in 2011 and 2012. If you include Magee’s appearance in the 2009 MLS Cup, they have played in the league’s championship game for six of the past seven years.

(Editor’s note: the MetroStars/Red Bulls haven’t secured an MLS Cup title in 24 seasons, although they reached the 2008 final).

“They have proven their worth,” MLS director of player development Alfonso Mondelo said in a recent interview. “To have a long career in MLS is not easy. And to see these guys, they continue to influence the game, with Magee’s case, get stronger year by year, this is probably is his best year so far in the league.

“All three of them are good pros. They take care of themselves, No. 1 and they have been in situations with good coaches who have looked out for them and guided their careers a little bit and given them opportunities at times when they perhaps weren’t playing their best. They stuck with them, they gave them the opportunity and they responded. I think they understand this league well and they are solid league pros.”

Even when teams select can’t miss blue-chip prospects, it necessarily doesn’t guarantee them a National Team career or a long one at the club level. There are so many variables involved, including going to the right team and coach, avoiding injuries and never losing the playing spirit. Many rookies, including No. 1 pick and first-round selections, have fallen by the wayside for those reasons during MLS’s 18-year history.

Asked if he was surprised that all three draft choices were still playing, Bradley replied: “No. All three were relatively young when they were drafted. All three had shown they had, for me, really good soccer qualities, doing things that you know fit in any team and can help. All of them, I think have grown, I specifically mention Mike because at a certain point he had a little bit of a crossroads. He raised his level and he deserves credit for that. That’s really nice for me to see because certainly he and I have talked about that a little bit when I was with him with the MetroStars. I knew him really well. I knew his family. So, challenging him in ways, it’s been nice to see that continue.”

At the time of the draft at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Mo. on Jan. 17, 2003, those three younger players were promising young talents, but untested at the professional level.

After D.C. United selected Alecko Eskandarian as the very first pick, Clark, who was on the cusp of turning 20 at the time, was taken as the second choice, followed by Magee, then 18, at No. 5 and Gaven, then 16, as the 12th selection.

“I had, especially in the cases of Mike and Eddie, seen these guys since they were little,” Bradley said. “I had seen something in both of them you just don’t see. Mike’s goal-scoring ability, Eddie’s ability to go by people and I thought these were young players that could come into the league and develop, and I think that’s been the case.”

Clark, now 30, signed with MLS as a Project 40 player after his sophomore year at Furman University. He already had forged a reputation as a solid defensive midfielder. He wound up playing and starting 28 matches in his rookie season, leading the MetroStars in minutes (2,590). He finished with three goals and one assist.

“I felt that Rico had the physical qualities in the knack of breaking up plays, that he could be a good addition in our midfield right away,” Bradley said. “We felt he was still a young player, but that he had his way of moving around, his ability to read situations, get in on plays, help win the ball. That that was something that the team needed, and Rico had the ability to come in and do those things right away.

“I knew Rico’s play with the Under-20s, the type of person, his mentality. He’s a good competitor. So those were qualities i felt would work. Those are qualities that Rico brings to any team he plays on today. He did that with the U.S. National Team for many years. Obviously, he left MLS [for Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany]. But when he came back to Houston, but this is what makes him important to Dom [Kinnear, Houston coach]. He’s never lost that. He is a team player. Like I said he is a competitor and I think anybody who has been around Rico knows within a team he’s one of the good guys. He’s somebody who’s just going to do whatever it takes to try to help a team.”

Clark was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes for an international spot that turned out to be former French international Youri Djorkaeff and allocation money on Jan. 14, 2005.

Bradley had known Magee, who had played for the Chicago Soccers while he was coaching the Chicago Fire, since the midfielder-forward was 14. Bradley’s son, Michael, also was with the Soccer at the time.

“When I first started watching Mike when he was 14-years-old, the thing that stood out was Mike was still somebody who had just pure goal-scoring ability,” Bradley said. “He scored all types of goals. I believe at one point his Soccers team they might have won the Dallas Cup. Six games in the Dallas Cup — I don’t know the exact number — he might have scored 12 goals. He was always a good finisher. He knew how to position himself. He’s a smart player and he had just this way of knowing how to score goals. That’s something that’s rare.”

Magee, now 28, scored seven goals in 29 games, which included 19 starts in his rookie season with the MetroStars, which some observers to think he was going to add to that annual total season by season, but it did not work out that way.

“Then there were some years when . . . it didn’t come quite as easily, at a time when some people were starting to give up on Mike,” Bradley said. “He got a real good opportunity out in LA and since then he has taken advantage. When you speak of Mike, it’s the same thing. He’s a smart player, just an incredible knack of finding space in the box. He can score different kinds of goals — left foot, right foot — He’s not big, but he still scores goals with his head. He just has unique qualities around the goal. When you play in training, if the goals get pushed in close, you’ll always see Mike just finding a way to score different kinds of goals every training session.

“It took a little time — he had this initial good year — it was still good for a few years — but getting to the next step, maturing, becoming a little bit better professional, it took a little bit more time for Mike, but I think you see all of it now.”

At his request, Magee was dealt to the Galaxy on Jan.14, 2009 for its second-round pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. On draft day, the Red Bulls sent that draft choice and a third-round selection to the New England Revolution for defender Chris Albright.

Gaven, now 26, was the youngest of the trio — at the time he was the youngest player to sign an MLS contract (16 years, two months) and the shiest of the three. Because of commitments to the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. and to playing for the United States in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, he did not join the team full time until later in the season. But before then, the Hamilton, N.J. native showed his promise by becoming the youngest player in MLS history to start a game on June 14, 2003 before becoming the youngest player in league history to score, in a 3-2 extratime win at D.C. United on July 5, 2003 (until Freddy Adu scored as a 14-year-old in 2004).

Bradley, who said he was familiar with Gaven from his playing days at Bradenton with the U-17 side, said he saw “something different in the way he can move with the ball, the way he can run at people and go by people. It’s not something that you see.

“Once Eddie settled in 2004 and 2005, he had years when he scored seven eight or more goals both those years. As a young player, his ability with the ball, going at people, he’s got a really good way of going by people.”

Gaven was traded by the Red Bulls to the Columbus Crew along with the rights of defender Chris Leitch for forward Edson Buddle on March 28, 2006. He played a key role in the Crew’s 2008 season, connecting for the game-winning goal in the Eastern Conference final that propelled Columbus into the MLS Cup (where it defeated the Red Bulls, 3-1).