Eddie Gaven has grown up with the Columbus Crew. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)
Third of a four-part series about the Three Amigos that was originally posted on BigAppleSoccer.com on May 26, 2013
By Michael Lewis
It seems every time a teenager, particularly someone 16-years-old or younger, is signed by Major League Soccer and a club, the league’s hype machine goes into overdrive.
Eddie Gaven was no exception. He set a number of standards for the MetroStars, whether it was the youngest player scoring playing in a game or scoring a goal.
While the Hamilton Township, N.J. native never lived up to the great hype, he has forged a pretty decent soccer career, a career that sees him in his prime at the age of 26. Gaven has become a consistent and reliable MLS player.
“I feel very, very blessed having played the past 10 years in this league,” Gaven said. “I have been able to play with some awesome people, met some awesome teammates.”
In fact, Gaven still is making history as being the youngest player to accomplish something. Last July he became the youngest player in league history to appear in 250 matches. He was 25 years, 257 days old at the time (Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman held the previous mark at 29 years, 42 days). For the record, Gaven has collected 51 goals and 36 assists in 277 appearances entering the Crew’s game against the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“Coming into the league, I was probably a little bit naive and I probably didn’t understand all of the media hype that sometimes surrounds players, especially in the New York area,” Gaven said with a chuckle. “It was something I probably didn’t know all of the expectations maybe that were there for me. It was coming in and working hard and just trying to get better each day. I didn’t really [hear] whether people said I was going to be a star. All that other stuff, just trying to put my head down and work hard.”
If it seems that Gaven has been around forever, well, in MLS standards, he has. He was drafted as such a young age. He is in his prime at the age of 26 and has been one of the most consistent players in the league. Since 2004, Gaven has played at least 24 games a season.
Admittedly a shy person, Gaven did not speak much or long to the media when he first came into the league in 2003. But in a recent interview with BigAppleSoccer.com, he spoke for approximately 20 minutes about his career.
“I was just a very shy kid back then,” he said. “I am now, too, although I have come out of my shell more.”
Egyptian national coach Bob Bradley, then the MetroStars coach, had his eye on Gaven, whom he chose as the 12th overall selection (second round) in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft.
“I was young at that time. I was 16-years-old,” Gaven said in a recent telephone interview. “I didn’t really know how everything worked in the league, so I was hoping I would be picked up by my hometown team, which obviously was New York. But I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go. I recall I was very, very nervous, not knowing where I was going to go, whether I was going to leave my family, go to some area in the country where I didn’t know too well. But everything worked out and I got picked up by the team that I had cheered for during my whole life up to that point, which was definitely a dream come true. It was awesome to play there for the first few years of my MLS career.”
Gaven was part of the MetroStars’ legendary class of 2003, when he was drafted along with midfielder Ricardo Clark and midfielder-forward Mike Magee. Because he was the youngest player on the team and still living at home, Gaven did not always socialize with the older players at the time.
“To be honest with you, when I first came into the league, I really didn’t hang out too much with the other guys on the team. I was only 16,” he said. “I think Mike and Rico, they were a little bit older. They were like 19. I didn’t hang out too much with anybody. I know that sounds anti-social. I was just a very shy kid back then.
“I would show up at training. My mom would have to actually drive me to training because I didn’t have my drivers license in my very first year in the league, stay there and she would drive me home. It wasn’t too much hanging out with the guys on the team. Maybe that was something I should have done a better with when I was younger. I was very shy. … I am still very shy today, but not as much as I was back then, for sure.”
He sure wasn’t shy attacking the opposition.
In only his second year of the league, Gaven, then only 17, recorded seven goals and seven assists, which was good enough to catapult him onto the MLS Best XI in 2004, which surprised him, media and other observers.
“I think at the time, I didn’t even know that they had such a thing,” he said. “I think somebody told me that I had been named to it and I wasn’t sure what it was. They said I was going out to LA for the MLS Cup that year. I was going to be honored. I thought it was cool. It was a huge honor to be named one of the best players in the league. It was definitely awesome to be named that. Probably one of the highlights of my MLS career.”
If receiving that honor put too many expectations on Gaven, the Crew midfielder did not think so.
“No, I really don’t think too much,” he said. “I just go out and play. I don’t try to worry too much about all the stuff . . .what the other people in the media might be saying. All that other stuff, I just try to block all that out, whether it’s good or bad. That’s kind of always how I’ve been. I don’t really think who I was at all or changed the way I played or anything. Like I said, it was definitely a huge honor, but did not change that much about me.”
Gaven’s goal production increased to eight goals in 2005 (he also assisted on four others), but only weeks after the team was bought by Red Bull and changed its name to the Red Bulls, he was traded to the Columbus Crew along with the rights of defender Chris Leitch for forward Edson Buddle.
Needless to say, it was stunning news for the 6-foot, 165-lb. Gaven, who never considered leaving the area.
“When I first came into the league, I never thought that I would be traded,” he said. “I just figured I would play for my hometown team pretty much for my whole life but coming out to the Crew I think was a big part of making me the player I am today. It helped me grow up quicker. When it first happened, i wasn’t sure how it was going to go down, having to my mom and dad, leave my hometown area, come to a new place and a new city where I didn’t know too many people. But I think that experience helped me grow up quick. I definitely love this area now. This is my home. As weird as that sounds, because I never thought that I would say that, when growing up in Jersey just a kid. This is my home out here in Ohio.”
Grow up he did. Gaven got married to Paula, and they have two sons, Zachary and Michael. While he went from high to the professional ranks, Gaven did find time to earn a degree in business administration from American Intercontinental University in January 2006. He also was named the Crew’s U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the year in 2008 and 2012 for his off-the-field work.
Gaven made his international debut in 2004. He wound up making eight appearances for the U.S. national team, but never stuck.
His greatest contributions have been as a club player, playing a vital role in the Crew’s march to the 2008 MLS Cup championship, scoring the game-winning goal against the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference championship game. Columbus went on to defeat the Red Bulls in the MLS Cup, 3-1.
“That was definitely the highlight of my career thus far,” Gaven said. “I think what every player wants to do is to be able to win and I have been able to it once in 10 years of playing, so it just shows how hard it is. I hope to be able to have a chance to get back there at some point.”
Given his that he doesn’t have any plans of hanging up his boots, Gaven hopes to have another decade or so of trying for another trophy.
“I hope I can play 10 more years,” he said. “I feel really, really good right now. Knock on wood, everything feels good with my body. Hopefully, I am in my prime right now. I hope I am. I definitely feel that way. Just trying to make myself better every day, just like I did when I was 16. Just trying to help this team win MLS Cup.”