Convey makes change for the better
After seeing time in all eight matches the U.S. National Team had played this year, not to mention a team-high 15 appearances in 2003, Bobby Convey all of a sudden found himself on the outside looking in when Bruce Arena's side traveled to Jamaica two weeks ago to kickoff the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
It wasn't as though Arena didn't want him or couldn't have used his services against the Reggae Boyz. Quite the contrary, actually. Instead, not calling in the 21-year-old midfielder was more of a gift, as it gave Convey a chance to further get acquainted with his new team, Reading FC, and in his new country.
"I knew it was the best thing for me to stay in England," said Convey on Wednesday evening. "I was still settling in with the team -- I didn't even know everyone's names yet -- and it would have been tough for me to fly to Jamaica between our games. It wasn't too bad for me."
Of course, the U.S.-Jamaica match was played during the middle of the night where Convey was. Not that it mattered anyway, as the game wasn't being shown in England. So any premature gray hairs were spared from not having to watch his team wait until the 89th minute to score a goal and eek out a tie on the road.
"I read about it on the Internet," said Convey.
That won't be the case this time around, though, since the Philadelphia native has been called in for the National Team's two qualifiers against El Salvador and Panama that will be played within a five-day span starting on Saturday against the Cuscatlecos in Foxboro, Mass.
And it couldn't come at a better time for Convey, who is fresh off of playing 76 minutes in Reading's 1-0 loss to Millwall over the weekend.
Now having played in five games for Reading in England's League Championship, he is past the pseudo-orientation process that he's been going through for the past month since transferring from D.C. United in July.
"I'm just getting past all the pain in the neck stuff," said Convey, who'll return to England in time for Reading's next match on September 11 against Derby County. "I got my apartment set up now. I got my phone last week, and my car finally arrived this week and will be waiting for me when I get back. It's like moving for everyone - this just happens to be in a different country."
He's also no longer the New Guy or, better yet, he's no longer The Yank. Having a fellow American in starting goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann already established within the club has helped take care of that, as has the influx of players from the U.S. that has bolstered several clubs in England's top divisions in recent years, including the recent inclusion of 18-year-old Jonathan Spector into the Manchester United lineup.
"Having an American playing in England or anywhere in Europe isn't as much of a big deal anymore," said Convey. "They're now realizing they can find good players in the U.S., so they know everyone who plays on the National Team."
At the same time, Convey has found that finding an MLS match on TV is next to impossible, which has forced him to follow his old friends on D.C. United via the Internet.
"They don't watch MLS," said Convey. "It's just English soccer. Only English soccer."
For Convey, the real education as far as the differences between the U.S. and England when it comes to the game have been seen by his time on the field.
"It's just a completely different culture," he said. "I knew that right away when we were at West Ham, and there's 36,000 fans going crazy, and the game is on national TV. It's just on a different level than what I was used to. Being in that type of environment just makes you want to play. You look around and you think how it's exactly what I've had dreams about."
In that match, Convey made his debut for the Royals, entering the game in the 34th minute of what ultimately was a 1-0 loss to the Hammers. It's one of the three appearances he's made off the bench to go with two starts.
More appearances in the starting unit will surely come for Convey, as Reading manager Steve Coppell thinks highly of him. However, the young midfielder knows that regardless of how much Reading pushed for his transfer over the summer or how he does with the U.S. National Team, it will come down to how he performs on a daily basis in training, which isn't always the case in Major League Soccer.
"Every day is intense here," said Convey. "Training is everything. You have to fight for your spot. Everyone fights for a spot, not just one or two players. That type of pressure makes you step up your play."
It's that type of mindset that Arena is hoping further develops Convey's game, as much mentally as anything to do with his technical abilities.
"The challenge at Reading is a good one for him," said the U.S. manager. "I think he's playing in a very tough league in the First Division in England. He's not going to get the benefit of the doubt. He needs to produce game in and game out and I think that's good for him. He's going to be in a more pressure-packed situation. It is a team that believes it can position itself to be promoted to the Premiership, so all those challenges within his club, I think, are going to be good for Bobby because he needs to be tested as a player and that environment will certainly test him throughout a very long and rigorous schedule."
So far, Convey has found that the speed of play is much faster, and that the intensity level is always high. It's exactly what he was seeking when he decided to trade in his all-star status at RFK for a chance to play overseas at a stadium affectionately known as Mad Stad.
"After being at D.C. United for five years, it was time to move on," Convey said. "All the progress I've made with the National Team and as a player has been because of MLS and playing at D.C., but I knew I was ready for a change. I wanted to make the next step in the process, and come to a place where I'm battling every day to get into the lineup will only make me better.
"And that's the type of competitiveness and intensity that makes you play to your potential."
Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org