- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Bobby Convey, D.C. United's 16-year-old rookie phenom, doesn't particularly crave the attention he's gotten this season. So Convey wasn't too upset on Monday evening when a limousine, which was dispatched to his home in Reston, Va., to take him to a live television interview, never showed up.

The foul-up seemed appropriate because United was trying to help make Convey's life less of a fishbowl.

Even before Monday's limousine incident, United implemented measures curtailing Convey's interviews and speaking engagements. The local television station who failed to send the limo can probably forget having Convey live for some time. The club wants to slow down Conveymania.

"We're going to eliminate the big video pieces and tours of my house and stuff," said United president Kevin Payne. Payne and his wife, Pamela, opened their home to Convey and has the teen-ager living with them. "He's handled it well. He's an interesting story because he's 16 years old, but if he was 22 years old nobody would be doing these stories about him."

Convey has started only two games in his professional soccer career, yet he has reached soccer celebrity status. Seemingly overnight, Convey has been asked to make the jump from adolescent to adult.

Reporters and photographers from People magazine will be at United's Herndon, Va., training facility this week working on a story about Convey. There is plenty of interest in the youngest player ever to play in Major League Soccer. Meanwhile the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper has adopted United as one of its teams because Convey and forward Chris Albright both attended Philadelphia's William Penn Charter High School.

Convey, who was United's first-round draft pick (12th overall) in February's MLS SuperDraft, is the first to admit he has done too many off-field appearances.

"Yeah because I want to focus on playing now, but whatever brings more attention to MLS and whatever brings more attention to our club and our team, I'm happy to do it," Convey said.

United's left-flank midfielder handles the attention like a seasoned professional. He says the right things.

It seems everyone is willing to give Convey advice these days. Two years ago the only advice he received was from his parents, Bob and Nancy Convey, but now Convey gets pointers from his Los Angeles-based agent, Richard Motzkin, who engineered an undisclosed endorsement deal with Nike, Kevin and Pamela Payne, United coach Thomas Rongen, and United assistant coach Frank Yallop.

They've all instructed Convey on how to deal with being in the spotlight. As a Project-40 player, Convey earns a base salary of $24,000 a season, a mere pittance to what Michael Owen, England's 20-year-old phenom, got when he burst on the soccer scene four years ago.

Convey's impeccable soccer pedigree allowed for such a smooth transition to the professional ranks. Living away from his parents' north Philadelphia row house is not new to Convey. For the past year, Convey lived in residence at the prestigious Bradenton (Fla.) Academy with the U.S. Under-17 national team.

At Bradenton, Convey played against the best competition the world has to offer in his age group. And it shows.

Unlike United teammate midfielder Sergio Salas, who turned 19 in March, Convey is technically more sound because of his specialized training. Salas joined United as a Project-40 player from Pimmit Hills High School, an alternative school in McLean, Va., and has been exposed to the level of competition that Convey has.

"Look at [Convey] and Sergio, and there is a world of difference," Rongen said. "Sergio is still raw and unsophisticated because he's never been in that environment around good players, with good coaches, with travel playing in front of big crowds and preparing for World Cups like Bobby has. Sergio played high school ball and with a club team here and you can really see the difference the way they know the game."

Convey said speed is the biggest adjustment he has had to make in MLS. He claims MLS level decisions are made more quickly and the game itself is faster. However he hasn't had to refine his skills to play in MLS.

"The U-17s helped me a lot from the World Cup, I was a professional really when I played for the U-17s," Convey said. "The national teams helped because I played every day. I played against the best youth teams in the world and it helps you grow a lot more."

Convey made his first professional start last Wednesday against the Columbus Crew. The left-footed midfielder played a cautious and controlled game. He held possession and got back defensively. In Saturday's 5-2 blowout win over the Colorado Rapids, Convey attacked more and almost scored his first goal. He took a deflection inside the Rapids' box and, with some nifty dribbling, split two defenders and unleashed a low liner toward the left post. It took a remarkable sliding foot save by Rapids goalkeeper Adin Brown to deny Convey.

"He's got the right attitude to deal with this stuff," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "A lot of 16-year-old kids are not mentally ready for this type of stuff. He seems very solid in his mental and physical game."

Rongen is undecided whether to start Convey for a third straight game tonight at the Miami Fusion or go with veteran John Maessner on the left flank. At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Convey doesn't cast an imposing figure. Rongen doesn't want to wear out his 16-year-old star.

So far, MLS opponents haven't tried to intimidate Convey, or trash talk United's high-profile rookie. When things get rough, Convey says he dishes it back.

"In a game you get the shoulder shove and whatever, I just give it back to them."

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