Chris Wondolowski is primed to overtake Landon Donovan as Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer this season. Not a bad guy to have in your first training camp. It gave UNLV standouts Danny Musovski and Kevin Partida someone to keep a close eye on during their first foray into professional soccer.
On Jan. 19, Musovski was selected as a second-round pick, 30th overall, by Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. Two days later, Partida was picked in the third round to the same team, marking the first time two Rebels have been taken in one draft class.
For Musovski, the draft was an anxious coronation. He’d long been ticketed for the pros. Draft watchers had him going as high as the 10th overall pick, but most agreed he’d be taken in the first round of four. The combine was just the week prior, and San Jose had expressed its interest. Musovski and his family went to Philadelphia to be there in person for the big payoff.
So when the Earthquakes’ 12th pick came and went without his name getting called, Musovski started getting anxious.
“You always believe your name should be called before anybody else's,” the forward said. “So whenever you hear somebody else's name is called it's almost like a little slap to the face. You try not to take it personally. It was kind of nerve-wracking throughout three hours of sitting there.”
Partida took a bit of a different route.
“I actually found out through Twitter,” he said. “I got a notification from a San Jose fan before I heard from anybody else.”
Even though Partida wasn’t invited to the combine, the midfielder had played for two seasons with the Burlingame (California) Dragons, an Earthquakes affiliate in the Premier Development League. He caught the eye of San Jose’s talent evaluators, and all of a sudden found himself reunited with Musovski, his Rebels co-captain and occasional road trip roommate.
“When Danny got drafted I said, ‘You're on your own now,’” Partida said. “A couple days later he responded, ‘You're stuck with me forever.’”
After training camp, Musovski was assigned to San Jose’s affiliate franchise in Reno. Partida joined him recently after recovering from an injury. Though neither player has any specific timetable for promotion, they got their first taste of pro action on March 17 — in the middle of a snowstorm — with Musovski registering a shot.
The Return Home
The real fun was March 24 when Reno 1868 FC traveled south to face the first-year Las Vegas Lights FC, which boasts former Rebels Julian Portugal and Matt Thomas.
Partida came to UNLV from Sparks and now is back on home turf with the Reno team. Musovski went the opposite direction as a native Las Vegan and standout Rebel now playing in Wolfpack territory. It causes some mixed feelings for the two of them to be wearing Reno jerseys in Las Vegas.
“I never thought I'd be playing with Reno against Vegas in my life,” Musovski said shortly before the matchup. “It's definitely a weird experience. It'll be mixed emotions. Some people will be cheering for me, some people will be rooting against me, but I'm just going to be enjoying the experience.”
It makes for conflicted loyalties for coach Rich Ryerson with four alumni on opposite ends of the pitch — but he knows what that’s like. He played against his brother, Rob, as a professional, and coached against him when Rob Ryerson headed up Mount Saint Mary’s. Their mother wore half of each jersey, stitched together (“But I know I was her favorite,” Rich Ryerson deadpanned.)
The teams divided the honors, each winning a game in their first matchup. It also, marks a moment of increased prominence for UNLV soccer as a whole.
“Ultimately, soccer at the college level is a great pathway for getting to the professional level,” Ryerson said. “The last four years we've had four players drafted, and three of the four have been in-state guys. It gives credibility to what we've been doing.”
An even better advertisement for the program could come if both players reach San Jose, bringing their built-in chemistry to the team. Partida quickly learned to look for Musovski first whenever he was beginning the team’s attack. That respect flows in both directions.
“Kevin—you have to see him to appreciate what he does for the team,” Musovski said. “He's a box-to-box midfielder. He just runs, wins tackles for you. It might not show up in the stat sheet, but at the end of the day he's the result of us winning a lot of games. Not too many people play college with the same guy, then play professional soccer with the same guy. Me and Kevin have the opportunity. It's special.”