Eddie Gaven retired today, and the math doesn't seem right. He's only 27 years old, but already an 11-year veteran of MLS. That's what happens when you get drafted at age 16, as Gaven was by the MetroStars in 2003. The wunderkind never quite lived up to the hype, but he proved to be a versatile, workmanlike presence in the midfield in New York, and since 2006, with Columbus.
I'll always remember Gaven for his starring role in one of the strangest MLS footnotes. In only his second game as a pro, against D.C. United on July 5, 2003, Gaven came on in extra time—as a goalkeeper. The MetroStars were taking advantage of one of MLS's more pointless and exploitable rules, one that allowed teams a fourth substitution in a match, but only for a new goalkeeper.
Having already used three substitutions, and down to 10 men thanks to a red card for Bruce Arena's son Kenny, New York was desperate before defender Mark Lisi pulled up lame just before extra time. Instead of going down to nine men, coach Bob Bradley pulled Lisi, moved Tim Howard out of net to Lisi's spot, and put Gaven in as the new keeper. He was wearing a nameless gray practice jersey, and forced to don keeper's gloves. Technically legal. Ethically questionable.
Ten seconds in, the MetroStars cleared the ball out of bounds and Gaven and Howard exchanged gear.
His brief goalkeeping career ended with a permanently clean slate.* Then, in the eighth minute, Howard made a ridiculous save, and Amado Guevara sent a bomb down the pitch to a streaking Gaven for a gorgeous winner. Not a bad match for a 16-year-old.
The goalkeeper sub rule—the Eddie Gaven rule—was stricken from the books after that season. Eleven solid years in the league followed, but it's hard to top that for a memorable legacy.