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Global Jun 08, 2012

Korrio Player to Watch: Michael Gamble

By Jimmy LaRoue

Michael Gamble is not exactly an under-the-radar type of player – when healthy.

However, with two significant injuries over the last two years, Gamble is just now returning to full health and top form for the Baltimore Bays Chelsea Under-18s Development Academy team.

His coach, Steve Nichols, anticipates him being in top form heading into the final stretch of the academy regular season and playoffs for a Bays Chelsea side currently on an 18-game unbeaten string.

And while Gamble is already set to play collegiately for Wake Forest in the fall, along with Bays Chelsea teammates Ricky Greensfelder and Andrew Harris, a strong run of form for Gamble could propel him to a professional contract.

It is his ability and potential that makes Gamble the Korrio Player to Watch for June.

“He sees things that the typical player in our country doesn’t see,” Nichols said of Gamble. “He’s a little bit beyond it mentally. He studies the game of soccer. He loves Barcelona. [Lionel] Messi’s his hero. He’s very good at getting by people and seeing where the second and third and fourth defender are and reading the game. He’s very good in tight places, finding the closest support player. He’s just a really good soccer player.”

Gamble basically has free rein on the field for Bays Chelsea, as Nichols allows him to feel the game.

“We give him a lot of freedom and let him express himself,” Nichols said. “Sometimes he takes that freedom too far and he starts doing things outside of our philosophy and the personnel of our team and we’ve got to rein him in. But we try to give him as much freedom as we can, though, because a player like him, you don’t want to put the [restraints] and wraps on him. You want to let him go and do the things he does.”

Nichols, who also coaches Gamble at McDonogh, said he was playing his best soccer in the fall before he closed out the season with a stress fracture in his foot.

Gamble’s coach compares him favorably with a former Bays Chelsea player, Chris Agorsor, the 2008 national high school player of the year who had multiple contract offers from teams in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after that season’s academy championship for Bays Chelsea.

Agorsor instead went to the University of Virginia, where he battled serious injuries, later trialing with Manchester United, a team in Portugal and spending time with the Philadelphia Union before coming to the USL PRO’s Richmond Kickers.

“He’s not as explosive as Chris was when he had his run,” Nichols said of Gamble. “But he’s a lot better soccer player.”

Nichols said if the expressive Gamble regains his full explosiveness and is protected by referees on the field, there could be a change in plans for the Bays Chelsea standout.

“If he gets that back, I know he’s supposed to go to Wake, but I could see him turning pro,” Nichols said. “He’s got that kind of ability.”

But Nichols knows, too, that Gamble is an all-out player, and that he’s a marked-man.

“I think with Mike, we’ve got to be careful with him,” Nichols said. “He’s a fierce competitor and he doesn’t know when to say when. He doesn’t ever want to quit, but at the same time, as we’re trying to get Mike ready for Wake Forest or to go play professional, one or the other, we can’t hold him back.  He needs to get back to where he was, and we have to keep working with him. We’ve got to be careful, but at the same time, we’ve got to get his form back.”

Two years ago, Gamble suffered a stress fracture in his back, something Nichols attributes to his passion and work ethic – overworking and overstressing it.

“He works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen in my entire life, day in and day out,” Nichols said. “He’s on the ball, technically, and he’s very, very good, but he also has the mindset. He’s very driven.”

In back-to-back games earlier this year, Gamble scored goals, and Nichols remembers one coach yelling out to his team after the Bays Chelsea forward scored that ‘I told you, of all people, don’t let him beat us.’

“That’s just the respect he demands,” said Nichols.

Gamble, who missed almost the entire 2010-11 academy season, scored four second-half goals for Bays Chelsea in last year’s U-18 Development Academy fifth place game against the New York Red Bulls, a 4-1 win in which Nichols started seven U-16 players.

And while Wake Forest has a strong track record of developing professional players and has a top recruiting class, Nichols said the next two months could be a special time for Gamble, who he noted turned down an opportunity to go to Mexico and play pro there and join its U-17s.

For someone who was once cut from Bays Chelsea’s U-14 team, Gamble has come a long way in a short time, fighting his way through adversity and injuries to become one of the best young players in the U.S.

“If Mike gets back to where he was, as good as we are, he’s going to be the guy that’s going to win it for us,” Nichols said. “If Mike gets going, the sky’s the limit for that kid, and obviously, the sky’s the limit for our team.”

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