OBETZ, Ohio – Shaun Francis doesn’t consider himself quick.
But tell that to the New York Red Bulls, after they got a taste of the Crew rookie defender’s afterburners on several occasions during his 33-minute MLS debut on Saturday.
And tell that to Dane Richards, who was left in the dust by Francis in the second half, leading to an eventual scoring chance for Emilio Renteria.
“You saw Saturday he took Richards for a ride and delivered that beautiful cross to Emilio,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “He is quick and he knows how to use his body. It was his first game. He did very, very well.”
Francis has speed unseen in a Crew uniform since Brian West scooted down the right flank from 1998 to 2003. And if Saturday was any indication, Francis has a better delivery into the box.
“He’s capable of doing that all the time,” Warzycha said.
Francis, however, isn’t buying all the talk about his pace.
“Honestly to me, I don’t think I’m fast,” he said. “People tell me I’m fast, but I don’t think I’m fast. I just play my game.”
It’s all relative for Francis, who hails from the same Caribbean island as the “world’s fastest human,” Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. In his youth, Francis was a top-notch track and field athlete excelling in the long and high jumps and, not surprisingly, the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
“When I look back on it, maybe if I continued in track I’d be a professional,” he said. “They make a lot of money, but soccer is my love. This is where I want to be.”
The only thing slow about Francis is his climb up the Crew’s depth chart. He was taken 63rd of 64 players in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft out of Lindsey Wilson College, but he missed the last week of preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season with an ankle sprain.
Despite showing well in several exhibitions against college teams, he didn’t debut in a meaningful match until going 90 minutes vs. Rochester in a US Open Cup match on June 29. He went the distance again the next week against Charleston in another Open Cup game.
“Even if I don’t play, it’s not something bad for me even though sometimes you might be upset and you might be sad when you do your best and you don’t play,” he said. “It’s not that you’re not doing well. The coach makes a decision for a reason. It’s not something that’s going to bring my confidence down. If you don’t believe in yourself, who is going to believe in you?”