- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

The story of Bryan Namoff with D.C. United, is one of acceptance, rejection and finally redemption. Now all he needs is a pay raise.

The speedy defender has lit up the United back line this season with his hard work and steady play, almost stealing the show from star defender Ryan Nelsen. But it wasn’t always that way for the laid-back, big-hearted kid from Rockford, Ill., who will play the biggest game of his career against New England tonight at RFK Stadium.

Brought to the team as a midfielder during Thomas Rongen’s last year as coach in 2001, the former Bradley University star broke into the starting lineup that season, earning a surprising seven assists in just 15 games.

But after Rongen was fired, the good times faded. New coach Ray Hudson didn’t think much of the young Namoff, preferring to go with his aging veterans. Hudson eventually sent him down to the A-League’s Richmond Kickers.

“I didn’t have much choice when I got sent down,” Namoff said. “I just said, ‘OK. you put me here, but I’ll prove to you it’s not where I belong.’”

Namoff didn’t moan — it’s just not in his nature.

“He never complained or said anything negative,” said defender Mike Petke, who later roomed with Namoff.

Namoff returned to United at the end of the 2002 season, and last year Hudson praised his play, holding him up as an example of hard work and commitment in his four-man back line. Hudson gave Namoff the Coaches Award at the end of the season, even though the defender was victimized on a crucial goal in the playoffs. Namoff was clearly back in United’s picture, and this time it was Hudson who got sent packing.

With the arrival Peter Nowak this year, Namoff secured the right side position on the three-man back line. He has gone from being a blue-collar player to a refined and technical defender.

Namoff describes himself as “an outlet player who is able to link with the midfield and get into the attack once in a while.” He uses his speed “not to get beat on one-on-ones” and considers United’s defense “one of the most technical units in the league.”

United owes a big thanks to Namoff this season, and it should come in the form of a large salary increase when he negotiates a new contract this month.

“I would hope so,” said Namoff, who was listed as earning just $28,000 in a preseason report. “I’ve been here for five years and established myself in the lineup.”

In 27 starts this season, Namoff had the team’s second-highest total of minutes. In last week’s playoff game against the MetroStars, he played a blinder, topping off a solid game with a goal. Now he faces the Revolution in the conference final without center-back Nelsen, who is suspended. The big New Zealander is not only Namoff’s partner on the back line but also his former roommate, mentor and buddy.

“Nelsen is very vocal and we will miss his communications, but we are very versatile,” Namoff said.

Namoff must deal with the Revolution’s deadly duo of Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan. Noonan has 11 goals this season, two more than former Maryland star Twellman. The latter scored the goal that sent the Revolution into the conference final with last week’s 1-1 tie at Columbus.

“Twellman is tougher and very good at those half-chances, while Noonan is more of a defensive forward, able to hold the ball and flick on those passes to Twellman,” Namoff said.

Namoff lives with teammates Thiago Martins and Kevin Ara in Arlington, where he cooks his own meals and likes to listen to Howie Day’s new CD “Collide.” And collide is the last thing you would want to do with Namoff, a tenacious defender who is often bloodied but has yet to see a red card. For all his hard work, this is a guy who deserves a spot at the MLS Cup next week.

Corner kicks — England’s Crystal Palace is taking a look at American goalie Kasey Keller, who finds himself on the bench with Tottenham Hotspur. Keller said recently he may join MLS next year, and England’s Daily Star reported he is “looking at offers” from D.C. United, FC Dallas, Kansas City and the MetroStars. … German club Bayer Leverkusen likely will exercise its option on Landon Donovan, who may have played his last game in MLS.

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