SUWON, South Korea — Former D.C. United star Bobby Convey may have a tough time getting back into English Premier League club Reading FC's starting lineup. Convey suffered a knee injury at the World Cup in Germany last year and hasn't seen action since February. Steve Hunt took over the left flank midfield role when Convey was injured.
"It will be tough for Bobby this season because Steve Hunt, who is also a left-footer, has taken his place and he is a very hard worker who has become a fan favorite," said Reading coach Steve Coppell, whose team is participating in the Peace Cup.
Last night the Royals lost 1-0 to Argentine giant River Plate in the first game in Group B at Suwon World Cup Stadium before 22,753 fans. The goal followed Matias Abelairas" free kick.
Convey did not make the trip to Korea. The Philadelphia native had knee surgery in December, but the problem persisted and he came back to the United States for more surgery in March. He has since returned to England and began running again last month.
"I think if Bobby was fit he would get the nod over Hunt," said Nick Ive, a reporter with the Reading Evening Post. "Hunt will give you 120 percent, but in terms of skill, Bobby is better, and his delivery is superior."
Coppell is known to be very loyal to his players and stood by Hunt when the feisty midfielder cracked the skull of Chelsea's star goalie Petr Cech in October in an on-field collision. Coppell played Convey the following game following the incident but then went back to Hunt.
"When he was healthy Bobby helped us a lot in the last two seasons," Coppell said. "I think he is a little lonely in England. He recently broke up with his girlfriend so it has not been easy."
When Convey returned to the States to have surgery it was thought he might not return to the team.
"He was depressed and there were rumors that he was going back to the U.S. for good," Ive said.
Convey, who has two years still on his contract at Reading FC, joined D.C. United in 2000 as a 16-year-old and spent five seasons with the club, playing in 89 games and earning nine goals and 14 assists. He was an ambitious player with his eye always on the next challenge. In 2003 he thought he was on his way to EPL club Tottenham Hotspur, but the deal fell through when he was denied a work permit. The following summer he finally made it to England, joining Reading in the Championship, a division below the EPL.
But Convey's transition to English soccer was difficult and he was left warming the bench for much of his first year. At the time he was Reading's biggest signing ever. The club reportedly had to pay MLS $1.5 million for the rights to Convey.
"When he first arrived people wondered what all the money was spent on," Ive said. "Then he scored a stunning goal against Millwall and really started to play well."
Convey's dream of playing in the big time soon came true as Reading earned promotion to the EPL at the end of the 2005-06 season. It also earned him a big pay raise and he now makes $1 million a year. However, his knee injury limited him to just 12 league games last season.
Things do seem to be getting better. Convey's brother now is staying with him, and his best friend on the team, striker Dave Kitson, just returned to the lineup after missing most of last season with an injury.
"Bobby just has to get over the psychological barrier as far as the injury is concerned," Reading assistant coach Kevin Dillon said. "He sounds confident and he looks stronger and has bulked up a little. He just needs the games now."
Still only 24, Convey has played 38 times for the U.S. national team, where he is in competition for the left flank role with DaMarcus Beasley and Justin Mapp.
Note —In last night's other game at the Peace Cup, French champion Lyon beat Japan's Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 in Busan.