N’Silu heads United size surge

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D.C. United has always prided itself on being a good possession team that keeps the ball on the ground.

But the club hasn't always done so well at winning high balls in the middle of the field - that is, maybe, until now. With an influx of taller players this season, United is fielding a bigger team. Half the roster stands 6 feet and taller, including nine field players. One notable addition is 6-foot forward Ange N'Silu, an agile player who has proved he can win headers from the goalkeeper's high punts.

“Ange has qualities that are going to help us throughout the year,” coach Tom Soehn said. “He is very good at flicking on balls. He can hold balls, and he can serve a good ball and find his way into the corners. It's real luxury having several forwards that can change games, and this year we have the depth to do that.”

The ability to flick on a long pass with a header can often lead to a direct attack on goal. In United's 1-0 win Saturday against visiting Houston, the 23-year-old won high balls that United wouldn't have gained control of last season.

“Because of my size, it's a little bit easier for me,” N'Silu said through an interpreter. “It's all about my timing, so that I can arrive at the ball at the top of my jump while shielding off defenders with my body.”

N'Silu, who had his first league start Saturday, likely will start at Real Salt Lake this Saturday in place of suspended forward Jaime Moreno. The veteran replaced N'Silu against Houston in the 65th minute but earned a red card six minutes later for a dangerous tackle.

”For my first match, I felt good,” N'Silu said. “It was important to get the first win of the season, and I'm happy to have worked hard for that with the team. I'm very happy. I liked the stadium, and we played very well. It was a good starting point; I want to build off of it. I think I can be a little more creative as a forward, but it was a good place to start and to get the first win.”

Born in the Republic of Congo and raised in Paris, N'Silu came to United after spending a season with FC Le Mont of Switzerland . In 31 games, he scored 25 goals.

- At one point in its history, United rarely scored off corner kicks. The club endured a 61-game goalless streak off corner kicks from August 2002 to September 2004. With Dejan Jakovic, Anthony Peters, Andrew Jacobson and Greg Janicki all 6-2 and taller, United will look to take advantage of set plays near the goal. …

United averaged 19,835 fans at home games in 2008, but the club pulled in just 15,895 in its home opener and 12,594 against Houston.

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