Daniel Woolard isn’t exactly the most attention-grabbing individual.
When D.C. United take the field, the soft-spoken 27-year-old typically is there to man his post at left back. For the 90 minutes that follow, Woolard tends to fly under the radar. If it weren’t for a battle for the ball here or an overlapping run there, in fact, one might forget he’s on the field.
As far he’s concerned, that’s the way it should be.
“I’m not a flashy player,” Woolard said. “I’m not going to come out of every game [and have people] say, ‘Whoa, did you see Woolard out there?’ It’s not going to be like that, and it’s never going to be like that. I’m still a defender, so it’s just one of those things that comes with the territory.”
Woolard’s meat-and-potatoes style hasn’t earned him extensive accolades or the most devoted following among fans. But he has been a crucial cog for a United back line that in the past three matches has allowed just one goal. Matched up with players including crafty Vancouver maestro Camilo and Dallas winger Brek Shea, a Most Valuable Player finalist from a year ago, he has more than held his own.
Ahead of last week’s game against Seattle, though, Woolard was thrust into the spotlight when Sounders defender Marc Burch — a player United let go during the offseason — told the Seattle Times he wanted to “prove that I don’t believe that their left back is better than I am.”
Woolard took the high road, declining to comment before turning in a characteristically stingy performance in Saturday’s scoreless draw. Burch, meanwhile, ended up not starting for Seattle, though he did strike the crossbar after entering as a substitute in second-half stoppage time.
“It was funny, his reaction was just, ‘Whatever,’ to Burch’s comment,” center back Dejan Jakovic said. “But he didn’t really have to say anything. I thought he came out and played a hell of a game. That’s the way to do it.”
While Woolard was fifth on the team in minutes played last year, he knows he can’t take his place in the lineup for granted. That much became evident when second-year player Chris Korb got the nod over him for United’s second match of the season, a 3-1 loss at the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 18. As Woolard acknowledged, “It’s a spot I have to win week in, week out.”
Since that snub, he has played some of his best soccer in a D.C. uniform. Known as a stay-at-home defender, Woolard has made a concentrated effort of late to push forward more on the offensive end.
“There are always places where you think you can do better,” Woolard said. “For the most part for me, it’s in the attacking third, getting involved and helping the team get chances by putting balls into the box or finding the forwards.”
For Woolard, it’s been a long road to locking down a starting job in MLS. He wasn’t taken in the 2007 SuperDraft following a college career at Division II Midwestern State in Texas, instead waiting until the fourth round of the supplemental draft to be claimed by the Chicago Fire.
After starting just six games in three years with Chicago, he spent a season with the second-tier Carolina RailHawks before signing in January 2011 with United - after a failed tryout with D.C. the previous preseason.
But when United (1-2-2) travel to take on the New England Revolution (2-3-0) on Saturday, Woolard likely will make his 31st start for the club. It turns out the left back has - quietly, of course - become about as reliable as they come for D.C.
“I know a lot of his career no one really knew about him,” goalkeeper Joe Willis said. “But we’re lucky to have him.”
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