- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

When your top forwards are injured and the reserve strikers have gone stale, thank heavens for a defender who can score goals.
D.C. United has been getting some desperately needed offensive help from an unlikely source. Defender Ryan Nelsen has scored three goals along with two assists for eight points.
Three goals may seem like peanuts, but when Nelsen's goal total is the same as the club's three key strikers Jaime Moreno, Ali Curtis and Santino Quaranta it's no small matter.
United (6-11-3, 21 points) will be looking for its rugged New Zealand defender to venture into the opponent's box against the Kansas City Wizards (8-6-7, 31 points) at RFK Stadium tonight. United hasn't scored a goal in four games 431 minutes since a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew at RFK on July 13, and is now eight points adrift of a playoff spot.
"I suppose I have more of a nose for goals this season," said Nelsen. "I take a few risks. On set-pieces I want the ball to come to me. "
Nelsen scored two goals, including the game winner, in a 3-2 win over the New England Revolution on June 8 at RFK. He then tallied a goal in the 2-0 win at RFK over the Colorado Rapids on June 19. Last season, Nelsen started 19 games and never creased the net once, managing just four shots on goal.
"I'm a totally different player from last year," said Nelsen, who has managed 10 shots on goal in 12 starts this season. "I've matured and I'm taking on a more leadership role."
And Nelsen hasn't been shirking on his defensive duties. The United back line has been doing a decent job, giving up just 27 goals in 20 games, and is tied for the third best defense in Major League Soccer.
"Ryan is a danger man up top," said United coach Ray Hudson. "He leaves his defensive position intelligently, and those goals he scores are like marvelous cherries on the cake. I have to say he is our best defender at the moment."
Nelsen was acquired by United as a first round [forth overall] pick in the 2001 draft and replaced defensive midfielder Richie Williams, who had been traded to the MetroStars. At the time, former United coach Thomas Rongen said he wanted a player with better heading ability in the team's midfield.
Hudson admits that early in the season he had reservations about Nelsen's ability. He says his reserve defender was victimized on a number of occasions which lead to costly goals. Hudson was forced to sit down with Nelsen and discuss his future.
"I'll show you what I can do," Nelsen told Hudson.
Nelsen got his chance to prove himself when starting defender Eddie Pope left to join the World Cup team in early May. Nelsen took over Pope's duties in the center of the defense and started seven consecutive games in a row.
"Ryan responded in cavalier fashion," Hudson said. "He went up another gear or two. Along with Nick [Rimando], he has been one of the brighter lights on the club this season."
Hudson says he is tempted to send Nelsen on more offensive forays and next year might play him as a midfielder Nelsen's natural position.
But Nelsen's biggest play of the year didn't come in a United jersey. Last month, New Zealand's 2001 player of the year scored the lone goal as the All Whites upset arch-rival Australia to win the Oceania Nations Cup. The win assured New Zealand a place at next year's FIFA Confederation's Cup, where the team could face France and Brazil.
Said Nelsen: "That was by far the biggest goal of my career. The New Zealand soccer federation are very happy with me."
Indeed they are. Just for qualifying for the Confederation's Cup, New Zealand is assured $1million from FIFA.
Nelsen, who was also a star youth cricket player, began his career playing in Christchurch, before leaving for the United States on a soccer scholarship. He played at Greensboro (N.C.) College for two seasons and completed his collegiate career at Stanford under a fellow New Zealander, coach Bobby Clark. At Stanford, he earned a degree in political science. After college, Nelsen briefly tried to catch on with clubs in Belgium and Switzerland before signing with MLS.
Hudson says Nelsen is one of the team's nicest guys "the kind of son anyone would want" but needs to get meaner on the field.
Moreno to start United forward Moreno will start with Salvadoran Eliseo Quintanilla up front against the Wizards. Moreno missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Since his recent injury, Moreno has lost some weight and looks stronger. "He's got to produce against Kansas," said Hudson.


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