- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

D.C. United coach Ray Hudson is not the kind of guy who is easily baffled. But where rookie defender David Stokes is concerned, Hudson doesn’t know what to think.

A couple of weeks ago, Hudson mentioned in a radio interview that Stokes is looking like a four- to five-year project. After blasting most of his young players in the wake of United’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup victory over the A-League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds on July16, Hudson singled out Stokes as one young player who didn’t deserve his postgame wrath.

In Wednesday’s penalty-kick shootout victory over English Premier League power Blackburn Rovers in an exhibition, Stokes more than held his own against world-class strikers Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. After that game, Hudson was again complimentary about Stokes’ performance at right back. Now Stokes has made it onto the roster for today’s game between United (4-6-6) and the New England Revolution (5-5-7) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

“To be honest, it’s not that he’s ever been in the doghouse — it’s that he’s a player that has shown two strange tendencies,” Hudson said. “One is, in game situations whether it be scrimmage games, A-League games or exhibition games, he plays markedly better in game-time situations. In the working week, he disappoints, and it’s a strange thing because it’s usually the other way around.”

If this were, say, May, Stokes might be loaned to the A-League’s Virginia Beach Mariners just to get some work — like fellow United rookie Brian Carroll, who was loaned to the A-League’s Richmond Kickers this weekend — instead of traveling with United.

While Stokes, who grew up in Dumfries, Va., has yet to play in a Major League Soccer game this season, he is making progress because he is the only reserve defender on United’s 16-player travel roster.

“I think I did have two solid games and it’s working out, but at the same time I didn’t have the best preseason and I think I needed a little time to observe the game and work out things in practice first,” Stokes said. “[MLS] is a little more difficult than I expected. All the players are physically gifted, no one is a pushover or anything like that, and sometimes you find that in college. Playing internationally helped the transition a little bit just with the U-23’s.”

United drafted the 21-year-old out of North Carolina with the fifth overall pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft. Stokes is 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, and his size, athleticism and quiet demeanor have United gushing about his future.

Hudson said he plans to loan Stokes to a European club in United’s offseason so his prized, young defender can develop something resembling a mean streak.

“We’ll get him away at the end of the season somewhere maybe in Germany, or England, or Ireland, or Poland — somewhere like that and let him have some good hardened exposure that way, and I think that will do him a world of good,” Hudson said.

United’s veterans know what the club has in Stokes. Players like Mike Petke, Dema Kovalenko and Marco Etcheverry have offered words of encouragement, but Stokes has seemed impervious to the reinforcement.

It’s not arrogance on Stokes’ part, just indifference. Perhaps it has to do with his past loans to Virginia Beach. According to Stokes, he is getting very little out of assignments in the minor league.

“I played a few games there,” he said. “Usually they were bringing me in at the end of the game and I was only getting like 20 or so minutes, and I don’t think that was doing too much, but I did get to start two games and that kind of kept me a little bit sharp and helped me with my fitness.”

Stokes says he prefers to play centrally in the back, but United is using him out wide. After two solid back-to-back performances at right back, Stokes is drawing rave reviews from United’s fans. Just playing seems to be all Stokes needs for his confidence.

“He’s got so much going for him,” Hudson said. “The only thing holding him back — and I honestly believe this — is where he can find it within himself to apply it and move up a gear, because he has got two or three gears that we haven’t seen yet.”

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