Friday, April 8, 2005

Steve Guppy relishes the chance to play before the D.C. United faithful in the club’s home opener against the Chicago Fire tonight at RFK Stadium. One of the few new faces on United’s starting roster, the 16-year veteran of British soccer knows exactly what his role is.

‘I want to show a few people what I can do and deliver passes into the box for the forwards, because from what I’ve seen they are good enough to put the ball away,’ Guppy said.

At 36, the left-sided midfielder joins United as a replacement for Earnie Stewart, who returned to Holland after two years. While he might not have Stewart’s speed, Guppy is known for his curling crosses from the left flank, and several of his Beckhamesque attempts were on display in United’s 2-0 win against Chivas USA in Los Angeles last week.

After playing for several well-known teams in his long career, notably former English Premier League club Leicester City and Scottish giant Celtic, Guppy says he is impressed with United’s talent.

‘There’s a massive work ethic and work rate here, and the fitness level is very impressive,’ he said. ‘It’s not just that ‘ we have some very skillful players. Jaime Moreno is a very talented player.’

United first approached Guppy last summer while he was in Sweden on a preseason tour with Leeds United.

‘The call came out of the blue,’ said the Southampton-born player. ‘[United president Kevin Payne] said the team needed a left-sided player and was I interested in coming out’ The idea threw me a bit at first, but I knew I needed a new challenge. I became sold on the thought of playing in a different country to the point that I was desperate to come out here.?

After a few short stints with Stoke City and Wycombe, Guppy left England and joined United last month. In two recent CONCACAF Cup matches, he was credited with two assists.

In contrast to some aging veterans who have joined Major League Soccer, Guppy appears to have a youthful outlook, enthusiasm, an eagerness to learn, and humility.

‘This move has given me a new lease on life, and I’m desperate to do well for this team,’ said Guppy, who earned one cap for England in 1999. ‘So far my form has been steady rather than spectacular. I’ve got to get that extra bit of fitness, and I’m going to have to contend with the heat.’

Guppy is the first English-raised player from the birthplace of soccer to play for United. English-born defender Stephen Armstrong did so in 2001, but he was raised in South Africa.

United notes — United faces a grueling early-season schedule. On Tuesday the team will fly to Mexico City to play Pumas in the CONCACAF Cup the following night, and then head for Columbus for Friday’s kickoff against the Crew. Including last week’s game against Chivas, the midweek match at RFK with Pumas and tonight’s game, United will play five games in 14 days. …

Ben Olsen and Josh Gros may have more fire in their eyes than usual this season. The players have been testing new Nike sports eye contacts, which makes the eyes look blood red and pretty scary. ‘The lens is suppose to relax your eye when you play and supposed to block out the sun,’ said Olsen, looking like he had just stepped out of a Dracula movie. …

United is still trying to iron out a television deal with Comcast SportsNet, but it appears former United star John Harkes will be the new color commentator alongside play-by-play announcer Dave Johnson. ‘It beats flying out to L.A. every weekend,’ said Harkes, who was co-host of a soccer show in the Fox Sports studio there last year. …

Chicago arrives at RFK with star Slovakian forward Lubos Reiter, who joined the Fire this week. Reiter, 30, played for Slovakia’s national team last month in World Cup qualifying games, helping the team stay at the top of Group 3. …

United midfielder Dema Kovalenko says he is about a month away from being back on the team after breaking his ankle while jogging in his homeland of Ukraine last year.

New man in charge — Greg Ryan has been named coach of the U.S. women’s team, replacing April Heinrichs, who stepped down in February.

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