- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Former D.C. United captain Ryan Nelsen yesterday signed an 18-month contract with the English Premier League’s Blackburn Rovers. Nelsen had trained with the Rovers since December and joins the team on a free transfer.

Nelsen, captain of New Zealand’s national team, spent four years with United and captained the team to its fourth Major League Soccer title in November. The big central defender, who also can play as a midfielder, was considered one of the best defenders in MLS where he was a two-time All-Star.

“Everyone wants to play in the Premiership and Blackburn has given me an opportunity,” Nelsen said on the English club’s Web site. “You want to play at the highest level and this is it — everything at Blackburn is top class.”

Nelsen, 27, was drafted by United from Stanford in 2001 and scored seven goals in 81 regular-season games. Last season, despite knee and groin injuries, he started 17 league games and scored two goals. He was voted the team’s best defender.

United offered Nelson a contract making him the highest-paid defender in the league at about $180,000, but Nelsen wanted to try his luck in Europe. At Blackburn, he is likely to triple last season’s MLS salary of $90,554.

Blackburn is coached by former Manchester United star Mark “Sparky” Hughes, who joined the club this season after coaching the Welsh national team. The club’s starting goalie is American World Cup hero Brad Friedel.

Blackburn won the English title for the first time in 81 years in 1995 but currently is 16th in the 20-team EPL, just above the relegation zone. Nelsen competed against his new club in July 2003, when United played Blackburn to a 1-1 tie in a friendly at RFK Stadium.

In other news yesterday, U.S. national team forward Clint Mathis returned to MLS from Europe and has been allocated to expansion club Real Salt Lake in Utah. The 2002 World Cup star played for Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga last season but fell out of favor with the coaching staff after complaining about limited playing time.

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