- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

One day Facundo Erpen is going to score a goal that will leave other acrobatic kickers, such as Marcelo Balboa and Carlos Ruiz, cringing with envy.

D.C. United’s Argentine defender is fast becoming known for his ability to perform the difficult bicycle kick. The skill normally is associated with strikers, such as former Brazilian ace Pele, and more recently Ruiz, who plays for FC Dallas. But Balboa, who played six seasons as a defender with the Colorado Rapids, also was famous for his overhead kicks.

The agile Erpen, who joined United in August, is in the same mold as Balboa — a defender with lots of flash.

“I use the kick as a last resort if I can’t get to the ball with my head or feet,” Erpen said through a translator. “I don’t practice it, it just comes natural.”

The 22-year-old Erpen said he has not seen Balboa’s famous bicycle kick against Colombia at the 1994 World Cup, arguably the greatest “missed goal” ever at the finals, or Balboa’s overhead goal for the Rapids in 2000, which won the goal of the year award.

Erpen also was not with the team in May when Ruiz put away United with a bicycle kick from 12 yards out at RFK Stadium. That score also is in contention for goal of the year.

Erpen said the best overhead kick — sometimes called a scissors kick — he’s ever seen was Rivaldo’s goal for Barcelona against Valencia in the Spanish league. The perfectly executed goal from outside the 18-yard box by the Brazilian was the final goal in a hat trick on the last day of the season, which put Barcelona into the Champions League and caused a pitch invasion at the Nou Camp.

Erpen, who models himself after Argentine national team star Roberto Ayala, said studying kung fu and karate as a youngster helped him develop his gymnastic abilities on the field. The central defender, who started eight games for United in the regular season, also uses the kick as part of his defensive duties, which sometimes scares the United coaching staff, which would prefer more traditional ways of defending.

“Sometimes you have to worry about this stuff,” said coach Peter Nowak with a laugh. “When we scouted him out in Argentina at a game he did exactly the same. This is his way of playing. He is a solid defender who reads the game and that is more important than all this other stuff.”

Erpen scored a stunning goal for United in his fourth game with the team, a 2-1 win at Dallas in September.

“That goal was a side-volley and he caught the ball pretty high,” Nowak said. “It was like a half bicycle kick, and it was pretty amazing.”

Erpen said he finally is comfortable with the style of play in the MLS. In Argentina, he said he had more time on the ball and there were more “pauses” in the game.

“From the outside, the game here looks easy, but it’s very fast-paced,” Erpen said.

Meantime, Erpen is ready for the arrival of the Chicago Fire tomorrow for the second game in the MLS playoffs following a scoreless tie in Chicago in the opener.

“That first game was very physical and we had to do a lot of running,” Erpen said. “We weren’t allowed to play our game — the touch-and-go style — that we like to play.”

Armas out? — Chicago Fire captain and key midfielder Chris Armas is rumored to have sustained a serious knee injury in the Oct. 21 game against D.C. United and may not play tomorrow.

Bring on the Scots — The World Cup-bound U.S. team will conclude its 2005 schedule with an exhibition game against Scotland at famed Hampden Park in Glasgow on Nov. 12.

The hastily arranged match falls on an international fixture date, just a day before the MLS Cup final in Dallas, meaning that the U.S. team will be predominantly made up of Americans playing in the European leagues.

The seventh-ranked U.S. team has posted its best record (13-3-3) ever this year, finishing first in its World Cup qualifying group for the first time in 71 years. Scotland posted a 3-3-5 record and failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Calling Hamburg home — The American World Cup team will use the northern German city of Hamburg as its home base throughout next year’s FIFA World Cup. The team will learn the venues for its three group games at the tournament’s draw in Leipzig on Dec. 9.

Award finalists — DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan and Kasey Keller have been selected by the media as the three finalists for the 2005 Player of the Year Award, considered the most prestigious award a U.S. team player can receive. The winner will be announced Nov. 30.

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